At the level of general principle, representative democracy is appealed to by the EU institutions and member states alike. Yet in today's Europe it risks being marginalised amidst the actions and rhetoric of emergency – a norm to be waived in a state of exception, leaving decisions of lasting consequence shielded from public debate. A German constitutional theorist once famously defined as sovereign the one who has the power to declare the state of exception, and linked this power closely to executive suspensions of the law. The European setting invites a different understanding of an emergency regime: one that is manifest in the contravention of norms which may or may not be legally codified, and which is collectively produced by multiple actors. The persistence of politics in the emergency register indicates precisely the weakness of political authority. The article goes on to examine how exceptional this exceptionalism is. Is Europe's emergency politics a recent phenomenon, or has it been one of the currents of European integration from the beginning?