|
Open Peer Review for the Humanities

Andrew D. Devenney, “Locating European Spaces in the British Isles since 1945: Some Problems and Considerations”

Permalink for this paragraph 0

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Locating European Spaces in the British Isles since

Permalink for this paragraph 0 1945: Some Problems and Considerations

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Andrew D. Devenney

Permalink for this paragraph 0 I.          Introduction

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The following paper is a bit of a departure from this author’s previous and thus far traditional conference presentation fare.  Instead of offering up the end results of months and years of historical activity, it seeks to sketch out the parameters of an idea that will serve as the nucleus for a more expansive, future scholarly work.  It starts from a fairly straightforward conceit, namely that since the end of the Second World War the processes of Europeanization and European integration – related but not identical forces – have been slowly reshaping the contours of English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh societies in the British Isles.  Considering the region’s problematic relationship with integration efforts on the European continent and the long-standing belief among some that the British archipelago was a region separate from Europe, the question becomes how to demonstrate this phenomenon from a historical perspective.  And it is here that the other central conceit of this paper enters, namely that the process of Europeanization sparked by the postwar development of the European Union (EU) has a fundamental spatial component that one can “read” as a spatial language.  That is to say, that, beyond the traditional focus on scholarly exploration of political and diplomatic negotiations and institutional relationships and the at times comical attempts to use the cultural trappings of what Michael Billig has called “banal nationalism” to forge European unity (e.g. flags, national anthems, and so on), scholars should examine how Europeanization has been remaking political, social, and mental spaces in both the British Isles and on the European continent.[1] Thus, the history of space and place is central to understanding the trials, triumphs, and tribulations of Europeanization in the British Isles over the last several decades.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 II.        Building Europe and the Historical Narrative

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Since 1945, the political, economic, social, and cultural dynamics of Europe have experienced profound change because of the growing importance of European integration.  This process arose initially as a project to curtail the Franco-German antagonism that had brought war, destruction, and devastation to Europe in the early twentieth century and to strengthen Western Europe against the threat of the Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe.  However, since then, European integration has evolved from its fairly limited economic origins in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC, founded in 1952) to an expanding common market and customs union in the European Economic Community (EEC, founded in 1957), before morphing again in 1992 into a continental-wide post-nation-state in the EU that seeks, among other agendas, to foster the development of a common European civic identity and cultural unity.  This process – elite driven, highly technocratic in scope, and relatively cut off from the active engagement of Europe’s peoples – has had its share of difficulties.  One can see this demonstrated most clearly in the EU’s recent problems passing its reform agenda, from the Dutch and French rejections of the proposed EU constitution in 2005 to the Irish rejections of the Treaty of Nice in 2001 and the reform Treaty of Lisbon in June of this year.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 One of the more problematic regions for the “European project” has been the British Isles.  Following the British role as the leading economic actor in the region, both Britain and Ireland remained aloof from initial continental efforts toward integration.  For Britain, this was a function of its long-standing but declining role as a world imperial power and a national identity buttressed by a sense that to be British was not to be European.[2] For Ireland, it was an unequal economic relationship with Britain – a legacy of British colonial dominance – that bound the Irish to follow the British lead toward Europe.  Nevertheless, by the 1960s, economic reality (relative stagnation in the British Isles versus astonishing levels of growth in Western Europe) began to trump political and cultural resistance, and both countries sought entry into the EEC.  Following more than a decade of contentious political debates and diplomatic negotiations, both Britain and Ireland gained membership in 1973, along with Denmark.  However, after accession, British and Irish experiences within the EEC and the later EU have diverged.  Notwithstanding recent referenda difficulties, Ireland has long been one of the most supportive members of the EEC/EU, with public support at some of the highest levels in Europe according to Eurobarometer polling.[3] On the other hand, Britain has had some of the lowest levels of public support for EEC/EU membership, a fact reflected in its low Eurobarometer polling and its rather stand-offish attitude toward further integration initiatives.[4] From Margaret Thatcher’s successful extraction of a British rebate from the EEC/EU budget at the Fontainebleau summit in 1984 and its refusal to sign the 1990 Schengen Agreement on open internal borders to its successful efforts to opt out of the social provisions of the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht and its continued reluctance to join the Euro currency, Britain epitomizes the idea of “reluctant Europeans.”[5]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The amount of historical scholarship exploring European integration and the British Isles has grown considerably in recent years.[6] Much of this work has focused on a statist, political elite dimension of the relationship, with its spotlight on political party contortions and disagreements, intergovernmental and diplomatic negotiations, and the interaction of government civil servants and bureaucracies across Europe.  Such a national or supranational approach provides important and cogent analyses of both elite British and Irish engagement with Europe and the wider economic relationships between EU member states.  However, it fails to explore the equally as important domestic contexts (political, social, and cultural) of the European integration process.  In fact, while encompassing top-down, elite-driven attempts by the EU to integrate member-states into a common political and cultural entity with a unified civic identity, Europeanization also entails wider processes of transnational connection and co-mingling that have little to do with the EU itself, with origins that stretch back beyond 1945.[7] Thus, a straight political history approach reveals only one aspect of a multi-faceted set of forces exerting influence upon daily life in the British Isles.  Scholars in other social science fields – such as historical geography, sociology, cultural anthropology, and urban studies, for instance – have recently begun to explore the transnational social and cultural contexts of Europeanization in a more sustained manner, offering in the process new pathways to travel for historians of British Isles engagement with Europe.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 III.       Understanding the History of Space and Place

Permalink for this paragraph 0 One particularly fruitful area of scholarship for exploring Europeanization socially and culturally is what one can call spatial history.  Broadly framed by the path-breaking work of Henri Lefebvre and his argument that “(social) space is (social) product,” spatial history involves exploring the connections between individuals and the physical territory in which they reside – bridging the mental and the physical by studying the social, as Lefebvre might term it.[8] However, this is more than simply registering physical territory as a backdrop for human activity; rather, as Peter Wagstaff as described it, social space “is subject to an evolving, dynamic confrontation of state and citizen.”[9] This means, as David Harvey has noted, that “geographic differences are much more than mere historical-geographic legacies.  They are perpetually being reproduced, sustained, undermined and reconfigured by political-economic and socio-economic processes occurring in the present.”[10] Thus, more than simply reading a map or looking at the layout of a house or other building, spatial history explores the interaction of physical and social spaces with human activity or agency, noting how historically specific spatial practices have shaped a wide range of development activities over time.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The EU’s status as an embryonic post-nation-state lends itself well to spatial historical analysis.[11] As an entity that began without specific physical boundaries or a relatively homogenous national political community at its core, the EU has, throughout its evolution, worked hard to carve out its own political and social spaces within Europe.  The reason for this is fairly straightforward: without some sort of physical existence, the EU would not be able to create the psychological existence it craves in the minds of Europeans; that is to say, to decouple Europeans from their attachments to their individual nation-state members.  Early proponents of European integration viewed this concept as forging common identity through the creation of common structures and institutions, what has sometimes been called neofunctionalism.[12] The belief was that these institutions, the choice and use of particular symbols associated with them, the habits of interaction between them and the public, and the communities of common identity nurtured within them would spill over into other sectors of European society.  Over time, this spillover would gain a foothold and spread the basis for a new common civic identity in Europe.  The social psychologist Emanuele Castano has explored this further using the concept of entitativity, which is the extent to which a particular group has psychological existence for people; Castano has argued that the only way for a common European identity to develop is for the EU to achieve entitativity in the minds of European citizens.[13] Thus, exerting influence over physical and social spaces is intimately tied up in the EU’s wider goal of forging a common community.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The existence of physical institutions of Europeanization across the continent is the first, obvious marker of the EU’s active manipulation of political and social spaces in Europe.  The spatial colonization of various cities in the urban core of the EU – the nominal capital Brussels, and regional centers like Strasbourg in France (the main location of the European Parliament), Luxembourg City in Luxembourg (location of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors), and Frankfurt in Germany (the location of the European Central Bank) – has resulted to some degree in the remaking of urban landscapes and the altering of urban social communities.  One need only explore the city of Brussels to see this phenomenon on a fairly dramatic scale.  The presence of the European Commission, the European Parliament, and much of the EU’s bureaucratic apparatus in the so-called European Quarter west of the city center has entirely remade what was once a residential district with a plethora of EU office buildings and public spaces, from the four-pointed star design of the Berlaymont building, home to the European Commission and often castigated as the faceless symbol of technocratic Europe, to the Crystal Palace-evoking Espace Léopold complex, built as a second home for the European Parliament.  However, the presence of EU institutions has also brought affluence and social change to Brussels through new populations and new jobs; in 1998, the EU and its dependent service organizations employed almost 60,000 people, to say nothing of the diplomatic stations, NGOs, and other international institutions like NATO, SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe), and various international schools that call Brussels home as well.[14] To a lesser and varied extent, many cities throughout Europe have felt and are feeling similar impacts.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 IV.       Considering European Space in the British Isles

Permalink for this paragraph 0 However, the British Isles present somewhat of a special case when it comes to investigating historical spatial trends in Europeanization.  The longtime and lingering resistance to the “European project” found throughout the region has placed clear limits on the EU’s ability to manifest physically in the British Isles.  For instance, there are few EU agencies or institutions located in the British Isles – only the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (EUROFOUND), based in Dublin; and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) and the European Police College (CEPOL), both based in or around London.  Thus, the EU’s direct spatial presence is minimal (although one should note that with the rapid pace of enlargement in the last few decades, many other member states share the same condition).

Permalink for this paragraph 0 However, one does not necessarily need to see physical manifestations of European integration and Europeanization in order to locate decidedly European spaces in the British Isles.  This is because many of the changes being wrought by Europeanization are affecting social and mental spaces more so than the direct physical landscape.  Now, this does not mean Europeanization has no impact on physical space or the built environment in the British Isles; such a statement would be quite an exaggeration, considering the extensive range of policy areas that the EU has increasingly more jurisdiction over.  For example, agriculture and the rural countryside have long been vital concerns of the evolving EU, manifested most clearly through initiatives such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  The recent trend in EU policy towards rural land use has been the idea of extensification, a multi-layered process that promotes both the withdrawal of land from agricultural use and less intensive and more environmentally sound farming practices.  In North-Western Europe, including the British Isles, this has resulted in policies promoted from the supranational level but implemented at the national or local level, such as Britain’s use since 1987 of designated Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) that offered farmers compensation for adhering to conservation contracts that limited herd densities, banned artificial fertilizers, and required maintenance of farm infrastructure (like hedges, ditches, barns, etc).[15] Additionally, the completion of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 and the direct, infrastructure connection created between Kent in England and Nord-Pas de Calais in France (the so-called Transmanche region) represents a recalibration of physical space and the “first physical, geopolitical joining of Britain to the European mainland,” to say nothing of a variety of symbolic and identity-shifting implications.[16]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 So what social and mental spaces in the British Isles reflect European influences?  The key to understanding this involves two important concerns.  First, when locating decidedly European spaces, one has to be careful not to confuse Europeanization with other transformative forces, such as globalization, Americanization, or suburbanization.[17] This is to say, that the expansion of McDonalds franchises or the growing homogeneity of British high street shops (Dixons and Top Shop and Tesco, oh my!) or the growth of Ireland as a center for computer technology manufacturing in Europe are not developments that reflect Europeanization or European integration per se, although common market policies may have tangentially helped create the environment conducive to such changes.  Second, trends in Europeanization across Europe sometimes operate beyond the explicit direction of the EU, meaning that these changing spatial relationships are multi-directional in scope.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Europeanization then, by its very nature, is a transnational process, and those areas in the British Isles touched by this reflect that.  For instance, since the first round of enlargement in the early 1970s, the EU has become increasingly more concerned with revitalizing and reenergizing economically peripheral regions.  This has encouraged a growing awareness of the importance of dynamic and thriving regions and sub-national zones within member states to the success of the “European project.”[18] As such, these “lagging regions” in EU-speak – the Scottish Highlands and depressed post-industrial areas around Glasgow; the English Midlands; and much of Wales and Ireland – have received over the years significant EU investment from such programs as the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, and the European Regional Development Fund.[19] In addition to funding the physical redevelopment of depressed regions, these subsidies have helped to foster closer European connections and consciousness among regional policy-makers and demonstrated to the general public a limited but noted EU spatial footprint within their territory (after all, most projects funded through these subsidies had significant advertising regarding who funded them).[20] But the EU’s inward investment also reflects a desire to reshape the relationships between regions and how people think of them (i.e. the social understanding of a particular space).  Recent EU strategy documents, such as Europe 2000, Europe 2000+, and the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), have identified a series of macro-regions that are strikingly different from traditional nation-state boundaries; for instance, one of these areas, the “Atlantic Arc” macro-region, includes all of Ireland and much of western Britain from the Scottish Highlands to Cornwall, as well as the French, Spanish, and Portuguese Atlantic coasts.[21] The intent behind this is to encourage the development of transnational, inter-regional governance that can promote economic growth while also fostering further integration and cohesion.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Additionally, initiatives such as the European Capital of Culture program (formerly the European City of Culture) help bring important investment to various European cities while also fostering transnational connections between them that are slowly redefining European space and the built environment.  For instance, it was the city of Glasgow’s turn as European City of Culture in 1990 and the rather energetic manner in which it used the subsidies to popularize the notion of engineering a cultural regeneration of depressed inner-city enclaves (like Merchant City’s resurgence in Glasgow) that has served as a model for subsequently chosen cities and led to closer communications and tourist connections between them through the Network of European Cultural Capitals and Months (ECCM).[22] In fact, the larger trends in European tourism towards transnational connections help foster a European spatial consciousness as well through the cementing of a common European heritage.  For instance, while traditional cities like Paris, Salzburg, and Florence have long histories as locations of cultural tourism in Europe, other cities like Glasgow, Barcelona, and Antwerp have become alternative tourist destinations known more for their avant-garde or contemporary art scenes as well as their architecture, shopping, and nightlife than any specific national attraction.[23]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 V.        Conclusion

Permalink for this paragraph 0 There are additional areas of concern that warrant further attention from a spatial historical perspective (for instance, the transnational Europeanization of domestic football teams or the economic and educational mobility of millions of young Europeans that has important implications for their conceptual relationships with both national and international space or EU policy and law restructuring locations of British economic activity), but by now the point has largely been made.  The spatial dimension of Europeanization and European integration has important implications for the broader relationship between England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales and the rest of Europe.  Historians should now begin laying the ground work to better historicize these phenomena that will continue to reshape both the British Isles and Europe into the future.


[1] Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (London: Sage Publications, 1995).

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [2] In recent years, this phenomenon has increasingly given away to a more profound sense of Europeaness within British political discourse that encompasses both positive and negative connotations.  For more information, see Piers Ludlow, “Us of Them? The Meaning of Europe in British Political Discourse,” in Mikael af Malmborg and Bo Stråth, eds., The Meaning of Europe: Variety and Contention within and among Nations (Oxford: Berg, 2002), 101-124.  See also Antonio V. Menéndez-Alarcón, The Cultural Realm of European Integration: Social Representation in France, Spain, and the United Kingdom (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004).

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [3] The most recent Eurobarometer polling on Ireland (Spring 2008) can be found here: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb69/eb69_ie_nat.pdf.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [4] The most recent Eurobarometer polling for the United Kingdom (Spring 2008) can be found here: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb69/eb69_uk_nat.pdf.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [5] For more information, see Juan Diez Medrano, Framing Europe: Attitudes to European Integration in Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 214-235.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [6] The best recent works include Dermot Keogh, Ireland and Europe 1919-1989 (Cork & Dublin: Hibernian University Press, 1989); Brian Brivati & Harriet Jones, eds., From Reconstruction to Integration: Britain and Europe since 1945 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993); Edmund Dell, The Schuman Plan and the British Abdication of Leadership in Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995); Wolfram Kaiser, Using Europe, Abusing the Europeans: Britain and European Integration, 1945-63 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996); Piers Ludlow, Dealing with Britain: The Six and the First UK Membership Application (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Michael Kennedy and Eunan O’Halpin, eds., Ireland and the Council of Europe: From Isolation Towards Integration (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2000); John W. Young, Britain and European Unity, 1945-1999 (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000); Alex May, ed., Britain, the Commonwealth, and Europe: the Commonwealth and Britain’s Applications to Join the European Communities (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001); Alan Milward, The Rise and Fall of a National Strategy 1945-1963: The UK and the European Community, Vol. 1 (London: Frank Cass, 2002); Oliver J. Daddow, ed., Harold Wilson and European Integration: Britain’s Second Application to Join the EEC (London: Routledge, 2003); and Gary Murphy, Economic Realignment and the Politics of EEC Entry: Ireland, 1948-1973 (Dublin: Maunsel and Company, 2003).

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [7] For a scholarly discussion of the concept of Europeanization, see Ian Bache and Andrew Jordan, “Europeanization and Domestic Change,” in Ian Bache and Andrew Jordan, eds., The Europeanization of British Politics (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 17-33.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [8] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1991), 26.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [9] Peter Wagstaff, “Remapping Regionalism,” in Marion Demossier, ed., The European Puzzle: The Political Structuring of Cultural Identities at a Time of Transition (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007), 165.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [10] David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), 78; quoted in Wagstaff, “Remapping,” 166.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [11] For a more intricate discussion of Europeanization and spatial analysis, see Julien Clark and Alun Jones, “The Spatialities of Europeanisation: Territory, Government, and Power in ‘EUrope,’” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33, no. 3 (July 2008): 300-318.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [12] The study of neofunctionalism in the context of European integration was first developed by Ernst Haas.  See Ernst Haas, The Uniting of Europe: Political, Social, and Economic Forces (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958).

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [13] Emanuele Castano, “European Identity: A Social Psychological Perspective,” in Richard K. Herrmann, Thomas Risse, and Marilynn B. Brewer, eds., Transnational Identities: Becoming European in the EU (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2004), 40-58.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [14] Donald McNeill, New Europe: Imagined Spaces (London: Arnold, 2004), 22.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [15] Hugh D. Clout, “The European Countryside: Contested Space,” in Brian Graham, ed., Modern Europe: Place, Culture, and Identity (London: Arnold, 1998), 298-299.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [16] Eve Darian-Smith, Bridging Divides: The Channel Tunnel and English Legal Identity in the New Europe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 1-3.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [17] For more information, see Mark Hart, “Convergence, Cohesion, and Regionalism: Contradictory Trends in the New Europe,” in Brian Graham, ed., Modern Europe: Place, Culture, and Identity (London: Arnold, 1998), 164-185.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [18] For more on this, see Christopher Harvie, The Rise of Regional Europe (London: Routledge, 1994).

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [19] Hart, “Convergence,” 170-171.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [20] McNeill, New Europe, 75.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [21] Ibid., 75-76.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [22] Beatriz Garcia, “Deconstructing the City of Culture: The Long-term Cultural Legacies of Glasgow 1990” Urban Studies 42, no.5-6 (May 2005): 841-868.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [23] McNeill, New Europe, 129.

page 41