The Passage to Europe

In 'The Passage to Europe' Luuk van Middelaar makes a highly original connection between the world of European power politics since 1500 and the Brussels institutions of our own day: Europe as reflected in its Union. No dry cataloguing of treaties and organizations here but the untold story of the politicians responsible for creating and leading Europe, from Spaak to Sarkozy, Thatcher to Merkel.

Luuk van Middelaar
Original title
De passage naar Europa

Time and again major events have forced Europe to find a role for itself on the world stage: the Suez Crisis, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the attacks of 11 September. Amid the tumult of current affairs, politicians have succeeded in linking past and future, creating a passage to Europe out of the events of the moment. This is the essence of politics, splendidly illustrated by the unfinished story of Europe.

In the Dutch tradition of Johan Huizinga, Van Middelaar combines testimony, stories and contrasting interpretations from different European countries into a single history of Europe. Using plain language he shakes off the platitudes and clichés of existing literature about the EU. He disentangles the complex origins of Europe by focusing on unique events and pregnant details: an empty chair; a single word in a treaty. Van Middelaar does for Europe what the brilliant American historian Joseph Ellis did for the American Republic in Founding Brothers.

Luuk van Middelaar cannot be praised highly enough for writing a book about Europe that captivates from beginning to end, is completely free of technical jargon and prompts further reflection.

De Volkskrant

With a keen sense of irony the author describes how European politicians are constantly searching for a European audience that will applaud their decisions. They have tried subsidies, rights, a parliament, a flag and lessons about our shared history. To little effect. ‘Should the citizens of the old continent, almost all of whom are now members of the Union, ever start to feel they are Europeans, it will be not least because world history has driven them into each other’s arms.’ Van Middelaar spent five years working behind the scenes in European and national politics. In Brussels he witnessed the negotiations over a European constitution and in The Hague the Dutch ‘No’ campaign against it. He binds together these personal experiences with the erudition of a historian, the intellect of a political philosopher and the narrative instincts of a novelist, creating a unique account of the birth of Europe.

  • Rare in combining the insights of a political philosopher with many years of personal experience of the political game in Brussels

  • Looks at dynamic post-1989 Europe, the continent of a new generation

  • A story written with gusto and an eye for piquant details, without EU jargon, mandarinisms or acronyms

  • website book:

Van Middelaar has a great facility for combining historical narrative, political essay writing, philosophical speculation and legal exegesis. A wholly new angle on the European process.

NRC Handelsblad

A candid history of an unprecedented historical experiment: the creation of the European Union. A pioneering study, brisk, sober and penetrating at the same time. A formidable achievement.

Geert Mak, author of In Europe
Luuk van Middelaar
Luuk van Middelaar (b. 1973) is a philosopher and historian who studied at Groningen University and at the Sorbonne and the EHESS in Paris. Since his debut with 'Politicide' (1999), which won him the prestigious Prix de Paris, he has become an influential voice in public debates.
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