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BIPR | BOOK PRESENTATION - European Integration: A Political History
BOOK PRESENTATION - European Integration: A Political History

November 16, 2020 - 18:30

Mark Gilbert - Vincent Della Sala

Event Recap

The session focused on the broader motivations that led Professor Mark Gilbert to write the third edition of the book. The book has previously transitioned from edition 1 under the title, Surpassing Realism, to edition 2 with the title European Integration: A Political History. Edition 3, which was presented at the forum, captures the new upheavals and successes potentially that European integration has faced since 2010s when the second edition was written.

Three motivations led Professor Gilbert to write the third edition as he outlined:

a) A lot has happened since 2011 when the second edition of the book was published. When he wrote the book, there was much optimism; European nations showed interest in “Surpassing Realism” in the pre-2010s, as the previous title of the book indicated. But post-2010, the European project hit a glitch. and nations have begun scrambling for their sovereignty, and asking themselves whether what they signed up for at the inception of the European project was actually what they were experiencing, as the EU continued to transform itself into more assertive force in terrains which have been seemingly reserved for nation-states alone. This unsettling has meant very strong challenges for the European Union, for which Professor Gilbert believed that the project hit a glitch since the 2010s and from that period onwards the EU has been playing catchup, having to deal with one problem after the other as they arose; yet not getting a strategic grip on the issues that have continued to be thrown at it.

b) The European Project has been thrown into question with major upheavals like Britain, one of its key members turning its back on the EU. The EU has established itself as a beacon of democracy and democratization since its founding years and has raised the bar of democracy; particularly for new members who have joined the EU. Yet the newly acceded members of the EU continue to struggle to meet the democratic benchmarks that the EU has set for itself and to which member states must comply. This struggle has put a huge strain on EU resources and continues to call into question EU’s expansion and its relationship with the east. Greater expansion and greater integration, as Professor Gilbert asserted, have consequences that individual Europeans and European nations may not like.

c) The expansion towards the east may have, in some instances, as the Professor asserted, collided with incompatible values that cause mainstream Europeans and European nations to reconsider whether even greater integration was desirable. Such scepticism has put the EU in the position of continuously having to respond to crisis as though it has been operating by emergency.

As Professor Gilbert noted, the book is forward looking, in its third edition; and is written at a time of enormous change taking place in the EU. Professor Gilbert hopes that the book captures an optimistic look at European Integration, drawing on the enormous commitment European Nations have dedicated to the success of the integration project.

Full Audio:

BOOK PRESENTATION - European Integration: A Political History
History of the Present Series and Patrick McCarthy Memorial Series on Intellectuals and Politics

hosted by Professor Mark Gilbert

Mark Gilbert
Author: Johns Hopkisn University SAIS, Italy
Vincent Della Sala
Discussant: University of Bologna, Italy

Supported by the Associazione di cultura e di studio italo-americana Luciano Finelli Friends of the Johns Hopkins University

This book is the standard for concise histories of the European Union. Mark Gilbert offers a clear and balanced narrative of European integration since its inception to the present, set in the wider history of the post-war period. Gilbert concludes by considering the Union's future in light of the mood of crisis that has taken hold in the EU in the aftermath of the global recession, the refugee crisis, and Brexit.


Mark Gilbert is Professor of History and International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University SAIs Europe.

Gilbert was educated (B.A. hons Politics, 1983) at Durham University and was awarded a PhD in contemporary history by the University of Wales (1990). Before joining SAIS, he was associate professor in contemporary history and international studies at the University of Trento and lecturer in European studies at the University of Bath. He began his academic career as assistant professor of political science at Dickinson College. Gilbert has been Associate Editor of the Journal of Modern Italian Studies since 2015. He served as Chair of the 2018 Cundill Prize. He is currently working on a book entitled The Birth of Democracy in Italy: A Political and Social History, 1943-54. The book will be published by Penguin/Allen Lane, Rizzoli and W.W. Norton in the summer of 2023.
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