The European Union is caught between technocracy and the politics of the exception, eroding in the process the very political sphere that makes democracy work. Partly a cause of this erosion and partly an effect, the EU retreats into the ‘rule of rules’ when faced with what are, in fact, profoundly political problems. Whether it be in response to the eurozone crisis, EU–Russia–Ukraine relations or the influx of refugees, the EU's policies led to conflicts over geopolitics, sovereignty and redistribution. Its apolitical responses were as ubiquitous as they were inadequate. They reflect Germany's preference for consensual politics, which is paradoxically enforced by Angela Merkel's dictum about there being ‘no alternative’. In order to think of alternatives to the Europe that exists, we need to revive ‘the political’, theorized by the likes of Carl Schmitt, Max Weber and Hannah Arendt at times when democracy was under duress.