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Narrating a 'new Europe': From 'bitter past' to self-righteousness?

Bernhard Forchtner and Christoffer Klvraa
Discourse Society 2012 23: 377
DOI: 10.1177/0957926512441108
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DAS23410.1177/0957926512441108Forchtner and KlvraaDiscourse & Society


Narrating a new Europe:

From bitter past
to self-righteousness?

Discourse & Society

23(4) 377400
The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission: sagepub.
DOI: 10.1177/0957926512441108

Bernhard Forchtner

Humboldt-Universitt zu Berlin, Germany

Christoffer Klvraa
Aarhus University, Denmark

The 1990s and 2000s saw a memory and remembrance boom at both the national and supra-/
transnational level. Crucially, many of these emerging memory frames were not simply
about a glorious and heroic past, as in, for example, traditional nationalist narratives. Rather,
groups started to narrate their symbolic boundaries in a more inclusive way by admitting past
wrongdoings. In this article, we look at a corpus of so-called speculative speeches by leading
politicians in the European Union and, against the aforementioned historical background,
analyse their representations of Europes past, present and future. By utilising the discoursehistorical approach in critical discourse analysis, narrative theory and elements of Reinhart
Kosellecks conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte), we illustrate how, first, a new Europe,
based on admitting failure, is narrated. However, second, we also show that such a self-critical
narration of a bitter past is, paradoxically, transformed into a self-righteous attitude towards
Europes others.

Apologetic performances, bitter past, collective memory, conceptual history, corpus linguistics,
critical discourse analysis, discourse-historical approach, European identity, judge-penitence,
narrative theory

Corresponding author:
Bernhard Forchtner, Institute of Social Sciences, Humboldt-Universitt zu Berlin, Philosophische Fakultt III,
Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany.
Email: b.forchtner@hu-berlin.de

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Discourse & Society 23(4)

When Joschka Fischer, on 12 May 2000 and in the wake of the then successful implementation of the euro, addressed the finality of European integration, a powerful
debate on EUropes self-understanding was initiated. It resulted in the European
Convention (20022003) and was publicly carried further during the crisis over the
Iraq war. However, with the collapse of the debate over a European constitution and
an emerging financial crisis, this European narrative boom has seemingly went bust.
We see this situation as an opportunity to reflect on a particular dimension of this
identity construction and ask: How have high officials in Europe intervened in this
debate during the past decade? These text-producers enjoy the privilege of being
perceived as speaking for Europe and, therefore, their performances have an effect
on policies as well as corresponding to and institutionalising a broader development
in which remembering is replac[ing] progress and revolution as the master metaphor of history at least in parts of the Western public sphere (Giesen, 2004: 10).
True, European integration was, from the beginning, a project connected to memories of the past. Already, the Schuman Declaration (1950), which suggested a steel
and coal community comprising France and Germany, was legitimated by an ambition to make war not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible, and summarised recent European history in the statement that [a] united Europe was not
achieved and we had war. Even so, these articulations portrayed war primarily as a
tragedy which happened to Europe, rather than an atrocity for which Europe had to
take responsibility.
However, in recent decades, it is not simply remembering which has become crucial,
but a form of remembrance which accepts responsibility, admits wrongdoing and thus
casts a shadow over in-groups positive self-representation. Thus, authors like Mark
Gibney et al. (2008) speak of an age of apology. Similarly, Jeffrey Olick (2007) refers
to politics of regret, while Bernhard Giesen (2004: 130) claims that public rituals of
confession of guilt are more and more significant for the construction of (trans)national
identities. Focusing on the Holocaust in particular, Jeffrey C Alexander (2002) described
this development in terms of the emergence of a tragic narrative. These authors share
an understanding of contemporary (European) identity as being constructed through
apologetic performances, that is narrations (of Europe) in terms of an emotive and common history of war and conflict: a bitter past (Eder, 2006: 267ff). Such modes of narrating the past stand in sharp contrast to more traditional (nationalist) political myths
(Bottici, 2007), which typically construct a heroic image of the past. In such triumphalist narratives, past violence and suffering are perceived as being nessesary, justified and
even glorious in light of the present and the future. Mythical narratives turn bitter only
when they involve either an implicit or explicit claim that elements of the communal
past are to be regretted and possibly even apologised for. Thereby a more complex story
of what we are emerges, based on admissions of wrongdoing which might enable more
inclusive symbolic boundaries.
In what follows, we investigate how Europes common past is narrated and what
kinds of European self-images emerge from this narration. We do so by analysing a

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Forchtner and Klvraa


corpus of so-called speculative speeches (Wodak and Weiss, 2004), in which leading
EUropean politicians narrate a Europe for the 21st century, a new Europe (this phrase
occurs regularly in our corpus, e.g. Barroso, 2005; Prodi, 2003a; for another analysis of
how Europe is done, see Wodak, 2009: 1ff).
In the following section, we introduce the genre of speculative speeches and the
corpus we have compiled. Then we briefly outline our method(s) of analysis which
are drawn from the discourse-historical approach (DHA) in critical discourse analysis (CDA), the multi-disciplinary notion of narrative and Reinhart Kosellecks
brand of conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte). Finally, we describe the corpus
linguistic (CL) tools which we utilised in order to render more transparent the process of engaging with and downsizing the data. Our analysis then draws these considerations together and proceeds via two steps. First, we analyse how the past is
narrated as being crucial for understanding Europe and its present and future values.
Second, we investigate how speakers subsequently demarcate Europe from the surrounding world, and thereby run the risk of turning an apologetic narrative into a
self-righteous European myth. We conclude with reflections on the promises and
pitfalls of narrating a bitter past.

The data: The genre of speculative speeches and the corpus

The genre of speculative speeches was proposed by Ruth Wodak and Gilbert Weiss and
draws on Dominique Moisis notion of a distinct genre of European soul-searching
speeches (Wodak and Weiss, 2004: 225, 235242). These are speeches in which speakers
relate less to the mundane aspects of concrete politics but instead seek to articulate the
essence of the community itself. Speculative speeches typically occur at commemorative events and at celebrations of anniversaries, for example the 60th anniversary of the
end of the Second World War in 2005 and the 50th anniversary of the Rome Treaties in
2007, or in ceremonial settings to do with milestone events in the communitys political
development, such as the enlargement and accession of 10 new EU-member states in
2004 and the ceremonies surrounding the presentation of the Constitutional Treaty in
2003. Such events encourage speeches which not only articulate the core narrative of the
community and its foundational values, but also include a visionary stance, setting out
the future trajectory of the community. According to Gilbert Weiss (2002: 6264), such
speculation serves to unite a specific idea of Europe in terms of identity, history or
culture with a specific vision of how to organise Europe, which is more manifestly
politically and future oriented.
The analysed corpus comprises 62 texts (136,735 words) predominantly speeches
by European Commissioners and European heads of state, all delivered between
2001 and 2007. Given that this period encompassed a string of occasions inviting the
production of texts speculating about the identity of Europe (see above), the initial
selection of these 62 texts was made by identifying speeches given by major political
figures or member-state leaders in connection with or focused on these events. The
texts are publicly available through the EUs website.

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Discourse & Society 23(4)

The discourse-historical approach, conceptual history

and downsizing the corpus
The discourse-historical approach, narrativity and the analysis of
conceptual structures
We conduct our analysis within the framework of the discourse-historical approach
(DHA) in critical discourse analysis (CDA) (see Reisigl and Wodak, 2001, 2009). The
core insight we adopt is that constructing the identity of a community who belongs
and who is excluded is achieved through semiotic performances (texts) which are part
of wider discourses. Here, concepts play a crucial role, and thus there is much intersection between CDA and Reinhardt Kosellecks conceptual history (for his notion of
concept, see Koselleck, 2004: 85; for a discussion of the interfaces between the DHA
and conceptual history, see Krzyanowski, 2010). Some of Kosellecks theoretical
notions are thus utilised in this article and help us downsize our corpus in a systematic
and transparent way.
For us, the most salient features of the DHA are, first, its focus on texts, that is semiotic entities such as audio, spoken, visual and/or written materials, not in terms of
de-contextualised data, but in terms of their situatedness within (a) a text-internal cotext, (b) intertextual and interdiscursive relations, (c) the situational context and (d) the
sociopolitical/historical context (Reisigl and Wodak, 2001: 40ff). Second, the DHA
views texts in context, that is discourse, as socially constituted and socially constitutive
as well as context-dependent semiotic practices related to a macro-topic and pluriperspective, that is linked to argumentation (Reisigl and Wodak, 2009: 89). Both discourses and texts link to each other in various ways (interdiscursivity/intertextuality)
but also through processes of recontextualisation where an element is, first, taken out of
a specific context (de-contextualisation), only to be, second, inserted into another context
(recontextualisation), thereby the element (partly) aquires new meaning.
CDA is interested in the ways in which semiotic means are used to put forward particular representations of events, people and places, which facilitate closure of more
egalitarian and inclusive intersubjectivity (for DHAs notion of critique, see Forchtner,
2011). More specifically, power is not only signalled by grammatical forms within a
text, but also by a persons control of a social occasion or by access to certain public
spheres, such as the possibility of giving a speculative speech. In addition, power is
salient within processes of creating collective representations via discursively demarcating us from them through discursive strategies of nomination (how events/objects/
persons are referred to; e.g. via anthroponyms, personal deixis, synechdoches, etc.),
predication (what characteristics are attributed to them; e.g. via evaluative attributions,
metaphors, presuppositions, etc.), perspectivisation (how involvement is expressed;
e.g. via deixis, quotation marks, metaphor, etc.), mitigation/intensification (how utterances are modified; e.g. hyperbole, modal verbs, vague expressions, etc.) and argumentation (via what arguments claims are justified and standpoints legitimated) (Reisigl
and Wodak, 2001: 4590). Argumentation is thus not perceived as a speech act per se,
but understood as a potential property of all types of speech acts (Reisigl, 2011). In
order to provide a functional analysis of argumentation, we draw on Stephen E Toulmins
(2003) argumentation scheme (Figure 1).

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Forchtner and Klvraa


Figure 1.Toulmins (2003: 97) extended scheme.

Given the heuristic function of his scheme here, we restrict ourselves to Toulmins
so-called simple model, consisting of data, warrant and claim, which still helps in the
transparent reconstruction of an arguments structural composition. The claim describes
the point of arrival, that is what is at stake and which can be identified by asking What
exactly are you claiming?. The data on which this claim is based can be identified by
asking On what grounds is your conclusion based?. Finally, warrants are statements
indicating the general ways of arguing being applied in each particular case and implicitly relied on as ones whose trustworthiness is well established (Toulmin et al., 1979:
43). They can be identified by asking How do these data justify the claim?. Within the
DHA (Reisigl and Wodak, 2001: 74ff), the notion of topos has been applied instead to
designate both formal and content-related conclusion rule[s] that connect[s] the argument or arguments with the conclusion, the claim. From the perspective of CDA, these
conclusion rules are either sound or fallacious, enabling or preventing the more or less
undistorted exchange of standpoints through particular ways of representing events,
objects or persons (for this normative distinction, see Forchtner and Tominc, 2012).
Our analysis employs Toulmins model in combination with the aforementioned discursive strategies in order to identify the basic argumentative structures of the speeches,
thereby enabling us to analyse how the immediate claims made by the speakers are
often intervowen with implicit narrations of Europes past, present and future.
With regards to the concept of narrativity, we draw on converging insights from a
variety of disciplines. In linguistics, William Labov (1997) views narrative as a choice
of a specific linguistic technique to report past events, which involves at least one temporal juncture, that is two clauses sequentially arranged and referring to events indicating
a before and an after (Labov, 2006: 37). Narratives therefore are about changes or
developments, in other words events, involving both a choice of events and the choice to
arrange them according to the fundamental schema of beginning (prior state)middle
(event) ending (new state). An event, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1984: 65) claims,
only gets its definition from its contribution to the development of the [narratives] plot.
The construction of narratives entails selecting only those events which support the wider
plot, that is those in congruence with the narratives overarching point (see also Van Dijk,
1980: 14). This is observable in, for example, traditional nationalist narratives in which
troubling elements of our past are often omitted as they do not correspond to the
national self-image (Wodak and De Cillia, 2007: 343345). The force of narrative
derives from its linear arrangement of (selected) events in a unified plotline, making the

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Discourse & Society 23(4)

succession, the (implicit) causalities and the conclusions of the story appear natural
(Ricoeur, 1992: 142). In sociology, Margaret Somers (1994: 606) has similarly argued
that it is through narrativity that we come to know, understand and make sense of the
social world, and it is through narratives and narrativity that we constitute our social identities. Ricoeur likewise claims that narratives are central when it comes to constructing
collective identities. His idea of narrative identity entails that [n]arrative constructs the
identity of the character () in constructing that of the story told. It is the identity of the
story [the plot] that makes the identity of the character (Ricoeur, 1992: 147ff). For narratives in which the in-group is the central character, the construction of a collective selfimage is thus done through the narration of a common past. It is therefore crucial to
emphasise that even though narratives proceed forwards in time one event seemingly
leading to the next they are in fact constructed retrospectively. Labov (2006) accounts
for this with his notion of narrative pre-construction, indicating that the composition of a
narrative starts from the end, from the idea of where it is going to go, and only thereafter identifies an appropriate beginning and middle which suit this end. Concerning collective identity, this implies that the retrospective composition of a common narrative is
always undertaken in light of the communitys present situation; it is the end of the
narrative (the communitys present and future situation) which determines which kind of
beginning (the communitys foundation) and middle (its history between foundation and
present) will be considered appropriate communal narration of the past. Within CDA, this
idea has been utilised in research on nationalism, indicating that it is through narratives
about the historical foundation of the national community that its present identity is
strengthened and re-affirmed (Heer et al., 2008; Wodak et al., 2009). In the following, we
will likewise argue that the specific narrations of a common European past ultimately
serve to legitimate the contemporary identity constructions and political priorities
of the EU.
In addition to a focus on how group identity and boundaries are produced through
historical narratives, Reinhardt Kosellecks Begriffsgeschichte offers a conceptual taxonomy which identifies three different dimensions temporal, spatial and hierarchical
in the conceptual construction of collective identities. The temporal dimension concerns the fundamental conceptual distinction, before:after. Any rendering of the human
world and any exercise of action must relate itself to the temporality of human existence,
that is the tension between a space of experience and a horizon of expectation
(Koselleck, 2004: 257). In any society, choices made regarding the future are always in
some sense informed by the past, but past experiences are also understood in the light of
future goals. Koselleck thus emphasises that a societys conceptual self-description
always involves narrative (re)descriptions of its past and imaginings about its future.
The spatial dimension concerns the distinction, inside:outside. To think about society
is to think of its boundaries. DHA renders this idea in terms of the always present marking out of self versus other in the construction of a community. Kosellecks most
elaborate analysis of the inside:outside distinction is carried out under the heading of
asymmetrical counter-concepts. Analysing examples, such as the Nazi notion of der
Untermensch (Koselleck, 2004: 155191), explores how transitions from relationships
of recognition to conflict and persecution between communities can be traced in their
conceptual universes. Although relations to the other are not necessarily asymmetrical,

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he insists that any construction of community must, conceptually, be able to differentiate

itself from other communities.
Finally, there is the hierarchical dimension as regards the upper:lower distinction.
This points to hierarchical power relations in society but also designates the metahistorical distinction, essence:surface, in other words the fact that any community will privilege
certain concepts as expressing what is believed to be at the very heart of us. As
Koselleck (2004: 84ff) remarks, the word we can articulate a collective identity, but the
feeling of community becomes intelligible and communicable only through its association with concepts, for example culture, race or identity. Thus, this distinction points
to the ideational dimension of constructing a community, the necessity of articulating a
sacred core of concepts, symbols and ideas that its members believe signify the essence
of their group.
In the conceptual universe of a given community, these three dimensions are inherently interrelated. However, their separation can serve as a heuristic tool when attempting
to grasp a complex conceptual structure. In our analysis, we focus on these dimensions
in order to investigate how Europe is constructed through their interconnections and,
furthermore, utilise them to downsize our corpus, a procedure to which we now turn.

Downsizing the corpus using corpus-linguistic tools

In this study, we utilise corpus-linguistic (CL) tools to render the process of downsizing
more transparent and enable systematic sampling. Consequently, we have been able to
automatically identify a small number of texts within our larger corpus which have a
high concentration of certain collocates and might thus be of particular significance. CL,
in general, enables the researcher to deal with large collections of naturally occurring
language (Togini-Bonelli, 2004: 13ff), that is corpora of hundreds of millions of words,
which are analysed with the help of new technologies and the increasing availability of
electronic (re)sources. However, studies have also been conducted on the basis of smaller
corpora. Elena Togini-Bonelli (2004: 12), for example, refers to corpora as small as a
few thousand words. Furthermore, CL, apart from its extensive application in forensic
and pedagogic analysis, has also been increasingly utilised in the context of CDA
research (e.g. Baker et al., 2008). Although applying CL tools in our analysis, we do not
claim to conduct a full corpus analysis. Instead, based on a small but homogenous corpus, our aim in utilising CL tools is, first, to identify key concepts and, second, to avoid
the cherry-picking of data. Thus, we utilise CL tools in order to facilitate the downsizing
process in an automatised, systematic and transparent way so that, having started from
62 texts, we ultimately arrive at five texts (see below), and even identify the most salient
paragraphs which we subsequently analyse qualitatively.
We started by creating an index using WordSmith 5.0, looking for collocates of
Europe. We chose the term Europe rather than, for example, the Union or EU, for its
greater speculative potential, as speakers are implicitly able to include candidate countries and to draw on historical narratives concerning a past which preceded the emergence of European integration after 1945. Collocation refers to the systematic
co-occurrence of words in a pre-defined span within a corpus. As language and texts are
not random phenomena, collocations show patterns of co-occurrence, associations and
connotations. Susan Hunston (2002: 68) states that there exists a tendency of words to

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Discourse & Society 23(4)

be biased in the way they co-occur, and Costas Gabrielatos and Paul Baker (2008: 10ff)
add that collocation patterns tend to reveal the semantic profile of a word. The initial list
of collocates was restricted by the following settings: span +/5; mutual information
(MI)>3; log-likelihood (LL)>6.63; minimum collocation frequency 5. While the
MI score indicates the strength of the collocation, it favours low-frequency content
words. In order to balance the latter effect, we also considered LL, which determines the
statistical significance of co-occurrences (see Gabrielatos and Baker, 2008: 11).
Having established our list of collocates, the concordances were independently read
by the two authors and categorised according to Kosellecks three conceptual dimensions
of identity (Table 1). Given that some concepts have very different meanings according
to the context they appear in, for example division/divide which can both be temporal
and spatial, the ultimate decision was taken after a discussion of such cases.
In a second step, we looked for clusters around Europe which contained these
collocates (settings: span 25; minimum frequency 3). Clusters are sequences of words
Table 1. Kosellecks three dimensions applied to our corpus of speculative speeches.
Kosellecks three dimensions



















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Forchtner and Klvraa

Table 1.(Continued)
Kosellecks three dimensions


















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Discourse & Society 23(4)

Table 1.(Continued)
Kosellecks three dimensions















Table 2. Relevant clusters.










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Forchtner and Klvraa


with no concern for meaning which are computed automatically by WordSmith. We then
cleaned up these clusters, that is we deleted any surplus such as <in a > in <in a new
Europe>, resulting in the following 34 relevant clusters (Table 2).
Finally, working with the pivot table function in Microsoft Excel, we identified texts
which contained at least one cluster from each dimension and at least five different
clusters in total. While it has to be said that this downsizing procedure favours longer
texts, as they have a greater chance of containing collocates and clusters, it did enable
the automatised, that is computer-assisted, rather transparent and systematic compilation of a primary corpus of five speeches (18,493 words in total). This primary corpus
includes three speeches by the then President of the European Commission, Romano
Prodi (2003a, 2003b, 2004), one speech by his successor, Jos Manuel Barroso (2005),
and one speech by Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and
then President of the European Council (2007). We ultimately focused on passages in
which the node word Europe appeared close (+/5 words) to a collocate at which
point we started the qualitative analysis.

Analysis: Narrating a new Europe from bitter past to

We start our analysis by utilising insights from Koselleck and consider how the hierarchical dimension of European identity (ideas about the essence of the community) is
combined with its temporal dimension (narratives of the past). We subsequently turn to
how the spatial dimension (differentiation from others) is articulated and how this
impacts on the wider construction of EUrope undertaken in these speeches. Our textual
analysis: (a) reconstructs the core argument in the respective passage by utilising
Toulmins simple model; (b) looks at how this central argument is justified via discursive
strategies and linguistic means; and (c) approaches the passage from the perspective of
narrative theory.

Europes values based on a bitter past

In unfolding the identity of Europe today, speakers often start from a prescriptive strategy
which assigns to the community a set of values. Europe is, above all, a community of
values. As Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and then President of
the European Council, proclaimed in 2007, at the official ceremony to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome: [t]he source of Europes identity are
[sic] our shared, fundamental values. They are what holds [sic] Europe together. Although
some variance in the values highlighted occurs, a stable set of core values includes democracy, freedom, the rule of law, peace and tolerance (see below; see Klvraa, 2012).
However, in order to make these universal values specifically European, a narrative
of the particular European historical experience is introduced. This is not a traditional,
that is to say triumphant, narrative, characterising Europe as the site of glory and progress. Rather, what is foregrounded in narrating Europe as a social actor are the tragic,

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Discourse & Society 23(4)

violent and bitter dimensions of its history. This is visible in a speech delivered by Prodi
(2004) at a seminar against anti-Semitism.
Europes history has many glorious pages. I think of the democratic principles we have
inherited from Greek civilisation. I think of the flowering of the Renaissance and the
advances of the Age of Enlightenment. But Europes past also has many dark and
terrible chapters. Chapters that relate the worst of mans cruelty to his fellows. It has
seen persecutions and pogroms. It has seen the Inquisition and the Wars of Religion. It
has seen burnings at the stake, autos-da-f, noyades and purges. Most terribly, within
the span of my own generation, it has seen concentration camps, mass extermination,
genocide and the unique horror of the Shoah. Often these have been passed off with
euphemisms such as the Final Solution and the equally obscene ethnic cleansing.
There are killing fields elsewhere too, but this does not reduce the heavy burden of
guilt we Europeans bear for the past. We are not here to judge other nations or
continents or their crimes. We are here to talk about Europe. Let us have the courage
to face the facts and call things by their true names.

As mentioned above, Toulmins simple model (datawarrantclaim), DHAs discursive strategies and narrative theory will structure our analysis. We will start by introducing the macro-argument put forward which, in our first example, results in Figure 2:

Figure 2. Functional analysis of Prodi (2004).

This argument which illustrates the so-called age of apology well is supported by
applying a variety of discursive strategies. Starting with realisations of the strategy of
nomination, it is crucial to note that Prodi, throughout the speech, constructs the audience in terms of we, us (lines 1, 12, 13). He thereby addresses a homogenised, allinclusive audience which is drawn into his narrative. Furthermore, there is a shift between
establishing the data (particularly lines 19) and the claim (particularly lines 1114), in
that the former speaks of Europe (lines 1, 3) while the latter nominates the in-group as
Europeans (furthermore, lines 1214 heavily employ the aforementioned personal
Arguably, Europe might be perceived as a more abstract entity, and to speak of
Europeans right at the beginning might provoke the listener/reader to ask: Who exactly
was responsible for the worst of mans cruelty to his fellows? This, however, would create division where Prodi aims to unify the continent, thus Europeans as active and unified
agents only occur at the end of the passage. With regard to how Europe is characterised, the
dominant strategy of predication is indeed not one of positive self-representation (although
there are references to more traditional positive self-representations). For example, Prodi

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Forchtner and Klvraa


lists many glorious pages (line 1; strategy of intensification and predication) and seemingly attempts to mitigate the subsequent self-criticism (lines 39) by stating that [t]here
are killing fields elsewhere too (line 11). However, these comments are always followed
by the adversary but, in other words expressing opposition to these very statements. More
importantly, Europe is explicitly characterised via a list of clearly negative images (dark
and terrible, mans cruelty to his fellows, etc.; lines 38). The force of this listing is further increased through anaphora, that is It has seen (lines 45; another rhetorical operation
is visible in lines 1314 where a clear antithesis ultimately justifies the claim that we have
to have the courage to face the facts). This rather negative predication of Europe is supported by the metaphorical framing of its history/past in terms of a book: while there are
glorious pages (italics added), terrible aspects fill entire chapters (italics added). By
emphasising the danger of euphemisms (line 9) and rejecting the potential relativism of
pointing to other killing fields, awareness of these shortcomings is further intensified (see
also the many intensifiers such as many, worst, Most; lines 3, 4, 6).
The primary emotion evoked in these articulations of Europes (pre-integration)
history is guilt not pride. Its major point is to impart a moral imperative in the form
of facing up to a terrible past, an obligation which it puts on all Europeans (see the
note on nomination above). This is, however, not a fully unfolded narrative, given that
Prodi only makes the moral demand that the dark past should be acknowledged without
actually narrating Europes departure from it, that is without marking out a beginning,
a transitional event and an ending.
Elsewhere, Prodi more fully unfolds Europes tragic narrative, including some of its
most central characters: Europes founding fathers. These men play a crucial role when
narrating Europes departure from its pre-integration bitter past, a centrality which
is illustrated by their appearance in 15 out of the 62 texts in our corpus. The following
passage is taken from Prodis Europe: The Dream and the Choices (2003b), and illustrates this narrative pattern.
Men and women born after 1945 will be able to say that they have lived all their lives
without seeing their own countries and their own families afflicted by war the first
Europeans in history who have been able to do so. I can remember war, though I was
still very young. And my father before me could remember war, and so could my
grandfather, and all the generations before him. Never again, said the founding
fathers of Europe, and meant it, and so it was.

As illustrated in Figure 3, the basic argument still concerns Europes relationship to

its horrific past, but it now focuses on fundamental change and the deeds of the founding

Figure 3. Functional analysis of Prodi (2003b).

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Here again, reference is made to a common dark past, but it is done somewhat covertly by explicitly referring only to a set of memories of war (line 1ff). Consequently,
Prodi can again avoid differentiating between perpetrators and victims and instead
represent contemporary Europeans through inclusive categories (Men and women,
Europeans; lines 1, 3), as totum pro parte, rather than as members of particular
communities differently positioned in relation to the perpetrator:victim dichotomy.
The key argument made in this passage is that European history is marked by a
fundamental break. This break is constituted by the historical and moral intervention
made by the founding fathers (line 5). It is this intervention which radically separates
centuries of war from the present time in which Europeans are able to live in peace.
By foregrounding this, two perspectives are introduced which support the above-mentioned
juxtaposition: first, Prodi emphasises the otherness of what preceded this new epoch
by evoking the authority of his own personal experience (I can remember war, line
3). Subsequently, he introduces the perspective of the first Europeans (line 2), who
have not experienced war as being in an entirely different position. The founding
fathers themselves are characterised through the mobilisation of two striking recontextualisations. On the one hand, Never again (line 5) has against the background of
the Holocaust become a rallying cry against contemporary anti-Semitism and evil in
general. On the other, line 56 contains an implicit biblical reference as Prodi aligns
with the basic sentence structure of the story of Genesis (1:3), in which each account
of an act of creation is introduced by the words God said and concluded by and so it
was. These (religious) recontextualisations indicate the sacredness of the founding
fathers, making them the secular saints of the Union.
Here we can identify the necessary elements of a narrative structure. The temporal
juncture presented is the transition from a common European state of war and suffering
to one of peace; the event of the narrative is the moral choice and intervention the
Never again of the founding fathers. The narratives plotline concerns the beginnings
of European integration, which fundamentally changed European history due to the
founding fathers moral refusal to repeat Europes violent history. In line with Ricoeurs
arguments, the overarching moral agenda of the narrative significantly colours the
meaning of its central event. In order to function as part of the Never again plotline, the
event of European integration must itself be given a moral connotation. In consequence,
speakers tend to separate the economic, instrumental surface of European integration
from its moral value-based essence. This conceptual differentiation constitutes the hierarchical dimension of European identity in the speeches. Within this framework,
European economic integration is only the means through which the grander moral
agenda of the founding fathers, that is making war in Europe impossible, is advanced.
As Prodi (2003b) claims, behind every economic proposal, behind every fresh venture
on the economic front, there has been a clear and conscious political inspiration and a
sharp choice of values. Such narration, which backgrounds profane economic aspects
in favour of sacred values, is also explicit in the following speech by Merkel (2007):
Let us not forget: For centuries Europe had been an idea, no more than a hope of peace
and understanding. Today we, the citizens of Europe, know that hope has been

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It has been fulfilled because the founding fathers of Europe were thinking in terms
well beyond their own generation. They were thinking in terms well beyond their own
time. They were thinking in terms also well beyond purely economic freedoms.
This dream could come true because we citizens of Europe have learned over the past
50 years to make the most of our identities and diverse traditions, the lively variety of
our languages, cultures and regions.
This dream could come true because we let ourselves be guided by that quality which
for me gives Europe its true soul, that quality which made the Treaties of Rome
That quality is tolerance. We have taken centuries to learn this. On the way to
tolerance we had to endure cataclysms. We persecuted and destroyed one another. We
ravaged our homeland. We jeopardized the things we revered. Not even one
generation has passed since the worst period of hate, devastation and destruction.

Again, we start by representing Merkels position through Toulmins scheme (Figure 4):

Figure 4. Functional analysis of Merkel (2007).

Again, references to the bitter past dominate the passage (in particular lines 12,
1720) and, similar to the first example (Prodi, 2004), an all-inclusive in-group (we in
lines 2, 9, 13, 17, 18, 19; also us in line 1 and our in lines 10, 11) is constructed. In line
with this broad strategy of nomination, Merkel speaks of our homeland in relation to
European failures (line 19). By using the singular, Merkel presupposes the existence of
one homeland, Europe. Instead of speaking of different national homelands engaged in
violent conflict, which would depict European history more accurately, Merkel represents Europe, retrospectively, as if it always was one (although at times fractured) homeland. Following Labovs (2006) idea of narrative pre-construction, the narratives end (a
unified Europe) restructures its beginning by projecting the idea of a common European
homeland retrospectively, thereby implicitly naturalising the narratives conclusion (an
actual unified Europe).
The founding fathers vision for Europe is again given a moral rather than a purely
economic meaning (lines 57) and serves as the plot mechanism which facilitates the
transition from a dark past to a peaceful unified present. But whereas European peace
was, in the narration of Prodi quoted above, something of a divine gift from the founding fathers to Europe, Merkel ascribes a much more active role to the citizens of
Europe. The horrors of the past are now not simply ended by the founding fathers, but

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become the basis for a learning process including all Europeans. This collective is represented as actively shaping its future (lines 2, 9) and having collectively learned from its
violent history (lines 9, 17).
The related claim that Europe has learned through the integration process of the
last 50 years to make the most of its diversity (lines 911) constitutes another intertextual reference: this time to the EUs official motto Unity in Diversity. Integration,
therefore, crowns a potential which has always existed (line 1) but which has only now
been realised by Europe (re)discovering its true soul: the quality or value of tolerance
(line 17). Here, Merkels use of personal deixis (we) does not simply draw her audience
into the plotline, but constitutes a fallacy of hasty generalisation. After all, the claim that
we citizens of Europe have learned (line 9, also line 17) could be appropriate but constitutes an unjustified generalisation given, for example, the electoral successes of
far-right groups all across Europe.
Merkels narration positions the community as the subject of the narrative, rather than
as the object saved by the founding fathers (who then become the central narrative subject, as in Prodi above). The effect is that the identity-generating dynamics of the narrative now centre on the collective identity of Europe, rather than having metonymically
to articulate this through the characters of the founding fathers. The construction of a
collective European identity is therefore much more forceful; Europeans are now directly
ascribed the ability to learn collectively and are, thereby, imputed with a common
soul (represented by the value of tolerance) much deeper than any instrumental
commonality of economic interests.
The connection between the hierarchical dimension (the soul or values of Europe)
and the temporal dimension (the narrative of the bitter past) is at the core of this construction of European identity. As narrated here, the relationship between Europes
identity as a community of values and its history is never one which entails a simple
claim to be the origin or longstanding promoter and protector of these values (arguably,
this differs from the US narrative which is largely about the same values). Rather,
Europes claim to a privileged relationship with these universal values rests on the idea
of a communal learning process which has supposedly taken place in Europe. As Prodi
bluntly states in another speech (2003a): [w]e have learnt to our cost the madness of
war, of racism and the rejection of the other and diversity. Peace, rejection of abuse of
power, conflict and war are the underlying and unifying values of the European project. The implicit causality between the two sentences underpins the central point of
this European narrative: Europes learning process rests on having experienced the radical absence of exactly those (universal) values which it now defends and holds sacred.
It is because Europe is guilty of so many wars that it has come to appreciate peace. It is
because Europe has seen the worst of authoritarian rule that it safeguards democracy. It
is because Europeans persecuted each other for so long in the name of religious, national
or racial differences that it has now learned to deal with diversity in a tolerant and inclusive way. The moral imperative which emerges from this plotline is that Europeans
must continue to take on the guilt of their past, must insist on remembering its horrors
and must therefore look at their history not with pride or nostalgia but with a
determination to make Europe radically different from what it was before.
In a similar vein, it has been argued by scholars such as Zygmunt Bauman (2004) and
Tzvetan Todorov (2005) that Europes identity is not (primarily) defined by its economic
functions, or indeed by the construction of dichotomous self:other relationships with the

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Forchtner and Klvraa


external world. Rather, contemporary Europe defines itself against its own past as other.
It is this departure and differentiation from Europes bad self which serves as the primary contrast when articulating its present value-based identity. We claim, however, that
the presence of a bitter past as a primary other does not necessarily mean that the
external world plays no role in European identity constructions. In fact, the contemporary external world is articulated in relation to Europe as a community of values born of
a bitter past. Therefore, the spatial dimension of European identity (differentiation
from the non-European other) cannot be ignored. Rather, this spatial dimension has a
potentially profound impact on the tragic narrative itself and the kind of European
identity that it produces.

Europe and others

If the identity of the community is dominated by the relationship to a bitter past, one
might expect its relation to other communities to be negatively asymmetrical, that is to
posit Europe as inferior. After all, guilt does not seem to provide a platform for claiming
any kind of superiority. As Prodi made clear (We are not here to judge other nations or
continents or their crimes), it would be illegitimate to mitigate ones own crimes by calling attention to the crimes of others. However, from the tentative claim that Europe has
learned from its bitter past, it is a seductively short step to the adjacent claim that one
is therefore able to teach others. Merkel (2007), for example, apparently sees no contradiction between Europes dark history and an emerging ambition to make a distinctly
European contribution to the running of the world beyond Europe.
For after all the wars and boundless suffering, something very special has emerged.
We, the citizens of Europe, have united for the better. For we know, Europe is our
common future. That was a dream for many generations. Our history reminds us that
we must protect this for the good of future generations.
And so I hope that the citizens of Europe will say in 50 years time: Back then in
Berlin, the united Europe set the right course. Back then in Berlin, the European Union
embarked upon the right path towards a bright future. It went on to renew its
foundations so that it could make its contribution here in Europe, this old continent, as
well as globally, in this one large yet small world we live in.
For a better world. For people everywhere. That is our mission for the future.

A reconstruction of the argument made above, along the lines of datawarrantclaim,

reveals similarities as well as differences between a story which mainly narrates a bitter
past and one which runs the risk of becoming self-righteous (Figure 5):

Figure 5. Functional analysis of Merkel (2007).

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Discourse & Society 23(4)

Such an argument, which is again linked to a hasty generalisation (we, lines 2, 4;

see also the construction of a common future in line 3ff) instead of acknowledging
other speakers, such as Eurosceptic or racist voices, emphasises the success of the
European project to overcome the past, rather than mentioning wrongdoings which call
for reflection among contemporary Europeans. The special experience which a tragic
history has imparted (Europe is explicitly characterised as special (line 1) and this is
further intensified through the use of very) is no longer only valid with regard to
the communitys internal peace and values. As Merkels remarks above illustrate, the
European mission is now narrated in terms of moving beyond the confines of both the
Union and the continent. That is, the space in which Europes lessons might be fruitfully
applied is widened. The narrative in which this argument unfolds is one of a past so horrific (intensified via boundless) that the fact that it has now been overcome (as Barroso
(2005) puts it, the accounts of murderous conflicts ravaging Europe appear to be confined to the history books) constitutes not simply a triumphant ending to the story, but
demands that the characters of the plot accept their mission for the future, for people
everywhere, for a better world (line 12).
Thus, the standard narration of Europes transition from war to peace, comes to
serve as beginning and middle for a whole new narrative end. The end which finds
its beginning in Europes tragic history is no longer simply the goal of unifying the continent, but an emerging ambition to play a role beyond Europe. This call is further metaphorically justified by characterising the continent as old (line 9). This mobilises
images of wisdom, but also, potentially, of (bodily) weakness. The latter would, arguably, run counter to our interpretation by hampering Europes ability to act. However, the
very same sentence speaks of renew[ed] foundations, that is to say renewed youth and
strength through which Europes wisdom can assert itself. As Prodi (2003b) argues, the
project might be successful in Europe, but this demands that it should now be taken next
When calls for peace refer to Europe nowadays, some may feel they sound hollow and
rhetorical. I do not agree. I do not agree because we can all remember very well the
horrors and massacres of the war fought next door in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. More
recently again, with another war, in a land not far from Europe, in Iraq, millions of men
and women, and especially young people, realised that their own future was at stake, the
future of the society they lived in, and expected to go on living in. And the streets of our
cities, all our streets and all our cities, whatever the attitudes and policies of our
different governments, were filled with the rainbow flags of peace.

To summarise Prodis argument, see Figure 6:

Figure 6. Functional analysis of Prodi (2003b).

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Using a vague nomination (some, line 1), Prodi starts by articulating a potential
problem for the original tragic narrative of Europe: Why should Europeans still
remember their dark past and work for peace, if the danger of war in Europe has seemingly disappeared? Indeed, Prodi himself, a few passages earlier, admits that [n]obody
now would regard it as a realistic possibility that war should break out between France
and Germany, or between Italy and Britain. Nonetheless, Prodi forcefully opposes the
imagined accusation from some that Europes commitment to peace has become
hollow rhetoric. It is unclear who or how significant these imagined accusers are, but
they are soon neutralised by the notorious we in the statement: we can all remember
very well the horrors and massacres of the war (line 2ff, italics added). Linguistic
realisations, such as the rhetorical repetition of I do not agree (line 2), which results
in causality (because, line 2) and presupposes this we-group, do furthermore
increase the passages persuasiveness. Consequently, these voices (some) are isolated
and portrayed as almost insane (argumentum ad hominem).
Significantly, however, the wars which Prodi now expects every European to remember are not the ones which preceded European integration and which elsewhere are the
major representatives of the bitter past: the two World Wars (and the Holocaust).
Rather, it is the wars outside the Union, in the former Yugoslavia but also Iraq (lines
36). Prodis answer to the accusation that it is no longer necessary to fight for peace in
EUrope is to argue that it is now necessary to fight for peace outside the Union and
ultimately beyond the European continent. War is still a potential danger even if this
danger now lurks outside EUrope. It is interesting to note that this going outwards is
gradually introduced in spatial terms: starting with next door, that is to say still part
of the neighbourhood Europe, and ending in a land not far from Europe (line 3ff), in
other words no longer Europe. The moral obligation to confront Europes dark past
and ensure peace is now implicitly pointing beyond Europe.
The moral/political project which this new version of the tragic narrative legitimates is not only about making war in Europe impossible through integration, but now
entails extending the impossibility of war to the world outside. The moral obligation
of Europeans and one which the demonstrators against the war in Iraq seemingly
embodied now also demands that they oppose war and fight for peace on a global
scale. This new European project is made inclusive and imperative through intensification and nomination: not only does Prodi speak of our streets and cities (line 6ff), he
also intensifies this statement via the use of all. As such, knowledge related to peace
becomes our property, which does not only imply a fallacy of hasty generalisation, but
also excludes others as being not wholeheartedly committed to peace (an implicit
argumentum ad hominem).
However, the ambition that Europe should now play a role in fighting war and suffering in the wider world is not simply a moral demand; it also entails a claim that Europe
is uniquely competent to undertake such a task. The argument is that a bitter past has
taught Europeans to co-exist in peaceful diversity, despite their cultural, national and
political differences, and that such lessons are exactly those needed in an increasingly
small globalised world. The following, final, passage by Prodi (2003b) illustrates this
two-step argument:

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Discourse & Society 23(4)

Europes policies in favour of peace and, more generally, its approach to international
relations are a reflection of its history. The first contribution that Europe can make is its
own experience. () Europe appears before the world as the most extraordinary
example of democratic governance of the globalisation process. An example towards
which it is no coincidence that other continents such as Latin America or Africa are
looking in the search for new forms of cooperation to overcome old divisions. Born in
order to put an end to war between peoples and in lands that had been the scenes of all
the horrors of conflict, destruction and violence, united Europe is confirmed by
enlargement as a factor of peace, stability and security throughout the continent. () We
Europeans have the ambition and feel that we have a responsibility to contribute to
peace, stability and security not only at regional level but throughout the world.

As illustrated in Figure 7, Europes past wrongdoings and the experience of overcoming its bitter past now legitimises a (superior) position for Europe.
Linguistically, the connection between bitter past and international ambitions is
achieved through the foregrounding of Europes successful learning process. The latter
is emphasised through, for example, the formulation most extraordinary (line 3), which
is in line with the previous characterisation of Europe as special. Indeed, the causality
established in line 1ff through reflection, that is through the nominalisation of a complex process and the automatism it implies (history policies in favour of peace),
almost naturalises Europes contribut[ion] to peace, stability and security (line 10).
Similar to the previous section, by speaking of people and lands, historical accuracy is sacrificed for the benefit of achieving unity. In other words, through this nomination, more specific descriptions regarding perpetrator:victim are avoided in order,
linguistically, to foreground a united Europe (line 8). We Europeans (line 910) are
not only represented again as a homogeneous group, but are active in our ambition to
bring peace, stability and security (line 11). Others actors are activated only to the
extent that they are looking for our advice (lines 46). And again, a fallacious hasty
generalisation at the end of the passage mystifies existing differences and the very question: Why should we (lines 9, 10) actually desire to export our knowledge? Critical
questions concerning our historical responsibility, as well as the apparent responsibility to teach the world, can thus not even be raised.
What comes to characterise Europes relationship with the wider world is not a narrative of continuous self-critical reflection on Europes past wrongdoings. Rather, it is the

Figure 7. Functional analysis of Prodi (2003b).

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Forchtner and Klvraa


Figure 8.The semantic field of Europe in the speeches investigated.

unique knowledge and experience, supposedly gained from the socio-political learning
process, which informs the construction of difference between Europe and nonEuropean others. The European project through strategies of perspectivisation is
now presented as something to be marvelled at from the outside. The asymmetry is thus
inverted: it is Europe which from an advanced point of experience can now take on
responsibility for the rest of the world, something which is likely to enable a degree of
both superiority towards external others and a self-righteous relationship to its own
past, present and future. The irony is that the barbarity of Europes history now becomes
the raw material on which, through the emphasis on experience rather than on guilt, a
new image of Europe as advanced and knowledgeable, as civilised, is built. The tragic
narratives moral dictum, that is to take responsibility for ones own former crimes, turns
into a (potentially) self-righteous, patronising ambition to take responsibility for the rest
of the world.
In Figure 8, we summarise our analysis above by making heuristic use of the idea of
semantic fields developed by Koselleck (for a similar application of the DHA, see
Krzyanowski, 2010: 129131). The image summarises the discourse analysed on
Europes identity as one predominantly about values which are rooted in a bitter past
(left) but in danger of collapsing into self-righteousness (right).

In this article, we have examined narrations of a EUropean identity by leading European
politicians. We proceeded from a theoretical foundation delivered by the DHA, theories
of narrativity and conceptual history. By utilising CL tools along the lines of Kosellecks
three dimensions (temporal, spatial, hierarchical), we combined computer-assisted
downsizing with a detailed analysis of specific texts through CDA.
What this analysis reveals is that the essence of Europe, its soul, is rendered in terms
of common values which are made European through their inscription into a narrative
of a common bitter past. This narrative of post-1945 Europe is not dominated by heroic

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Discourse & Society 23(4)

or gloryfying self-perceptions, but by admissions of wrongdoing. What is even more

striking, however, is that when this narrative is brought into contact with articulations
about Europes relationship to its contemporary surroundings, its basic mode of selfdescription discreetly changes. The Koselleckian spatial dimension of inside:outside
does not, in Europes case, result in a kind of self-effacing inferiority of the self in relation to the other. Rather, differentiation is made between Europe which has learned
and the external other which lacks this development. Therefore, self-critical narratives about a bitter past can become the foundation of European superiority expressed
in ambitions to teach the world.
In a wider perspective, this is significant because it questions the assumption that selfcritical narratives automatically immunise communities against self-aggrandising or
self-complacent modes of identity construction. The case of Europe, to the extent analysed above, indicates that slippage from a self-critical to a self-righteous identity is still
possible. This mode of subjectivity might, by reference to Albert Camus last novel, The
Fall, be described as judge-penitence. A judge-penitent, Camus (2006: 87ff) notes,
claims that the more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you (see Forchtner
(in press) for a conceptualisation and operationalisation of judge-penitence).
This does not imply that narratives which refer to a bitter past always and necessarily involve judgement on others, or that no true learning can be gained from selfcritical narrations of ones past. Arguably, if lessons are indeed learned, they have to
guide (linguistic) action. Indeed, it would be questionable whether learning lessons
from the past would be achieved if it resulted in paralysis. But how this activity is semiotically realised is crucial as narrating a bitter past is, in itself, no guarantee against an
attitude of superiority and arrogance towards the other.
We are thankful to Ruth Wodak and Majid KhosraviNik for their comments on an earlier version
of this article. We are also grateful to Costas Gabrielatos for advice concerning the downsizing
procedure. All mistakes remain our own.

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or
not-for-profit sectors.

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Author biographies
Bernhard Forchtner is a Wilhelm-von-Humboldt fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences,
Humboldt University, Berlin. He obtained his doctoral degree from the Department of Sociology
and the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University, UK. His thesis
explored the relation between public apologies, societal learning and self-righteousness. He was
the recipient of a DOC-fellowship from the Austrian Academy of Sciences and has published in
the field of memory studies, at the interface of sociological theory and critical discourse analysis,
and on prejudice and discrimination.
Christoffer Klvraa is an assistant professor in the Department for European Studies at the
Institute of History and Area Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark. In his research, he has
written on theories of discourse and identity, issues of nationalism and ideology, and contemporary
and historical notions of European identity. In his new book, entitled Imagining Europe as a
Global Player, he focuses on the narratives and discourses through which the European
Commission is constructing a common European identity in connection with ideas about a
common European foreign policy.

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