N°66, 2019/4 – Narrating “Europe”: A Contested Imagined Community

Edited by Alvaro Oleart and Astrid Van Weyenberg

Alvaro Oleart and Astrid Van Weyenberg – Introduction to the special issue

Alvaro Oleart and Luis Bouza García – The narrative struggle for the signification of “Europe” in the context of the TTIP negotiations: the European Aegis narrative vs transnational populism

European Union studies are undergoing a narrative turn (Bouza Garcia, 2017). Academic debate is starting to consider both the importance of socio-cultural representations of Europeanness for understanding citizens’ and civil society attitudes towards the EU and the usage of narrative strategies by EU political actors. In order to contribute to analysing how “Europe” is narrated in the current politicised environment, we analyse the competition to define and frame “Europe” in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) project, focussing on the competing narrative strategies of the European Commission and the Stop TTIP coalition. We analyse the narratives put forward in strategic documents of both actors, conceiving the two opposing narratives as the opposition between “European Aegis” and “transnational populism”. We will also present in-depth elite interviews with Brussels-based political actors to analyse the articulation of those narratives.

Astrid Van Weyenberg – “Europe” on Display: A postcolonial reading of the House of European History

This contribution investigates the House of European History in Brussels. Taking a postcolonial perspective, I focus on what is made central and what is made peripheral to the narrative the House constructs. The museum reflects what Shore describes as the contradictory use of culture in official European discourses, conceiving of Europe as a unified cultural entity on the one hand, and as a space of diversity on the other hand (2006). Ultimately, I argue, this contradiction compromises the House’s ambition to present a history that allows room for the different experiences and stories that are lived and remembered within Europe.

Imke Henkel – The witty Briton stands up to the European bully. How a populist myth helped the British Eurosceptics to win the 2016 EU referendum

The British press has been reporting a uniquely distorted image of European affairs and institutions for decades. This article argues that the twisted narrative some British media offered about the relationship between the United Kingdom and mainland Europe was as influential as were the discursive strategies which they employed. Using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to investigate three sample texts, and drawing on Jack Lule’s and Roland Barthes’ theories of myth, I find that two of these texts construct a populist myth of a witty British people eternally alien to the EU. This narrative ultimately contributed to the vote for Brexit.

Maximilian Conrad, Helga Kristín Hallgrímsdóttir et Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly –The Heroes and Villains of an Alternative Europe – How EU Contestation shapes Narratives of Europe in Germany

This article analyzes the contribution of EU contestation to a (counter-)narrative of Europe. Drawing on theories of Euroskepticism, the article argues that EU contestation need not be based on an outright rejection of European integration. Indeed, it may make a constructive contribution to an alternative vision of Europe, promoting values such as solidarity, democracy, human rights or environmental protection. The empirical analysis supports this argument by showing how EU contestation in the German context has evoked images of what may be described as the “heroes” and “villains” of an alternative Europe.

Sabine Volk – Speaking for “the European people”? How the transnational alliance Fortress Europe constructs a populist counter-narrative to European integration

This paper examines one of the rare cases of transnational populism against the backdrop of European (dis-)integration, focusing on the far-right bottom-up protest movement Fortress Europe. Using novel primary sources such as digital texts, images, and videos, it carries out a critical discourse analysis of Fortress Europe’s discourse and performance. The analysis reveals how Fortress Europe constructs Europe as a society at war against an immigrant “Other” and its “elites”. Subsequently, the paper considers the discursive construction of Europe under the lens of transnational populism, pointing to the alliance’s achievements and failures in constructing a transnational people. Finally, it critically discusses Fortress Europe against the backdrop of European mainstream politics.

Jesse van Amelsvoort – Narrating into Europe: Female Migrant Writers’ Voice and Representation

This paper engages with Zadie Smith’s The Embassy of Cambodia and Najat El Hachmi’s L’últim patriarca, which thematise what Stuart Hall has called being “in but not of” Europe. These narratives capture the changes brought to Europe by migration and globalization, embodied by the young female protagonists. As literary works, they capture in narrative form the difficulties of carving out a space for migrant women in contemporary Europe and suggest that engaging with the major challenges coming to Europe today through narrative is one way to stake a position. Only after rewriting the story can female migrants embrace Europe.

Margriet van der Waal – The social imaginary of precarious Europeans: the cultural representation of European socio-economic precarity in Tascha and Bande de Filles

This contribution focuses on how two artistic texts represent precarious Europeans: vulnerable social subjects (citizens, inhabitants of Europe/the EU) who may be deemed “losers” of the European project. These precarious people are seldom – if at all – represented as participants in the complex processes of Europeanisation. The texts analysed and discussed in this contribution are the Dutch novel Tascha by Mira Feticu (2015) and the French feature film, Bande de Filles by Céline Sciamma (2014). I argue that a critical analysis of these narratives enables us to probe open the category that constitutes “Europeans” and nudges us to rethink who is considered to be “European”.


Jean-Claude Barbier – Amandine Crespy, L’Europe sociale, acteurs, politiques, débats, Bruxelles, Éditions de l’Université libre de Bruxelles, 2019, 310 pages.

Marc Milet – Maja Kluger Dionigi, Lobbying in the European Parliament. The battle for influence, London, Palgrave Macmillan, Palgrave Studies in European Union Politics, 2017, 199 pages.