This work examines, under the framework of world system theory, how capitalism is changing at the end of the twentieth century, towards which direction it is changing, and what will be the likely consequences for Europe in the next two or three decades.

The two main theoretical arguments are, first, that the capitalist world system has evolved through succeeding phases, called systemic cycles of accumulation of capital or ‘long centuries’, each one of which is led by a group of capitalists connected to one given state, the hegemon. Previous hegemons have been Genoa, allied to imperial Iberia, Holland, Britain, and the United States of America. The second main argument is that American hegemony has ended, and that a new systemic cycle of accumulation of capital, ‘the long twenty-first century’, has started, which is however hegemonless, that is, the capitalist agencies that lead it are not connected to any one state.

The stateless hegemony is made possible by the new information and communication technologies, which lead to network forms of business, political and social organisation, that are only weakly subject to spatial constraints, and hence become partially disconnected from control by national states. The new technologies also lead to the internalisation of the core-periphery structure, that is, to re-introduce the periphery back into the traditional core, that is, advanced industrial countries, that under the Keynesian welfare state were free of extreme or numerous cases of misery and exclusion.

Some of the major contemporary trends and undergoing changes in Europe are studied under this world system framework. They are the European Union as a new kind of polity and its functions vis a vis the inter-state system and the world system; the threat of the rise of nationalisms in Europe; the new social movements and their organisation and role in the new, internalised, core-periphery system; the direction towards which the concept of democracy is changing in Europe; and the new defence and security issues in Europe.