Conference Report “Beyond the Progressive Story: Reframing Resistance to European Integration.”, March 29-31, 2023 (Hamburg)  

From Katharina Troll and Alexander Hobe, Hamburg Institute for Social Research

This article has previously appeared on H-Soz-Kult.


Between 29 and 31 March 2023 the Hamburg Institute for Social Research hosted the international conference “Beyond the Progressive Story: Reframing Resistance to European Integration”. Why another conference on opposition or resistance to integration? There are many reasons for such an event – organised by the (De)constructing Europe research network – and also many reasons why it was an intriguing affair.

The flag of the European Movement, nicknamed ‘Churchill’s underpants

First, Churchill’s underpants featured prominently in the keynote given by Kiran Klaus Patel (Munich). Seeing as they were used in opposition to Paul-Henri Spaak, the underpants (which was a nickname given to the flag of the European federalist movement) illustrated the subversions of expectations which seemed to be a common element of style at the conference. Second, research is still grappling with what resistance to Europe in a historical, long term perspective really means and constitutes. Conferences such as this one, offer the possibility to discuss the multiplicities of critical engagements with European integration in an international and interdisciplinary framework. Third, while there seems to be agreement that the histories of European integration cannot be told as progressive and conflict-free stories, how to concretely go “beyond the progressive story” remains an open question. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the participants were provided with excellent catering. 

Since the physical needs were taken care of, the conference was able to engage in a thorough substantive debate. Many participants set about embedding resistance and opposition in the center of their histories of integration. The anecdote told by Patel, of a European federalist symbol used in protest against one of Europe’s anointed founding fathers, was a case in point of a larger theme of the conference made explicit by Daniele Pasquinucci (Siena), who talked about the “forgotten interaction” between “Europeanism” and “anti-Europeanism” in the building of Europe. The contestation of the process shaped integration from the start. Andrea Martinez (Rome) demonstrated this, when he showed that in the allegedly “Euro-enthusiast” Italy of the 1950s, the European treaties had been treated highly controversial by the press, to some part in an oppositional reaction to the “almost paternalistic” educational effort in the nascent Italian television under the thumb of the Christian Democrat government.

As Olga Gontarska (Warsaw) showed, this public sphere-oriented contestation of integration did not necessarily have to be limited to national borders or temporal caesuras. The journal “Arka,” she demonstrated, was a forum of transnational exchange, based on networks Polish historians had already formed during the Cold War. Through this, US neoconservative speakers were introduced into the debate on European cooperation, and their networks with Polish historians produced its own vision of transnational cooperation at odds with Polish EU membership.

Connected to this demonstration of the contestation of integration among journalists, David Lawton (London) offered an insight into yet another elite group grappling with the implications of integration. Lawyers, Lawton argued, were uniquely qualified to remake British Euroscepticism during the Maastricht period. Their expertise afforded them an awareness of the opportunity provided by treaty reform. His story of a group of British lawyers which won the right to a judicial review of the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 highlighted another instance of the constant conflicts over integration.

Contestation among and through elites was also shown in the presentations by Antonio Carbone (Rome), Katharina Troll (Hamburg), and Larissa Kraft (Glasgow). Indeed, all three of them traced this contestation back to groups traditionally very closely associated with the history of integration, namely policy-makers (Kraft) as well as the organized interests of farmers (Carbone) and of business (Troll). Using the example of French and Italian farmers, Carbone demonstrated how the confrontation of Northern and Southern agricultural interests, dividing not only both nation states but also both national farmers’ associations internally, structured the farmers’ response to the Common Agricultural Policy of the EC, which became visible in a Europeanization of protest practices. Kraft, meanwhile, reminded the conference of the contestation of integration through French policy-makers’ narratives of a certain kind of Europe which emphasized the Franco-German relationship over the Franco-British one. Troll, on the other hand, used the example of the Council of European Industrial Federations to show how the work of the Council was characterized by conflicts over the correct path of integration and by the articulation of alternatives to supranational integration mainly in the framework of the OEEC, thereby demonstrating how economic elites were uncertain in their support for different paths of integration.

Taking up Kraft’s theme of analyzing those in power, Beata Jurkowicz (Warsaw) added historical depth by tracing Eurosceptical trends in the current Polish government to their roots in the democratic opposition to communism. Meanwhile, Philipp Müller’s (Hamburg) contribution combined perspectives on policy and on business elites to show how these, displeased by an emphasis on democracy in the EC relationship to pre-accession Portugal, developed their own Europeanization to circumvent these channels. Again, in both cases, contestation and opposition were part and parcel of how integration itself took place. Johannes Großmann’s (Tübingen) presentation illustrated how the “Conservative International” (several conservative elite circles), while explicitly aiming to produce alternative visions, ended up adapting to the hegemonic framework of integration. This uneasy back-and-forth between opposition and support, which is inadequately captured in a binary, was also visible in Alexander Hobe’s (Hamburg) work, which showed how the strategic adaptation to the framework of integration by European veterans could send them off on a path which was divorced from the process.

While all these contributions revealed how integration had been fought over from the very start – indeed sometimes how these fights had been laying the groundwork for other, future fights – the question needs to be asked of why the impression of a harmonic, natural flow of events is so powerful and persistent. The talks by Philip Bajon (Frankfurt am Main) and Victor Jaeschke (Potsdam) may give an indication, as they showed how rendering resistance invisible certainly was part of the European institutions’ political modus operandi. Bajon focused on the Luxembourg Compromise – a gentlemen’s agreement between European Economic Community (EEC) member states which guaranteed them the option to block decision-making on national “vital interests”. Disagreement was concealed behind the compromise, which facilitated the rise of consensus-building (“silent voting,” in Bajon’s words) as a mode of decision-making. Jaeschke’s story of “subsidiarity” was similar: it was never clearly defined how and which regional levels should have the right to their own sphere of decision-making. This disagreement became visible when actors tried to influence the way in which the concept would be legally defined, but it was obscured in the ambiguous phrasing in the Treaty of Maastricht.

In the end, the attempts to go “beyond the progressive story” had produced many narratives focusing on contestation. While the conference had definitely succeeded in demonstrating the existence of such contestation, it remains to be seen how all of this can be combined in a larger conceptual framework which avoids the trappings of teleology. For this purpose, perhaps, another conference is in order. Hopefully, this will again be one with excellent catering.



Conference overview:


Chair: Wolfgang Knöbl

Introduction: Philipp Müller (Hamburg)

Daniele Pasquinucci (Siena): A forgotten interaction: Europeanism, anti-Europeanism, and the building of Europe.

Andrea Martinez (Rome): “Europe constructed, Europe contested”: Comparing Italian media responses to the treaties of Paris and Rome

David Lawton (London): Lawyers against European union: The Maastricht judicial review, 1992-1993

Kiran Patel (Munich): Putting the permissive consensus to rest. Rethinking societal attitudes vis-à-vis European integration


Chair: Martin Baumeister

Antonio Carbone (Rome): North-South divide at the communitarian and regional scale: Italian and French farmers facing EEC´s Southern enlargement

Katharina Troll (Hamburg): Debating Europe transnationally: The Council of European Industrial Federations and the struggle over European integration, 1950-1962

Larissa Kraft (Glasgow): (Re-)Narrating the past in pursuit of different visions of Europe: French policymaking discourses on Britain’s first application to join the European Communities, 1961–63

Olga Gontarska (Warsaw): Creating a forum for Eurosceptic exchange. Polish historians as public intellectuals in the pre-accession period


Chair: Milos Reznik

Philip Bajon (Frankfurt, Main), Resisting the majority. Informal decision-making in the EC/EU, 1958-2016

Victor Jaeschke (Potsdam): “The magic word for Europe-weary”. Subsidiarity and its limits as a potential cure for Euroscepticism, 1988-1992

Johannes Großmann (Tübingen): Europe in black. A conservative alternative to European integration from the 1950s to the 1990s

Beata Jurkowicz (Warsaw): Eurosceptical trends among anti-communist opposition in Poland between 1976 and 1980

Simona Guerra (Surrey): When traditionalism and religion meet the EU: The Polish case in comparative perspective


Chair: Christina von Hodenberg

Alexander Hobe (Hamburg): The Europeanization of Wehrmacht veterans at the time of the European Defense Community

Eleni Kouki (Athens): Europe in decay. The Greek junta’s rhetoric on European integration (1967-1974)

Philipp Müller (Hamburg): Outside Europe. Managing economic relations between EC member states and the Portuguese colonial empire in the 1970s

Philipp Müller (Hamburg): Concluding remarks


Cite this blog post
Editorial Board (2023, July 18). Conference Report “Beyond the Progressive Story: Reframing Resistance to European Integration.”, March 29-31, 2023 (Hamburg)  . (De)Constructing Europe. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from

You may also like...

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search