30 years ago under the banner of 1992, the European Union (EU) completed its single market. This marked a new political, economic, and social bargain that recasted Europe’s role in the world. Borne out of the political entrepreneurship of the European Commission, business leaders, and national executives, it offered an institutional answer to a changed global environment. Thirty years on, a rapidly changing global environment once again causes the promoters of Europe to offer new solutions to ongoing problems. The next-generation EU funds, the European Central Bank’s unorthodox monetary policy, the emergence of a European industrial policy, and the rapid embrace of ‘open strategic autonomy’ as a leitmotif for Europe’s role in the world indicate that market-making is no longer the only game in town.
At the same time, the EU is unable to effectively deal with rule-of-law backsliding and has not made good on its promise to increase social and territorial cohesion between regions and member states, and stagnates on social rights, the protection of minorities and gender+ equality. Taking the opportunity to revisit the last major episode of global change, we critically assess the current tempest of crises by deepening and broadening the European bargain as an analytical concept. On the first dimension, we argue that an overbearing focus on economic issues and market integration has drowned out social and political issues. This disenfranchises voters and undermines legitimacy of the European project. On the second dimension, we propose to include emerging and accrued competences such as trade, monetary policy, migration, and defense. Although the EU continues to expand its repertoire of competences, it does so on a fragile basis of low institutional capacity and contested domestic legitimacy. We argue that a deepened understanding of the European bargain can help scholars understand the present challenges and future avenues for the European project.