We are in the midst of a remarkable moment of historical change, in which the very meaning of “Europe” — as economic region, political entity, cultural construct, object of study—is being called dramatically into question, and with it the meanings of the national cultures that provide its parts. While perceptions have been overwhelmed by the political transformations in the east since the autumn of 1989, profound changes have also been afoot in the west, with the legislation aimed at producing a single European market in 1992. Moreover, these dramatic events — the democratic revolutions against Stalinism in Eastern Europe, the expansion and strengthening of the European Community (EC) — have presupposed a larger context of accumulating change. The breakthrough to reform under Yuri Andropov and Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, the Solidarity crisis in Poland, and the stealthful reorientations in Hungary have been matched by longer-run processes of change in Western Europe, resulting from the crisis of social democracy in its postwar Keynesian welfare-statist forms, capitalist restructuring, and the general trend toward transnational Western European economic integration.
Taken as a whole, these developments in east and west make the years 1989-92 one of those few times when fundamental political and constitutional changes, in complex articulation with social and economic transformations, are occurring on a genuinely European-wide scale, making this one of the several great constitution-making periods of modern European history.