Europeanisation from a Central European perspective

The development of the European Union is often linked to ideas of ‘Europeanisation’, which sometimes suggests a one-sided exportation of values and rules from West to East. At the same time, the notion of an East-West gap within the EU emphasises economic, political and cultural differences. However, is this an accurate reading of the situation?

James Wesley Scott

What does Europeanisation actually mean? If we abandon the idea that somehow all EU member states are becoming – or should become – more similar or should follow a certain set of rules defined by Brussels, we can understand Europeanisation as something taking place locally, from the bottom up. And cities are perhaps the best places to see how this actually happens.

The project has studied Polish positionality with regard to Europeanisation by using three URBAN perspectives: understandings of national roles within European construction, interpretation of cross-border co-operation and European Neighbourhood, and understandings of European identity as they relate to socio-cultural questions, diversity and uses of history.

We have achieved:

  1.  Most importantly, comparative analysis of governance innovations and the use of urban cultures in local development policies of Polish cities. Two specific examples we have elaborated are the 2016 European Capitals of Culture programme and Smart City initiatives undertaken by major Polish cities such as Gdańsk, Gdynia, Lublin, Warszawa and Wrocław.
  2. Background research on Cohesion Policy and Europeanisation focusing on cross-border cooperation.
  3. Background research on Polish positionality with regard to European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership, with a specific reference to Polish-Ukrainian urban partnerships.
  4. A comparative perspective with regard to other Central European perspectives, Hungary in particular, regarding the positionality of local actors in terms of the urban perspectives mentioned above.

As the project shows, urban culture can refer to the various ways of living in a city; it derives meaning from the urban environment and everyday uses of urban spaces. Cities reflect in concrete terms (e.g. through narratives, architecture, social media, literature and neighbourhood change) tensions that are present at the more general national level. At the level of cities we find not just elite ideas of what culture means, but also the bottom-up creation of cultural spaces in terms of urban stories, events, uses of public spaces, gastronomy, urban civil society activism and participation. As part of our work we have also made a documentary video that shows how Polish cities on the River Vistula are using their waterfronts as part of local development strategies that blend tourism, culture and local identity with improvements to the townscape.

What is the wider social significance of our research? Polish cities are undergoing rapid social and economic change. There is no national-level urban policy and locally available resources are scarce. Still, more than the national level, it is Poland’s cities that are at the vanguard of influencing Europeanisation, for example, through creative governance partnerships with civil society and with cities outside Poland’s borders. Polish cities are also innovation leaders in comparison with Central Europe, and have developed much more dynamic governance practices than their Hungarian counterparts, for example. With or without EU support they have been dealing with this change in highly innovative ways. The project shows, therefore, that in order to better understand European integration we need to have a closer and more careful look at local situations.

We think that East-West differences are overstated as something cultural but that they exist as historical experiences and ways of seeing the world.

Dr James W. Scott is a Researcher in Regional and Border Studies at the Karelian Institute of the University of Eastern Finland. He obtained his PhD at the Free University of Berlin and his B.Sc. at the University of California, Berkeley. His principal fields of research include: urban and regional geography, borders, border regions, geopolitics, regional and urban governance. Since 2003 he has coordinated several medium-sized and large research consortia focusing on border studies and supported by the EU’s Framework Programmes, the European Science Foundation, the Finnish Academy and other sources. Presently he is coordinator of the GLASE project (Multi-layered Borders of Global Security), funded by the Academy of Finland and is scientific coordinator of the Horizons 2020 project RELOCAL, which investigates the role of the local level and local strategies in Cohesion and Territorial Development.