The debate in the United Kingdom about Europe is usually premised on the idea that the European Union is a centre-left project. But elsewhere in Europe, and in particular Germany, left-wing intellectuals are increasingly critical of the EU as a neo-liberal—in other words, a right-wing—project. Like Wolfgang Streeck, whose book Buying Time made waves in Germany (reviewed below), the sociologist Claus Offe sees the EU as a “liberalisation machine” that has entered a new phase since the introduction of the single currency, which undermined democratic control of fiscal and monetary policy. “The euro has rendered European democratic capitalism more capitalist and less democratic,” he writes.
However, while Streeck calls for a break-up of the euro and “resistance” to the European project, Offe sees the euro as “a mistake the undoing of which would be an even greater mistake.” He believes it is still possible to imagine a transformed European project based on “positive” rather than “negative” integration (the removal of barriers to the free movement of capital, goods and services within Europe). In particular, given that for Offe there is no way back to the nation state, this means reconstituting democracy and the postwar welfare state at the European level. The dilemma, however, is that there is a lack of agency: the euro crisis has “paralysed” precisely those forces that might create such a “social Europe.” Hence Europe is trapped.