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Looking East and West

Monitoring European Expansion

This Observatory of European Enlargement1 has been established as a response to the need for qualitative assessments of the impact of enlarged membership in the EU on the development of European identity. Its uniqueness lies in an ethnographic approach.

Affiche 2003

© European Communities 2003


Ethnology is not only the study of so-called traditional societies. Proof can be found in the research activities of the Laboratoire d'Anthropologie des Institutions et des Organisations Sociales (LAIOS) centered on issues of European integration. This laboratory was founded in 1995 on the basis of pioneering work done by Marc Abélès and Irène Bellier2 on the daily life of the European Parliament* and the European Commission*. Now LAIOS is comprised of ethnologists, sociologists, and historians who are attracted by the qualitative analyses of anthropology. One of the major research avenues at the Laboratory is European enlargement, which is attracting a great deal of interest because one of the main questions Europe is facing is that of otherness, of non-European-ness, as exemplified by the debate on Turkey's possible candidacy.

Identifying the limits of European cohesion
Enlarging the Union to include countries in Eastern and Central Europe supposes that these countries are ready to accept Western rigor on a certain number of points: economic policy, competition, agriculture, industry, infrastructures, and others. But each country also has its own identity, political and administrative culture, and its own ways of working. When officials and representatives from Eastern European nations work in Brussels, cultural gaps inevitably open up. These gaps are very instructive for ethnologists and help them grasp the tensions that develop around them, as well as the various ideas that the many eurocrats have of the European identity, and the limits of European cohesion. Along these lines, Birgit Müller2 focused on the integration of Council of Europe delegates from Eastern Europe and how EU offices train newcomers to the system. She also discovered discrimination among the different types of eurocrats. In Brussels, enlargement is seen as accomplishing two goals: reunion with “historic brothers” and teaching the rules of the game to “cousins” so that they can join the club. This is why explanations, training, and ideological apprenticeship are so important. Inversely, for officials from candidate countries the importance of restoring dialogue between “separated brothers” all depends on the progress of enlargement negotiations. This is what Irène Bellier discovered as she pursued her investigation of institutions in the offices of the department responsible for EU enlargement. But since candidates are cordially invited to adopt the rules of the game without questioning them first, it is worthwhile to look at the way the various partners see the “Union” and its “political dialogue”.

Understanding enlargement at the local level
A second research avenue at the Observatory is the way candidate countries' citizens respond to upcoming membership in the Union. Jean-François Gossiaux2 has led an investigation of the notion of otherness in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Bosnia, three countries at three different points along the way toward EU membership. Birgit Müller focused on environmentalist non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the Czech Republic as a new bastion of resistance to mainstream Czech politics. Sophie Chevalier2 chose to analyse economic dynamics by looking at microcredit programmes being developped for small and medium-sized enterprises in Bulgaria.
From these sets of findings, some common statements can be derived. First of all, a sense of unequal power infuses everything from learning the ways of a market economy or what Europe and civil society are expecting of them, to the legitimacy that the EU offers. Another general observation is the central role given to NGO's, which are elevated to a level of institutional respect to which they are not accustomed. The third common denominator is “European funds”. Funding from the EU is the main organising force and principle of any project or any action. LAIOS' Observatory has launched two new research themes for the period 2003-2006: territorial challenges and the reconfiguration of collective memory.




Marc Abelès
Director of LAIOS

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