Book review: Framing Europe

Mathieu Deflem

Book review published in Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 11(2):291-294, 2005.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2005. Review of Framing Europe: Attitudes to European Integration in Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, by Juan Díez Medrano. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 11(2):291-294.

This book presents a sociological analysis of attitudes towards European unification in Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain. Though restricted to these three countries, the analysis relies on various methods and sources to focus on ordinary citizens as well as members of the local elites and estimate how their attitudes towards the prospects of a united Europe relate to their respective countries’ histories and national cultures. The perspective of the book is resolutely sociological, adopting the well-known approach of frame analysis that was first popularized by Erving Goffman. Frames are relevant in people’s constructions of the objects they confront in their lives, whether these be everyday events or major political institutions. A focus on the popular frames of the European Union reveals the many Europes that exist across various social categorizations. Methodologically, the book relies on in-depth interviews and archival analysis of newspapers and other printed sources such as school textbooks and novels.

Medrano’s book begins with the finding that there are relatively persistent differences in attitudes towards European integration in the countries that make up the European Union. The question now is why these differences exist. The author approaches this problem by focusing on the culture of unification in three countries in Europe. The choice is somewhat arbitrary but valuable nonetheless because the focus is on large countries, representing almost half of Europe’s population, that are also varied in terms of popular support. Spain is a largely pro-European country, as are, but somewhat less so, the former East and West Germany, whereas there is a pronounced absence of support for European unification in the United Kingdom.

Considerations of economic interests and political power and democracy are at the core of people’s perceptions towards a unified Europe. People who are more pro-European tend to emphasize the positive effects that are anticipated with a common market, the fact that countries are considered too small to tackle many of today’s problems, and the freedom to travel across Europe. Anti-Europeans tend to stress that European governance is too far removed from people’s everyday lives. Besides these core themes, there exist distinct differences across the three examined European countries based on cultural and political history. Generally, Germans focus on the increased labor competition in an open European market and the European Union’s purported democratic deficit in the context of the specific history of National Socialism. In Spain, citizens take consideration of the modernization process the country may be subject to once it is aligned with rest of Europe, the status that will flow from international cooperation, and the legacy of Franco’s fascism. Among citizens in the United Kingdom, concerns over national sovereignty and British identity are at the forefront. From an additional analysis of selected newspapers it is revealed that journalists’ perceptions of European integration reflect a strong similarity with these popular images, although some differences exits too.

The second part of this book offers a clarification of how the various national cultures of the examined countries can make sense of the differing frames that exist on European unification. Focusing on the three countries separately, Medrano links Spain’s historical path to the fascist regime of General Franco. The isolationist and anti-foreign nature of the Franco regime is in sharp contrast with the modernizing and prestige-enhancing qualities that are associated with a pro-European move. In the former West Germany, the confrontation with the Nazi past forms the essential background of a pro-European attitude that is oriented at materializing a sense of cooperation with other countries and a need to reassure other Europeans of Germany’s goodwill. In the former East Germany, the situation is different as the country was not part of the European unification process that began after World War II and was instead subjected to its second dictatorship. The German reunification and the Communist past rather than the Nazi past are the central elements of the cultural foundation for East Germans’ attitudes towards Europe. In the United Kingdom, finally, anti-Europeanism is linked up with the British sense of nationalism which not only posits the singularity of Britain but also a general satisfaction British citizens have with their uniqueness. In conclusion, Medrano suggests the similarities that exist between European unification and national cases of state-building. At present, however, European unification has according to Medrano reached a plateau and only a new crisis may create new opportunities.

This book is a valuable contribution to the study of European unification. As the author rightly points out, much work on Europe has focused on the institutions of integration at the political and economic level disregarding analysis of Europe’s cultural realm. Discussions on the so-called democratic deficit of the European Union have unduly limited a focus on the cultural dimension in a manner that only narrowly makes sense in terms of policy and the institutional dimension of European unification. As such, this book offers a much needed analysis that fills a notable void in the otherwise extensive literature on European integration.

This book is also usefully grounded in theoretical perspectives in cultural and comparative sociology. Much of the extant scholarship on European unification is indeed very descriptive besides being phrased in policy-relevant terms. To avoid such shortcomings, Medrano relies on a sociological framing perspective to not only reveal the varying degree popular support towards European unification in a variety of countries but to also offer an analytical model that can make sense of these developments. The appropriate work that does exist on Europe’s popular support —mostly coming from political scientists such as Matthew Gabel— is at the same time taken into account in this book. The one exception is the work on national identity in Europe that has been done by fellow sociologist Antonio V. Menendez-Alarcon (whose 2004 book, The Cultural Realm of European Integration, focusing on the United Kingdom, Spain, and France, should make for an interesting companion to the work here under review). Also, despite the fact that the author declares not only his interest but also his support for European unification in the opening pages of this work, the methodological depth and rigor of this book are admirable.

This book will primarily be of interests to students of European integration, but it should also be able to cross-cut the various disciplinary audiences of sociologists, political scientists, international scholars, and other social scientists interested in the unification of Europe and questions of nationalism and internationalism. Secondarily, cultural sociologists and related scholars might find food for thought in this work, should they at least avoid a parochial vision to include comparative and international perspectives.