Alarums and Excursions

Improvising Politics on the European Stage

Luuk van Middelaar

£25.00  |  $35.00
ISBN 9781788211727
£25.00  |  $35.00
ISBN 9781788211734
320 pages   |  234 x 156mm   |  March 2019


"Quite simply the most insightful book on Europe’s politics today. A unique blend of behind-the-scenes knowledge, compelling ideas and powerful political judgement. History is back, not as a script, Luuk van Middelaar shows, but as a living entity, and the choice is ours: do we want to play or be played? The book is a great toolkit, not only for a better performance of Europe’s political actors, but also to cope with the cheers and booing of the European public."  – Donald Tusk, president of the European Council

"With his fluid style and sharp eye for detail and context, Luuk van Middelaar has captured many of the critical themes with which Europe must grapple over the coming years. Even as an eye witness to many of these events, I found reading his book rewarding as his observations often provide new insights and valuable distillations of complicated issues." – Anthony Gardner, US Ambassador to the European Union, 2014–17

"Lively and well-informed ... offers thought-provoking insights into the European Union, its ways of working and its many challenges, both historical and contemporary." – Prof Dame Helen Wallace FBA

"An elegantly-written study of how European Union politics changed in response to the dramatic political events of recent years. The book combines the inside knowledge of a participant in the theatre of European politics with the critical distance of the political theorist. It is neither a partisan defence of the European Union nor a pessimistic prophecy of doom, but a cool analysis of the role of European institutional structures and of key personalities."  – Bruno De Witte, Professor of European Law, Maastricht University and European University Institute

"Whatever our future relationship with the EU, our prosperity will be hugely dependent on understanding what it is, how it works, where it might be headed and what crises, beyond Brexit, it is trying to surmount. This book is a truly brilliant guide on all. It avoids all the fatuous lazy generalizations which so bedevil much UK debate, and points to the reforms that will be needed if the EU is to surmount the most formidable set of challenges it has faced since it was formed." – Sir Ivan Rogers, British Ambassador to the European Union, 2013–17


Crisis after crisis has beset the European Union: the financial chaos of the euro and Greek sovereign debt; the conflicts with Russia over Crimea and Ukraine; unprecedented levels of refugees and migrants from across the Mediterranean; not to mention the turmoil created by Brexit and the threat of a trade war with Trump’s America. A Europe, originally designed to regulate and enforce rules about fishing, wheat quotas, or product standards has found itself flung onto the global stage to grapple with problems of identity, sovereignty and solidarity without a script or prompt. From Paris to Berlin and London to Athens, European leaders have had to improvise on issues threatening to engulf their unique political entity. They have had to speak and act in full view of an increasingly disenchanted and dissonant public audience.

In a revealing and candid portrayal of a Europe improvising its way through a politics of events and not rules, Luuk van Middelaar gives us the insider’s view of the EU’s political metamorphosis. Forced into action by a tidal wave of emergencies, Europe has had to reinvent itself. It has had to cast off its legal straitjacket and to confront hard issues of power, territorial borders and public authority. Van Middelaar contends that this reinvention will succeed only if the EU becomes a truly representative body that allows people’s opposition to share the stage.



1. Improvising: the euro crisis
2. Negotiating: the Ukraine crisis
3. Setting boundaries: the refugee crisis
4. Uprising: the Atlantic crisis

5. Two foundations
6. Directors and actors
7. The opposition takes the stage

Author Information

Luuk van Middelaar is a historian and political theorist. In his role as a speechwriter and close advisor to the president of the European Council (2010–15), van Middelaar witnessed the political theatre of Europe from the front row. He is currently a professor at the Europa Institute of Leiden University. His previous book, The Passage to Europe (winner of the 2012 European Book Prize) has been translated into more than ten languages. He was advisor to the acclaimed BBC programme, Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil (2019).

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