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Europe’s Fractured Metabolic Constitution: From the Eurozone Crisis to the Coronavirus Response

Among the many meanings given to the idea of a European ‘constitution’, perhaps the most widespread relates to the limitation and constraint of power. Missing from this conception, however, is arguably the very essence of genuinely ‘constituted’ authority: the capacity to mobilise fiscal resources—most importantly via taxation—in a legitimate and compulsory fashion, a power the EU obviously lacks on its own. We can call this the ‘metabolic constitution’ of the EU, a term meant to focus our attention on the capacity of a polity to convert resources into work toward public ends. The EU’s metabolic constitution is fractured in several ways, most importantly because of its complete dependence on the taxing power of the Member States severally. This dependence has limited the EU’s autonomous capacities to address a range of challenges over the last decade, from the Eurozone crisis, to the climate emergency, to the coronavirus pandemic response. This article surveys the evolution of the EU’s metabolic constitution over the many crises of the last decade and then considers whether and to what extent the most recent initiative in this regard—the common borrowing in the ‘Next Generation EU’ recovery fund in response to the coronavirus pandemic—can be understood as a critical juncture in the EU’s capacity to mobilise resources on its own, unmediated through the Member States.