This article presents an analysis of the European Union and of the integration process using the concept of empire. It also offers a critical reflexion on the use of the concept of empire to analyse contemporary polities. It argues that many scholars of politics have a biased understanding of this concept, which is ‘tailored’ to analyse only one type of empire, the colonial empire, and to disregard the existence of another type of empire. To escape this trap, the article suggests the use of two concepts, ‘inwards imperial governance’ and ‘outwards imperial governance’. These concepts make it possible to account for different types of empire in the past as well as contemporary polities. They also help shed a different light on the EU’s empirehood and its evolution over time. In its concluding remarks, the article suggests the potential usefulness of these concepts for the analysis of other contemporary cases.