European Identity?

A tough one: how to write about a thing so difficult to define?  The organization Eurooppalainen Suomi asked me to contribute to a report dealing with the question. That was a good occasion to get acquainted with writings on the subject, which I tried to synthesize in the report. The whole text, including my contribution, can be read as a .pdf here.

The report also contains Laura Parkkinen’s paper on populist movements in Europe, which is worth reading. Here again, good synthesis work.

Now back to research for a while…

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Revue d’histoire nordique, issue 17/2013

I recently received issue 17 of the Revue d’Histoire Nordique / Nordic Historical Review. This issue is dedicated to World War II as seen from the Nordic Countries, with a special focus on Norway. The selection of articles is quite varied, and contains:

. A presentation of WW II in Norway, as written by Svein Erling Lorås. Lorås draws a detailed picture of Norwegian memories related to the war, bringing forward the latest commemorations and their glorification of the Norwegian Resistance. The author quickly points in the direction of a more critical approach of Norway’s participation in the war, studies which would consider the fate of Jews, the negotiations between Norwegian personalities and the German occupiers, communist resistance, prisoners of war and volunteers in German service. From this short account, Norway appears like one more potentially fertile ground for new studies related to the war itself, but also and maybe even more substantially to the memory of the war.

. Nicolas Schwaller takes the task head on in the following contribution, that deals with the destruction of Norwegian Jews. The article meticulously exposes, first the nature of the Jewish community in Norway before the war, then the mechanism put into place by the German occupiers and the Norwegian collaborationist government to put the Final Solution in motion in Norway. Here again, pretty much like in France, the author points to the obvious: occupation by Germany was a prerequisite to the extermination of Norwegian Jews, but without the willing cooperation of the Norwegian authorities this undertaking would have been impossible to achieve for the German forces alone. Once again a striking similarity with France, the enthusiasm of Quisling’s government for the realization of a nyordning free from “plutocracy” and Jews did convince many to accompany the Nazi policy of extermination, and even to go beyond it. Exterminationist zeal was fueled by the occupation, but also by the ideology which arrived in power with Quisling, the enthusiasm of some groups (the henchmen of the Nasjonal samling, for example), and a general atmosphere of suspicion towards Jews. After the war, the glorification of the few resistance acts in this domain cannot hide the extent to which Quisling’s Norway participated in the extermination.

. Torleiv Austad, in the third contribution to the volume, develops the role of the Church in Norway during the occupation period. Austad describes how the Norwegian Church moved from cautious collaboration with the occupying authorities to open resistance to the occupying authorities: on Easter 1942, almost 800 pastors resigned their posts to protest against the occupation, refusing to cooperate with the Nazi authorities. This resistance is mostly linked, according to Austad, to the Norwegian Church’s attachment to the legal and human rights of the population. The Church, first passive towards the fate of Norwegian Jews, started to protest against their treatment in October 1942.

. In the fourth contribution, Hans Otto Frøland and Anders Lervold describe the fate of Soviet and French forced workers sent to Norway. These workers were channeled through the forced labor programme of the Third Reich into Norway, to help with the production of aluminium for the German aviation industry. A small insert at the end reminds the reader of the main contours of the “Organisation Todt“, the Nazi German paramilitary engineering organization which worked also in Norway.

. Lars Borgersud then presents a comparative view of resistance movements in Denmark and in Norway.  To his main question (why did Danish resistance become increasingly violent during the war when Norwegian resistance was more an operation of civil resistance?), he answers by reminding the reader of the differences in the perception of these resistance movements amongst the Allies. On the Norwegian side, the fight (even if highly symbolic) of the Norwegian army in 1940 and the delivery to the Allies of Norway’s fleet meant that Norway’s resistance was considered as closer to the Allies. The Danes, on the other hand, hadn’t put up that much of a fight in 1940, and the local resistance felt it had to show more visibly its commitment.

. Finally, Ville Kivimäki brings to the surface the traumatic experiences of the Finnish soldiers involved in the 1939-1940 Winter War. Suppressed by a society eager to look up to models of masculinity and forget the horrors of the conflict, these mental disorders manifested themselves during and after the conflict through various physical (uncontrolled shaking…) and mental troubles. Kivimäki describes the extent of these syndromes, but also the reaction of the Army and the creation on the field of a branch of military psychiatry to conceptualize and deal with these troubles.

In the varias, one can find an article especially interesting for readers interested in private/personal diplomacy: the description by Kristine Midtgaard of the Danish diplomat and woman activist Bodil Begtrup’s activities in the League of Nations. A fascinating aspect of Midtgaard’s paper is the way she shows how Begtrup used the networks and knowledge accumulated in the League during the 1930s to inform her work in the United Nations after 1945. Often postulated, this link between the two organizations is rarely shown that clearly and in such an operative manner.

Two other articles complete this collection of varias: an article by Lasse Sonne, who comes back on the relations between Nordic Economic Interest Organizations and Nordic Economic Co-operation in the late 1960s, when the NORDEK project was discussed; and a paper by Florian Ferrebeuf describing the rise of social-democracy in Eastern Prussia during the later half of the 19th century.

This issue ends up with a presentation of Régis Boyer’s career (including a description of the book-deposit he did to the Paris-based Fonds Nordique), a series of book reviews, and the text of Aladin Larguèche’s PhD defense on Norwegian intellectual history.

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New Global Studies issue on “diplomatic entrepreneurs”…

Catching up on things after a spring of writing about Public Diplomacy and EU-integration, I notice the issue of New Global Studies that Giles Scott-Smith edited. The issue deals with diplomatic entrepreneurs under the heading “Who is a Diplomat – Diplomatic Entrepreneurs in the Global Age.” Looks wonderfully appetizing. The contributions are taken out of the New Diplomatic History meeting in Leiden last fall.

Looking forward to reading it…

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Teaser: the Front National beyond the economic crisis?

A very short teaser for whatever I will write on this blog about France after this spring’s European elections. This piece in touches a very interesting and important point: the rise of the FN is not only the result of the economic crisis but the result of a wider crisis of collective self-definition, culture, identity.

A potent brew that one could define as a sense of general, “ontological” insecurity. Economic insecurity, of course. Cultural insecurity as well: a sense that things are not like they used to be, that France is not anymore what it used to be. This is not only a domestic phenomenon: one’s collective self-identification and sense of security can also be drawn, on the one hand from what others think – or from what one thinks others think – of one’s national community, and on the other hand from our perception of the strength, capacity to act, “greatness” of one’s nation. And at the moment, as any Frenchman with an Internet connection and a basic grasp of English would know, France’s reputation and capacity to act is not at all what it used to be. One can very well get the picture that a combination of German-enforced austerity at the European level, China-dominated economic developments, and US-dominated cultural life neutralizes France’s voice in the world. Hence a painful longing for de Gaulle’s policy, “grandeur”, etc. The redefinition of France’s place in the world as a “middle-sized nation” doesn’t go easily, and is part of a prevalent feeling of general insecurity.

The implications of that are not simple for the French political leaders (such as they are today). Blaming “the crisis” holds the prospect that, at some point, the economy will start to pull up again: 1,5% annual growth – problem solved! A wider, cultural crisis, however,  needs to be treated with medicine of an entirely different nature, something able to provide a new collective narrative for a new France.

The FN’s program provides this narrative on a negative basis, by harkening back to a glorious past, to a nationalist narrative, and putting the blame on some parts of the current arrangement: migrants, the EU, capitalism, whatever suits the day and channels public anger and insecurity. Providing a positive narrative to counter that, in the current situation, taking into account France as it is today (multicultural, open, etc) and avoiding the main pitfalls of excluding nationalism won’t be easy. If this doesn’t happen, however, then the FN is here to stay.


PS: And of course, there is a theory for that: ontological security IS a thing in IR theory, documented for example in Brent J. Steele’s book and this article by Jennifer Mitzen. I am not sure this overlaps with what I wanted to explore in this short post, however. The pains of using “theoretically loaded” terms in colloquial conversations…

PPS: While it is still lacking in France, creating of sense of movement and a new narrative seems to be Matteo Renzi’s tactic for Italy. A short-term tactic aimed at sugar-coating Renzi’s first months in power – or a succesfull strategy to actually do the minimum politicians are left with the capacity to achieve: provide a story for the people to gather around? We shall see…

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#EP2014 vol. 1: the Parliament, the Commission, …

I was going to write something on the general results of the European elections, but I keep coming back to France and to the results there. So let’s split this into two parts: first part on the European level; second part on France and the (now inevitable) Front National.
The European Parliament, first. The new Parliament as it came out of the elections can be checked here, and some country-specific reactions here on the blog of the LSE.
The new Parliament will be a bit more split than it was, merely because the “main” groups are smaller than they used to be. The entry in Parliament of “euroskeptic” MEPs (for want of a better term) does not mean that they will immediately wreck havoc or deliver on their promises of complete overhaul of “the system”. Euroskeptic MEPs have rarely taken the Parliament as more than a stage for gesticulations destined to audiences at home. A quick glance at what Nigel Farrage or Timo Soini did during their tenure will give you an idea of how active they have been in the Parliament. Not much, and mostly not on things that matter – in commission work, in the preparation of reports and in the daily routines of the Parliament. There might be a new generation of more active and more decided MEPs, but I somehow doubt it. Pervenche Berès, an old Parliament hand from the French Socialist party, doubts it as well.
Profoundly the reason is that most of these people don’t care. They have been elected to a system they do not consider as legitimate, and have their eyes set on their domestic fields and audiences at home. Most of these parties also suffer from a lack of resources: being low on capable and experienced cadres, they will send to the Parliament inexperienced, and sometimes downright goofy characters. Some of them might even be only very loosely on line with their own party – an exemple with this candidate from the Front National, Joëlle Bergeron, elected on Sunday and who declared being in favor of foreigners getting the right to vote in the country they live in – which is not at all the FN party  line (because, you know, muslim invasion, mosques everywhere, Romanian thugs and the like).  In an interesting display, Bergeron was forced by Marine Le Pen to resign her newly acquired mandate and leave the post to the third in line on the FN local list. How much similar cases hide under the unanimity born of electoral triumph?
One of the question marks is the capacity of the FN to hatch around its own group of MEPs a dedicated “euroskeptic” group, which would give them the possibility to influence the order of the day and other parliamentary matters. Considering the conditions (25 MEPs from 7 different countries), this is rather unlikely to happen. Amongst possible candidates for such a group, many (UKIP most prominently) have already announced that they wouldn’t join the club. In the high testosterone, nationally-minded world of these parties, and in the highly bureaucratic environment of a Parliament they don’t truly accept, cooperation won’t come naturally. Some (UKIP, again) would rather work with the conservatives than being associated with the likes of Golden Dawn or the FN. Another formula might be an expansion of the EFD to accommodate a number of newcomers. Let’s see…
The second question mark is the name of the new President of the Commission and the commissioners. The two main names, Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, can both interpret the result as good for them. The EPP is still the biggest group in the Parliament, and Juncker would seem a conveniently “intergovernmental” name, readily acceptable by traumatized national leaders – who, despite all talks of “taking into account the result of the European elections”, are still calling the shots – unfortunately, but in sync with the desires of European public opinions. On the other hand, the EPP cannot achieve anything without entering in a coalition with other groups. Will the fear of paralysis and a common rejection of the euroskeptic “barbarians at the gates” push the two main groups – EEP and S&D – to collaborate? In that case, and if there needs to be a balance between conservative national governments and the Parliament, Schulz has a chance.
A typical move would, of course, be a compromise name drawn by the member-states out of the hat. One could imagine a former commissioner. That might also be someone from a small country, a sufficiently bland and consensual character. The game has been on in Finland, for example, with everybody and his dog being rumored as “available for European duty”. Jyrki Katainen, who stepped down as Prime Minister in the spring, might be a suitable compromise name, if he can go over Finland’s reputation as a hardline austerity country. Personal note here: if this kind of prospect for a Finnish politician would become a bit more concrete, there will be no living in this country for a few months at least. The amount of collective self-congratulation if a Finn gets the presidency of the Commission, and the equal amount of self-laceration if “our boy” doesn’t get it, will be properly unbearable.
In any case, the new President of the Commission will be placed in the same conundrum as José Manuel Barroso was, stuck between the member-states and the EU system, with very little means to step out of the the reservation in which the member-states are eager to keep him. Schulz might be the exception, who showed a little will to make the post into something more political – which is, I think, exactly why he won’t get it.  Beyond institutional pot stirring, thus, the structural problem of the EU will not change with these elections. Arthur Goldhammer summarized it very well on his blog: « No one in Europe is satisfied with the status quo, except the Germans, who are the only people capable of changing it ». Sunday’s elections, unfortunately, can hardly change this structural problem. In this context, will the “reorientation” of the EU Francois Hollande already demanded in his first post-election speech mean a slow unravelling of the integration formula struck in the 1980s-1990s?

But, wait, you should ask: what about the economy? Shouldn’t we be debating about austerity against relaunch, quantitative easing and the like? The problem is that this is not 2012 anymore. Even if Germany would accept a modicum of quantitative easing, for example, or consent to work on curbing its trade surplus, will +0,5 points of gdp be the panacea to everything, the return of trust, the turn of the tide? I doubt it. As one can read here, the perception of things (like for example the idea that Germany would have an undue trade surplus with other EU members) seems to be more important than the fact itself. Crisis fatigue might already have settled so deep that we are now into dangerous, deep political waters. The treatment will have to be political as well, and thus in part symbolic.

As a historian, fresh out of writing a textbook on the history of European Integration, it is hard to find a historical analogy that would somehow match with what we see today. If I had to pick, I would pick the winter 1968-1969. That would give us the combination of political paralysis (Charles de Gaulle’s weakness in France, institutional and political block in his dealings with EEC member-states, especially Germany) and looming economic problems. And, like today, France, Germany and Great-Britain as the main stage of the play.

Edit: well look at that. David Cameron and Victor Orban do not support Juncker, but Katainen announces that he “personally” supports him. Decision will be taken in the Council, at some point in June-July. Merkel already reminded everybody that the member-states chose the Chairman of the Commission. Dont acte
Edit Edit: Well well. Juncker just became the candidate of the Parliament, and seems one step closer to the Presidency of the Commission.

And my good colleague Niko Hataka spills the beans as to the True Finns’ MEPs’ situation in the new Parliament.

And a last one: an electoral analysis of the European elections.

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COLLOQUE INTERNATIONAL FORME(S) DE LA DIPLOMATIE, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, 12-13th June 2014

The International Seminar on Forms of Diplomacy organized by the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès approaches. That’s one I would have liked to attend. Oh well…

For those of you in the vicinity of Toulouse mid-June, here is the conference blog:


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France 2014 (R2)

Following the Municipal elections in France, here is a rundown of the results in English. For those interested…

World Elections

The second round of municipal elections were held in France on March 30, 2014. The second round of voting concerned all communes whose municipal councils were not elected by the first round. According to Le Monde, of the 9,734 communes (out of 36,681 in France) with over 1,000 inhabitants (all those communes voting using semi-proportional representation), 7,606 elected their council and mayor by the first round. I covered the complex structure, workings, powers and responsibilities of French municipal government as well as the details on the electoral systems in a first preview post. In a second preview post, I listed the major races in the main towns.

In the second round in communes with over 1,000 inhabitants, a plurality suffices to win. All lists which won over 10% of the vote in the first round are qualified, although they may choose to withdraw and/or merge with another qualified list…

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