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“There is not one Europe but many” (cf. Wæver 2009: 168)

How “Europe” is constructed and what “Europe” means differs significantly. How does discourse analysis help us unveil and make sense of different representations of Europe?

Essay 2011 9 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Thema: Europäische Union



European nation states are being incorporated in many different formations on the international and supranational level such as the European Union or the World Trade Organization. The ongoing process of integration challenges the ‘old’ image of the sovereign Westphalian state. Looking at the concept of the European nation state in the light of European Integration today, it is hard to approach changes by means of commonly used approaches. It often seems like “we analyse the future by the standards of the past” still applying customary concepts to the latest developments in IR (Anderson 2003: IX). Introducing constructivist approaches to European Integration Theory (EIT) allows scholars to “take a step back” and to look at the categories used to describe Integration themselves – in other words the construction of the categories of European Integration (ibid.).

Discourse approaches can be understood as both a methodology and theory. While discourse analysis as a method is used to complement a wide range of theories in EIT already, discourse theory - after his founding father Michel Foucault - is interested in deconstructing the hegemonic discourse in any given society (Mole 2007: 19)1. I will use the term discourse in the following as a “system that regulates the formation of statements” (Wæver 2009: 164)2. It is thereby important that theorists applying discourse analysis are not interested in the meaning of “things” for themselves but how these “things” become meaningful in discourse (ibid.). In the next chapter I start by explicating the historical roots of discourse analysis and give a broader outline of its contents.

The categories used to construct “Europe” are numerous and differ completely as I will show. Wæver therefore subsumes that „there is not one Europe but many“ (Wæver 2009: 168). In this respect I will critically assess two different discursive approaches in this paper3. I will focus on the approach “Foreign policy Explained from concepts of State, Nation and Europe” advocated by Wæver et al. and give a more detailed account of the example of “three competing ‘Europes’” (Wæver 1990). Hereby I will argue that discursive approaches fill gaps that conventional approaches fail to take account of which I will specify in the passage dealing with “approaches in European Discourse Theory”. I also want to promote the idea that despite the enthusiasm that discursive approaches inflame there are some limits to discourse analysis not sufficiently considered in academia (“Critiques”).

Theoretical framework and intellectual roots

In the following I want to deal with the heritage of discourse analysis and thereby also display its basic assumptions. I will already contextualise discourse analysis to the field of EIT.

In the 1980s realism and liberalism in IR came closer related in terms of their affinity towards rationalist ideas4. This left space open for discourse analysis to become a “radical challenger” of the rationalist approaches. This position was then also called post-structuralism. But the debate between rationalism and post-structuralism did not reach the scholarship of European Integration Studies (EIS) as it was the case in IR (Wæver 2009: 168-169). Now I will deal with the intellectual roots and theoretical implications of discursive analysis.

Ferdinand de Saussure was the first who expressed the idea that the relationship between the signifier and the signified in linguistics is not a priori but constructed. According to de Saussure meaning does not lay in the words itself that a linguistic community chose to give to “things”. Foucault was very interested in de Saussures’ ideas and became the first to apply these insights to the study of society. Foucault himself was not interested in founding a school or a consistent theory. Paradoxically that is exactly what has been made of his work (Anderson 2003: 2). He was not concerned weather facts were actually true or false but he searched for an analysis which would allow him to focus on the processes how these “facts” were established (Mole 2007: 16). The study of Foucault presents an analytical strategy that always goes along with a specific research question which can therefore obviously deal with EIT as well (Anderson 2003: 2).

It is important to note that scholars of discourse analysis as Foucault do not neglect that reality exists. But their claim is that there would be no ‘neutral language’ to describe reality. Diez (1999) gives the example of borders between countries outside “Schengenland” and the EU. In order to get into the EU one is confronted with “real” physical borders such as the control of passports for example. This refers to the dimension of reality in this given example. Despite the ‘real’ borders in order to enter the EU, the borders are constructed in the sense that “walls depriving people from their right to move (…) are speech acts within a specific discursive context” (Diez 1999: 5). Within the borders of the EU an “other” is constructed outside. The outsiders are discursively excluded which again has an effect on the actual practice along the borders of the EU. Practice and discourse have therefore a circular relation.

Foucault believed that knowledge could never be expressed from a “neutral speech position”. It would always evoke “excluding procedures” which denotes certain outsiders or even denounces groups as sick or irrational. Their expressions will not be considered in discourse as if they would not have spoken after all. In distinction to some other discursive theorists who are more concerned with the actors’ perspectives, Foucault challenges the individual will and reason of actors. He presents a program which argues that every expression is an expression framed within an already existing discourse. Each discourse would follow specific rules of inclusion and exclusion which are not fixed but procedural (Anderson 2003: 2-4). “Europe” therefore is not a uniform concept over time and space but rather contested and divers in its meaning(s) (Diez 1999: 3). Baasner (2008) demonstrated in a case study that the meaning of “Europe” in Spain changed over a relatively small time significantly. The meaning of “Europe” in elite discourse transformed from the attribution of the “other” to “own identity” (Baasner 2008: 12-14). Baasner thereby succeeded to show that the meaning of “Europe” can as well change within a country.

I will proceed by answering the question: Why do we need discourse analysis and “why does it help after all” (Diez 1999: 1)? Diez is interested in “exploring the nature of the beast” (ibid.). For him “Europe” (the beast) can be better explained by the help of discourse analysis for three reasons. First because EIT would so far be too narrowly focused on institutions which due to his understanding cannot exist apart from discourse. Secondly because discourse analysis could enlarge the concept of power which, which is often understood in terms of material capabilities. Scholars of discourse analysis doubt that there is a thing such as “real interest” autonomous from discourse. Thirdly discourse analysis would create a position that allows to contest other concepts in a way that it can hint towards other “integration alternatives” (Diez 1999: 1).

As I presented some insight of where discourse analysis actually comes from and how it can be understood I will proceed by displaying how discourse analysis can work together with EIT.

Approaches in European Discourse Theory

In the following chapter I want to present two different discursive approaches of EIT. These concepts differ in terms of their assumptions concerning the scope of “European” discourses. Apart from their general agreement on the construction of “Europe” the approaches tell different narratives about the main “unit” of discourse. While the approach of the “European Project as a paradox” focuses on the union at large, “Foreign policy explained from the concepts of State, Nation and Europe” claims that dominant discourses still oscillate around the concept of sovereignty and nation-states. In this sense the governance approach of discourse analysis provides a compromise between the two. As this approach deals with the interconnectness of different layers of discourse it takes both national as well as supranational discourses into account (Wæver 2009: 168). I focuse on last two approaches because they appeared to me more illustrative in terms of EIT than the “paradox” approach. As a next step I will deal with the governance approach in more depth.

The governance approach in discursive theory is a rather loose “interconnected stream of works” (Wæver 2009: 169). It is based on research by authors like Kohler-Koch, Jachtenfuchs and Diez. These authors share the idea that political cleavages are not to be found among nation states that are in favor or against further integration. They rather put forward that the political battleground is defined by “socio-economic models” competing against each other (ibid.). In order to illustrate the dynamics of the institutions of society they claim that it is necessary to analyse the “internal dynamics and rules of discourse universe” (Jachtenfuchs et al. 1998: 411). One of the ground laying articles of this approach by Jachtenfuchs et al. therefore analyses different “polity ideas” which they extract from political party documents in France, the UK and Germany5. By “polity ideas” they mean a “legitimate political order” (ibid.)6. In this account they stress that the EU is heterogeneous and “politically fragmented” therefore it would lack a decision-making center. In this respect they propose a scheme which deals with the categories of legitimacy, participation and output in the three nation-states. By tracking the different “polity ideas” of the three countries’ parties they found out that the debates over “Europe” show relative continuity while national debates were rather contested.

In later papers Diez edited the program and steered the governance concept more in the direction of Mouffe and Laclau. He borrowed their concept of “discursive nodal points”. With the inspiration of this strategy he understands Governance as a discursive nodal point “through which various core concepts of politics are drawn together in a seemingly coherent worldview and their meaning thereby stabilized” (Wæver 2009: 169). This approach allows Wæver to extend the concept of discourse to the category of change which is often ignored by other discourse approaches. At this point I will not go into further detail concerning Diez’ development but rather sum the up what discursive governance approaches can contribute to EIS. Their most important contribution is actually not a new insight in the realm of social science. Jachtenfuchs et al. propose that the struggle for legitimacy would constitute the major battle line in ‘the struggle for Europe’ (Wæver 2009: 170).

The next approach that I will present here is labeled “Foreign policy explained from the concepts of State, Nation and Europe”. I will refer in this respect to my case in point which deals with three distinct competing concepts of Europe shortly after the ‘Cold War’ (Wæver 1990).

The approach has a focus on the national space of the political debate which gives a rather conservative impression in the light of other discursive approaches. Interestingly “Foreign policy explained from the concepts of state, nation and Europe” is not a genuinely an EIT approach but more frequently used in the realm of foreign policy analysis as the name already suggests. While the approach does not address EIS in particular it displays the “discursive struggles” among national traditional discourses. It also gives insights about how European Integration works or not. The general interest of this approach is to understand how concepts of “Europe”, state and nation influence foreign and European policy. The analysis is fertilized by Kenneth Waltz’ approach of a “layered international structure”. The foreign policy approach deals with stability and change within one of the following layers: (1) the concept of nation-state, (2) a “relational conception” of where the nation stands internally and externally in relation to others and (3) different “concepts of Europe” (Wæver 2009: 171). Hereby changes in the first layer are expected to be the most radical ones. Europe in this context is not expected to replace a national identity but rather to complement it as every European nation would already incorporate “Europe” in their national identity. The concept expects “Europe” to be highly dependent on national leaders that would be able to make sense of the concept of “Europe” and to communicate it back to the citizens. Wæver explains that the national discourses in relation to each other would not have to be identical but compatible to each other. The approach is advocative in the sense that it implies that national interests have to be considered in the European realm. This would explain why the school is mainly promoted in Eurosceptical countries such as Norway or Denmark (Wæver 2009: 172).


1 Foucault’s writing has undergone several transformations so that it is actually misleading to speak of his work in singular terms (Howarth 2000: 8). In this paper though I will put more focus on the application of discourse analysis than on the immanent development of single theorists.

2 According to Wæver discourse analysis “tries to find the structures and patterns in public statements that regulate political debate so that certain things can be said while other things will be meaningless or less powerful or reasonable” (Wæver 2009: 165).

3 The approach of “European Project as Productive Paradox” will though be as well contextualized to the other two approaches.

4 Their cleavages went along the lines of different believes in terms of absolute and relative gains for example (Wæver 2009: 168).

5 These “polity ideas” have to meet two requirements. (1) They must be relevant in a given context and (2) polity-ideas must be detailed enough to analyse them (Jachtenfuchs et al. 1998: 414).

6 Max Weber indicated that every effective and stable political system needed legitimacy. For the research group around Markus Jachtenfuchs though the EU lacks “essentialist” content therefore they question that on the EU could gain legitimacy (Jachtenfuchs et al. 1998: 412).


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
499 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Hamburg
Discourse Theory European Integration Theory



Titel: “There is not one Europe but many” (cf. Wæver 2009: 168)