Narratives and counter-narratives of Europe. Constructing and contesting Europeanity

CPS Research Fellow Celine Cantat recently wrote an article for the review Cahiers Memoire et Politique published by the Research Centre on Memory and Politics of Liege University's Department of Political Science.


In this paper, I present some of the findings emerging from my PhD research project which was concerned with the way in which individuals and groups supporting migrants in the European Union relate to and contest dominant narratives of European belonging and identity.

First, I examine the emergence of an increasingly exclusionary discourse on European belonging produced by politicians of the EU and its member states. I argue that, faced with the difficulty – identified by Jacques Delors decades ago – that 'people do not fall in love with a single market', an ideological enterprise aiming at putting forward a notion of “Europeanity” was initiated by ideologues of the European Union. Discourses of Europeanity are underpinned by the idea of a coherent socio-cultural European self, which becomes the basis for legitimising the process of European integration. This process of has thus relied on attempts at identifying “Europeans” and at setting them apart from non-Europeans. It has led to the identification of new Others and , in this sense, I suggest that dominant discourses of European belonging share features with national identity building processes.

In the second part of this paper, I propose to look at the process of harmonisation of immigration and border controls in the EU as the expression of this exclusionary agenda and as the manifestation of a dominant notion of European belonging. I argue that the construction of 'Fortress Europe', which aims at securing the integrity of the territory of the EU, has been central to the continuation of European integration since the mid-1980s.

This process has however been contested. In the last part of this paper, I propose to examine the emergence of a transnational migrant solidarity movement in the EU and to explore whether this movement-in-formation has produced alternative visions and understandings of Europe. Drawing on findings gathered through a prolonged period of ethnographic fieldwork with pro-migrant groups in three EU member states (France, the UK and Italy), I investigate the narratives formulated by people acting in solidarity with non-Europeans in the EU. I conclude that this emergent movement has been increasingly articulated at the European level yet that it has not been integrated around alternative visions of Europe and European identity. I argue that this is due to tensions and contradictions generated by the European project. I explain this through a critical reflection about the process of European construction and the production of ideas about Europe.

Cahiers Memoire et Politique: Narratives and counter-narratives of Europe. Constructing and contesting Europeanity (Download)

The article is also available online here (issue 2015/3, pp. 5-30).