Getting to Know Europe: EU Member-States in Focus

This project brings knowledge of the European Union, its policies, and its institutions as they function on an individual country level, to a broader public through a series of public debates with European ambassadors and local European Union representatives and the creation of a new website (featuring audio transcripts of the debates and other Europe-related discussions, a podcast, and a virtual forum where Americans and Europeans can discuss life in the European Union and other relevant topics).

The project’s immediate goal is to generate knowledge of everyday life in the European Union: to analyze the various ways European Union membership has influenced life in those countries and to raise local awareness of the European Union’s growing economic and political importance, in particular as partner to the United States. The debates center on the question: “What does it mean, in practice, to be a member of the European Union?” While many of our previous activities, including lectures by European commissioners and policy experts, have addressed this question from the vantage point of Brussels, these debates—in an effort to engage ordinary citizens and to highlight local economic, social, and cultural connections to Europe—bring individual member-state perspectives into focus.

The enlargement of the European Union has been a tremendous political success, securing peace and prosperity in the old member countries, galvanizing and stabilizing politics in new and aspiring members. But how does everyday life change when a country joins the European Union? Do the social, economic, legal, and institutional frameworks of the EU reflect a common set of beliefs and ideas on the part of its citizens? How flexible are those frameworks and how much diversity can they absorb? Given the economic and strategic importance of Europe to the United States, and the magnitude of the challenges ahead of us, these questions are highly relevant.

Our hope is to give citizens on both sides of the Atlantic a new tool to help them understand, anecdotally, the European Union and the principles which underlie it. The European Union presents Americans with an alternative model of citizenship—albeit still in formation—that is both local and regional. We hope that in the encounter with Europe, Americans will gain additional insights with which to evaluate their place in the world.

We hope to ignite local interest in Europe and engage the public in a serious debate on the European Union that goes beyond its political and structural aspects and considers instead the deeper meanings of “citizenship.” The project envisions the emergence of a global ecumenical culture with a revitalized transatlantic partnership at its core. In this regard, it furthers the Institute for Human Sciences’s mission of improving transatlantic relations and increasing understanding across the Atlantic.