In search of new narratives of Europe’s borders
Borders shape our view of Europe and can both unite and divide us Europeans. A new EU project led by SDU seeks to explore the narratives we as Europeans construct and carry with us.
The migration crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and growing Euroscepticism.
These all contribute to broad European tendencies of EU countries increasingly looking inwards and closing in upon themselves.
Inherent to these processes is the central role played by borders in our perceptions of Europe, and now a European research project led by SDU will examine the connection more closely. The project has received DKK 22 million from the EU and the UK.
- We have had open borders in a big part of Europe for many years but following the refugee flows and the pandemic we have seen a shift back to more control of European borders, says Dorte Jagetic Andersen, Associate Professor at the Centre for Border Region Studies and one of the project’s prime investigators.
We want to revive or seek out cross-border narratives about what we have in common – narratives that may also make it more attractive to develop and live in the border regions
Scepticism in border regionsOne question the researchers will explore is how citizens in the European border regions live with and relate to borders, and how this influences their perceptions of Europe.
This includes the extent to which Euroscepticism prevails, something, which has not yet been investigated in the context of border regions, only at country level.
- For long the perception has been that citizens in border regions are super-Europeans and much less sceptical about the EU than their fellow citizens because their daily interactions take place at the border. But for instance election results in Denmark and France show that Eurosceptic parties have done well in border regions, and we want to learn more about this tension, says Martin Klatt.
He is coordinator of the project at the Centre for Border Region Studies while continuing as head of research at the Danish-German funded European Centre for Minority Issues in Flensburg.
Borders are problematised in a way that many people thought was a closed chapter in European history. The question now is whether and how this development is shaping our perception of Europe and the European integration project
Young people’s views on the European integration project are central to the project.
- Young people are the Europeans of the future and those who will be most affected by the direction the EU takes. So, it will be interesting to find out whether they have a different approach to the European project than other people, says Martin Klatt.
- The idea is to try to unfold new narratives, and we believe and hope that young people will do more than just repeat the often very national narratives on borders and Europe that we already know from, for example, cultural heritage, media and politics in general, adds Dorte Jagetic Andersen.
Focus on what unites usAn important part of the project will therefore be to bring out new narratives about the European project – narratives that are more about what unites than what divides us as Europeans.
- We want to revive or seek out cross-border narratives about what we have in common – narratives that may also make it more attractive to develop and live in the border regions, says Martin Klatt.
About the research project
- The research project entitled ‘Borders as central factor shaping perceptions of European Societies (B-SHAPES)’ has received DKK 19.7 million from the European Commission, as part of the Horizon Europe-programme and DKK 2.5 million from UK Research and Innovation.
- The project starts on 1 April 2023 and will run for 3 years.
- The Centre for Border Region Studies at SDU will lead the project, which will be carried out in collaboration with 13 partners.
- In addition to SDU, the project partners include Brunel University London, Halmstad University, University of Oulu, University of Wroclaw, University of Strasbourg, ELTE University in Budapest, Technical University of Liberec in the Czech Republic, EURAC Research and several associations and cultural institutions, including the Bulgarian Museum of National History, an artists’ collective in South Tyrol, Italy, and the Association of European Border Regions.
Climate change is an example of one of the major challenges around which the EU should unite.
- Climate change is an issue that extends across borders. But borders often cut through natural landscapes, where there is usually the same landscape on both sides of the border. If the EU wants to help solve the climate challenges, we need to give space to the natural landscape and be better at looking across borders so that different efforts can be joined together in a better way, says Dorte Jagetic Andersen.
Another example is minority groups in border regions who feel culturally and linguistically attached to the neighbouring country.
The assumption is that the border affects them in a completely different way than citizens who only tends to identify with the culture of their country of residence.
If people also identify with the language and culture of the neighbouring country, and not just their country of residence, it is particularly important that the border is open and not perceived as a barrier.
What will the European project look like in a few years?Researchers hope that narratives like these can help reinvigorate European integration.
And Martin Klatt and Dorte Jagetic Andersen expect that this development is imminent.
- I’m sure that the European integration project will be renewed and that there will again be greater emphasis on what we have in common and can achieve together, says Dorte Jagetic Andersen.
We are in a place where integration, community and coordinated action, not least in foreign and security policy, are more relevant than ever
In this connection, the war in Ukraine is particularly relevant as precisely an attempt by Russia to push back some existing borders, but which has also shown EU countries that they need to stick together.
- Both the war in Ukraine and the tense relationship between the US and China have shown how important it is that the EU stands together, and that it is no longer up to Germany and France to decide everything and that smaller countries also have more influence in the decision-making processes, says Martin Klatt.
- So, I definitely think we are in a place where integration, community and coordinated action, not least in foreign and security policy, are more relevant than ever.
Once the research results and narratives are in place, they will be compiled and disseminated in an interactive map accessible to everyone, and a happening and exhibition will be organised in the border regions.
The plan is also to develop a concept that museums, cultural institutions, politicians and other stakeholders in the cultural heritage industry can use to present regions in cross-border narratives.
Meet the researcher
Martin Klatt is an associate professor at the Centre for Border Region Studies at SDU and head of research at the European Centre for Minority Issues.
Meet the researcher
Dorte Jagetic Andersen is an associate professor at the Centre for Border Region Studies at SDU.