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Taking a New Look at European History

Questions of European governance and citizenship are at the center of the concerns of both national and European authorities. Researchers are interested in these questions also, especially the research group “Identités, relations internationales et civilisations de l'Europe" (IRICE),1 which brings linguists, economists, legal scholars, geographers and political scientists together with historians and civilisationists.

If Europe integration is a building process, it has for a long time also been a theatre of confrontation and division. To write the history of European integration requires first of all understanding that the unity of Europe was never foreordained and that this history is also the statement of a problem. The objective of a history of European integration should be to analyse the thing called “Europe” in all its complexity, both as an area of a civilisation whose borders are hard to define and as a system of international relations. It is also important to examine this object of contemporary history in light of a long European past, and without a teleological point of view; the process of European integration is not in fact inscribed in the genetic code of European culture since – from a number of points of view – it makes a sharp break with the past. Europe's inheritance is nevertheless an essential part of the process, but cultural pasts are regularly transformed by memory and cultural mutation; European identities are always changing.

There has existed in Europe over the last three or four centuries a hungering for a “European order” as a means of peace but which has often led to war. A new European momentum has sprung up since the middle of the 20th century which draws in part on this older order and in part on a fundamental change in the way European identity is forged. The relationships between regional, national, and European identities have been transformed in a short period of time in response to intense historical moments either destructive or foundational. Identity metamorphosis has also occurred in response to negative stimuli: fear of decline, of war, of insecurity, or of the USSR, or an uneasy sense of American hegemony. On one hand European integration appears to be forged “against” a threat rather than “for” a vision or ideal, but on the other hand Europeans draw on the past (sometimes to the point of twisting it serve certain ends) to build the values and norms of today's integrated Europe.

While it is important to weigh inter-European relations and trans-European bonds, it is by the same token necessary to develop comparisons with extra-European societies close to Europe, and particularly ones in the Americas. Combining an internationalist and a comparativist approach makes it easier to identify European specificities in contrast to American society. What relations, exchanges, and interference have occurred between Europe and North America since 1945? An important research avenue is the study of trans-Atlantic entente and misunderstanding since the 1960's. Facets of such a study include economic questions (Atlantic integration and trade wars), political and cultural questions (Americanisation and anti-Americanism), and strategic and military questions (the matter of NATO).

The IRICE research unit pursues other research axes: a reflection on the European system and the role of culture, political cultures, and bilateral relations (the Franco-British or Franco-German “marriage” in that system; East-West relations and perspectives within Europe since 1945; relations between Europe and Southeast Asia; the analysis of a specific, 20-year period: “crises, a sense of crisis, and mutations in France and Europe between 1973 and 1995”. Finally the IRICE unit is also at the center of a network of 180 researchers in 16 different countries working on the theme “Time and spaces in European integration”, which focuses on the questions of enlargement and deepening of the European Union.
The aim of all these research programs is to bring historical awareness into the debate on European integration.



à lire

Elisabeth du Réau et Robert Frank (dir.), Dynamiques européennes, nouvel espace, nouveaux acteurs, 1969-1981. Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2002, 318 p.


Robert Frank
Director of IRICE

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