Everyone say ‘Brexit’…

From David Lawton, German Historical Institute London

This post covers our project’s recent presentation of papers for the (De)Constructing Europe London Workshop, hosted at the German Historical Institute London. Presentations took place between Thursday, 7 July 2022 and Friday, 8 July 2022 and were commented on by local and external experts Dr James Ellison (QMUL), Professor Piers Ludlow (LSE), Dr Andrea Mammone (University of Rome La Sapienza), Dr Eirini Karamouzi (Sheffield), Dr Robert Saunders (QMUL).

Participants of the Workshop in London

Having pre-circulated papers, the emphasis for this London workshop was to discuss our fresh archival-based research with the visiting experts. Two days of constructive criticism, intense discussion, and detailed commentary on the papers drew out several points of contrast and comparison, the most important of which will be discussed below. Firstly, a recap of the papers presented.


From the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Prof. Philipp Müller, Alexander Hobe, and Katherina Troll presented papers relating to Germany, Portugal, Britain and beyond. Alexander Hobe’s paper on ‘German soldiers and European integration in the 1950s’ investigated French and German military attitudes towards European integration, particularly in the time of the planning and negotiations for the European Defence Community. Katherina Troll offered up an analysis of British and German industrial attitudes towards European integration in her paper ‘How to handle the troublemaker? West German textile industry and the first British application for membership to the EEC 1961-1963’. And, last but certainly not least, Prof. Philipp Müller’s paper ‘The Portuguese colonial empire inside and outside Europe: European rapprochement without the European Community’ shed new light on early discussions of the southern enlargement of the EEC, in particular the integration of Portugal before the end of the Portuguese dictatorship in 1974.

Travelling from the DHI Rome,  Dr Antonio Carbone and Andrea Martinez presented work from a post-war Italian context. Looking at agriculture and the CAP, Carbone discussed his paper ‘Olives, oranges, and the EEC’s Southern Enlargement: the Discussion within Coldiretti’ which argued that the 25th General Assembly of the Confederazione Coltivatori Diretti (Coldiretti) was a ‘key turning point’ in the organization’s way of relating not only to its historical ally, the Christian Democrats (DC), but also to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the European Economic Community (EEC) in general. In ‘Europe constructed, Europe contested: Italian media in the early years of the European project’, Andrea Martinez assessed the way in which different forms of media covered and portrayed the Treaty of Rome. His research demonstrated that the Treaty of Rome represented ‘a major media event that was highly politicised.’

Dr Beata Jurkowicz and Dr Olga Gontarska, both researchers at the German Historical Institute Warsaw, presented papers on the Polish national context. Olga Gontarska’s paper ‘Historical references in the Polish debate on European integration’ analysed a case study – the House of European History – looking at the how ‘Eurosceptic references to history’ informed the debate between a wide array of actors including journalists, historians, and politicians. Beata Jurkowicz, in her paper ‘Euroscepticism and democratic opposition in communist Poland’ presented research on the sources of Euroscepticism in Poland by looking at key opposition circles and their visions of foreign policy in Communist Poland. She described how the values of the EU could be used as an instrument for the development of a democratic state and soft power in foreign policy in Poland.

Based at the German Historical Institute in London, Dr William King and David Lawton presented papers on developments in British ‘Euroscepticism’ from both sides of the political spectrum. King’s paper ‘Radical Reforms: Barbara Castle and the Common Agricultural Policy, 1979-89’ explored the political contribution of a Labour ‘Eurosceptic’ working in the European Parliament. King’s research showed that the engagement of Castle and the British Labour Group in the European Parliament stemmed from a genuine vision and desire to extend their own political cause. David Lawton’s paper, ‘Conservatives against the Single European Act: The “Peterhouse Right” on Fleet Street’ revealed a network of conservative journalists and academics who published sceptical articles about European integration throughout the 1980s in magazines, broadsheets, and tabloid papers before Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech.


Emergent Themes


  1. ‘Receptions’ to European Integration processes

Experts highlighted that one common theme across the projects was a historical attention to the various ‘receptions’ to changes or developments at the European political level across different national spaces and time periods. Regarding the media, Andrea Martinez and David Lawton both explored how different journalists and broadcasters interpreted different stages of European integration, and their mediating of this message to broader publics. In the Polish context, Olga Gontarska’s paper looked at how historical narratives could inform journalists’ and politicians’ receptions of European integration and the EU.

Similarly, Antonio Carbone’s and Katherina Troll’s projects looked at how actors in the agricultural and industrial sectors ‘received’ and ‘resisted’ developments at the European level in different national contexts. One important observation made by experts about the papers, was that different national contexts and cultures clearly allowed for variegated levels of ‘Euroscepticism’ within public discourses. There was never just one, but many, Euroscepticisms – all inflected with their own national, cultural, and historical peculiarities.

Receptions to the southern enlargement of the EC also arose in several of the projects, raising further examples as to how national and colonial actors reacted to expanding ‘European’ futures. Looking at the example of Portugal and its colonies, Philipp Müller’s paper showed ‘that conflicts over the southern enlargement of the EC did not run between supporters and opponents of European integration, either in Portugal or in the member states at the time; rather, the actors pursued different ideas about what purposes such an integration should serve and how far the regulatory power of the European Community should extend.’ In the Italian context, Carbone showed how many agriculturalists resisted the southern enlargement of the Community because they foresaw the creation of ‘a huge surplus of Mediterranean products’ which would arise from new entries into the EEC. Across all the papers in our project, it was noted that criticisms and resistance against European integration among economic actors often involved a specific defence of material interests mixed in with deeper, context-specific, ideological foundations.

Looking to the more recent past, the expansion of the EU to include Poland in 2004 was dealt with in both Gontarska’s and Jurkowicz’s work, which, by taking a longer historical approach towards the question of Poland’s place in Europe, complicates the meanings of what becoming ‘European’ meant in the pre- and post-Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

More broadly, our research showed that that different ‘receptions’ to further plans for integration at a European level often led to the development of ‘alternative visions,’ visions which have an important unwritten history. Official histories of European integration are often histories of ‘success,’ raising the question of why the history of ‘failures’ in European politics are worth studying. King’s project on the British Labour Group gives us an answer to this, showing how ‘Eurosceptic’ actors could and did make contributions to the history of European integration. The question of alternative visions also arises in Carbone’s study of the Colderetti, Troll’s project on Industrial actors, and Philipp Müller’s work on Portugal’s future after Empire.


  1. Networks in politics and beyond

Another theme which united several of the projects was research into networks of hitherto underexplored actors, and their underappreciated function in, and impacts on, the development of different Euroscepticisms. In Alexander Hobe’s research, he reconstructs networks of German soldiers and ex-soldiers, and looks at their various reactions to the early stages of European integration in the 1950s, discovering that far-right engagement with ideas about European integration contributed to the ‘Europeanization’ of the “Verband deutscher Soldaten.”

David Lawton’s research reconstructs a social network of Eurosceptic journalists associated with one Cambridge College. He shows how many went on to form an early Eurosceptic bloc in the British press at a time when ‘Euroscepticism’ was a low-salience issue in Parliamentary politics. Similarly, both Gontarska and Jurkowicz look to the importance of different political and journalistic networks in the creation of Polish Eurosceptic discourse.

Experts noted that the networks our researchers presented often operated within highly ‘contested spaces’ of European integration. These spaces are clearly sites of interest for our researchers. Whether the contested economic spaces of industry/agriculture/the CAP (Troll, Carbone, King); the contested space of intergovernmental/colonial/trilateral diplomacy (Müller, King); contested discursive spaces such as History/culture/the media (Martinez, Lawton, Gontarska, Jurkowicz), or more broadly still, the contested space of ‘Europe’ as an idea. All of the projects emphasised the messiness and contested politics of 75 years of integration history across Europe.


  1. Writing a history of dynamic scepticisms

In summary, what emerged from all of the projects at this conference was that ‘Euroscepticism’ was never a constant, static, or predictable force in the history of European integration, but rather, a malleable, dynamic, and open-ended phenomenon. Eurosceptics sometimes ‘softened’ their attitudes to integration while taking part in European political spaces, or contrastingly, converted from enthusiastic pro-Europeans into outspoken Eurosceptics. For all of our researchers, stepping into the weltanschauung of their historical subjects and attempting to understand the concerns, material and ideological, of different ‘Eurosceptics’ across space and time emerged as a priority for our future research. Visiting experts were left encouraged that our work promises to expand the place of ‘Euroscepticism’ in any future history of European integration.


Cite this blog post
Editorial Board (2022, September 7). Everyone say ‘Brexit’…. (De)Constructing Europe. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/oloo

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