Debunking the Myth: Exploring the Role of Border Regions in European Identity Formation

JCMS |

by Dr Moritz Rehm, Prof. Dr. Martin Schröder, and Prof. Dr. Georg Wenzelburger (Saarland University)

The enduring romanticized notion that border regions serve as the quintessential embodiment of European identity has long captured our collective imagination. However, recent scholarly inquiry challenges this assumption, suggesting that the emotional attachment to Europe among individuals residing in border regions is not significantly different from those living inland.

Led by Professor Georg Wenzelburger, Martin Schröder, and post-doctoral researcher Moritz Rehm, our study recently published in JCMS delves into the prevalent belief that proximity to borders inherently fosters a stronger sense of European belonging. Contrary to popular belief and political claims, our findings, drawn from comprehensive data collected from over 25,000 individuals via Germany’s Socio-Economic Panel, reveal a surprising lack of disparity in attachment to Europe between residents of border and inland regions.

In scrutinizing potential explanations for this unexpected revelation, we explored various factors including education, income, duration of residency in border regions, and actual cross-border experiences such as commuting. While our study confirms the commonly held view that individuals with higher education, income levels, and international experience tend to exhibit greater attachment to Europe, it also shows that neither the educated nor the affluent, nor those with cross-border experiences, display heightened European attachment simply by residing in border regions compared to their counterparts in inland areas.

Rather than perpetuating an overly optimistic portrayal of border regions as natural hubs of European identity, our study urges a reevaluation of prevailing assumptions. While we do not outright dismiss the potential influence of border regions on European attachment, we propose a nuanced understanding. Border regions may indeed serve as focal points for European integration, intensifying the “experience of Europe” compared to inland regions. However, they may also be arenas of heightened conflict where national differences manifest more acutely, potentially leading to detachment from Europe among residents who directly witness the challenges of cross-national connections. Thus, border regions may simultaneously foster cooperation and conflict across borders, resulting in a net neutral effect on European attachment overall.

As policymakers continue to invest substantial resources in promoting cross-border cooperation, our study underscores the importance of adopting evidence-based approaches. Our data unequivocally indicates that border regions are not inherently foster greater European attachment. This insight is crucial for shaping informed policies that accurately reflect the dynamics of European identity formation.


Dr. Moritz Rehm is a postdoc at the Department of European Social Research at Saarland University. His research is focused on the political economy of European integration as well as on financial assistance in the European Union. He studied at the College of Europe in Bruges and holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Luxembourg.

 

Prof. Dr. Martin Schröder is professor of sociology at Saarland University, Germany. He did his doctorate at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne and studied at Sciences Po Paris. He was a postdoc at Harvard University and a Visiting Professor at Sciences Po Paris. He is currently in what explains a European identity.

 

Stt

Georg Wenzelburger is a political scientist and holds the Chair of Comparative European Politics at Saarland University. His research is centred on the comparative study of public policies with a focus on Western Europe. Recent work has focussed on the politics of law and order, welfare state reforms, digital politics and insecurity and has been published in academic journals such as the British Journal of Political Science, the European Journal of Political Research, the Journal of European Public Policy or West European Politics.