KommZuEU Working Paper 1/2022
Doing Europe: Local Governments as Agents of European Cohesion
Dorothee Riese, Renate Reiter, Benjamin Gröbe & Stephan Grohs
Foto: KTSDESIGN/Science Photo Library/Getty Images
KOMMZUEU WP 1/2022
Dorothee Riese, Renate Reiter, Benjamin Gröbe & Stephan Grohs
Doing Europe: Local Governments as Agents of European Cohesion
KommZuEU Working Paper 1/2022
FernUniversität in Hagen
Deutsche Universität für Verwaltungswissenschaften Speyer
KommZuEU Working Paper
© 2022 by the author(s)
About the authors
Dorothee Riese is a research assistant at the FernUniversität in Hagen.
Renate Reiter is a research assistant at the FernUniversität in Hagen and the Zentrum für Evaluation und
Politikberatung (ZEP) Berlin.
Benjamin Gröbe is a research assistant at the University of Speyer.
Stephan Grohs is professor of Political Science at the German University of Administrative Sciences and
Senior Fellow of the German Research Institute of Public Administration.
FernUniversität in Hagen
Universitätsstraße 47 | 58097 Hagen | Germany
deposit_hagen – Publikationsserver der Universitätsbibliothek
KOMMZUEU WP 1/2022
Academia and practitioners agree that the local level is crucial for EU cohesion. However, further conceptual
and empirical development is needed. The paper introduces an understanding of European cohesion
consisting of a horizontal and a vertical dimension, covering individuals’ relationships with each other and the
polity. We review the predominantly nation-state-focused, interdisciplinary literature on support for the
European Union (vertical dimension) and societal Europeanization (horizontal dimension) through a ‘local
lens’, arguing in favour of combining the two dimensions in one framework of cohesion. We derive empirical
expectations about the role of local agency for European cohesion and operationalise European cohesion, thus
designing a coherent framework for analysing the local foundations of European cohesion.
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Cohesion is increasingly in the focus of public and academic attention. Often, talk about cohesion is
motivated by a perceived lack of it. In Europe, the erosion of the so-called ‘permissive consensus’ and the rise
of Euroscepticism can be debated in terms of internal cohesion. Recent crises like the Euro crisis, the so-called
‘refugee crisis’ and the Covid 19-pandemic have further fuelled discussion about economic and social
cohesion, problematising polarisation and increasing structural imbalances in Europe. At the same time, these
crises have also contributed to strengthening Eurosceptic sentiments among the citizens (Hobolt and Tilley
2016). In this paper, we will argue that cities are of paramount importance in addressing these perceived
deficiencies in cohesion both of Europe and in Europe.
Politically, the local level is coined as the ‘school of democracy’ and as closest to citizens (Tausendpfund 2013).
In (European) political science, this role of the local level and the related thesis of cities as places of cohesion
are sometimes referred to (Brandsen et al. 2016; Braun and Tausendpfund 2017), but overall the local level
receives relatively little interest from political scientists. This is particularly surprising when viewed in
conjunction with the regular results of surveys of citizens and voters on the importance of the local level.
European citizens trust the local (and regional) levels more than other levels (European Commission 2021).
Societally, it is a space for community building. Cities are characterized by an independent logic of
Vergesellschaftung (socialization) (Löw 2010: 150). The academic assumptions about the importance of the
local level are as well shared by political actors as the Pact of Amsterdam illustrates:
‘[…] Urban Authorities play a crucial role in the daily life of all EU citizens. Urban Authorities are often
the level of government closest to the citizens. The success of European sustainable urban development
is highly important for the economic, social and territorial cohesion of the European Union and the
quality of life of its citizens’ (EU Ministers for Urban Matters 2016)
While the Pact was the outcome of an informal ministers’ meeting, it still constitutes a cornerstone of EU
urban policy. It expresses the political idea of the local, notably the urban, as a source of cohesion of a complex
multi-level system. The European Commission, although it has no formal competences for urban matters, has
been stressing the importance of cities for the EU for a long time (Cotella 2019; Frantz 2021; Atkinson and
Still, the scientific debate has largely focused on national differences when analysing European cohesion, not
least because sample sizes, for example of the Eurobarometer, do not allow disaggregating findings on the level
of cities. Additionally, explanations of different levels of cohesion rely primarily on structural factors (like
economic structures, city size or citizens’ educational level). But whether and how local agency can shape
cohesion remains largely unexplored. This paper pursues a conceptual claim. It develops a framework for
investigating the effects of local agency on European cohesion as an analytical foundation for further empirical
In a first step, we introduce an understanding of cohesion consisting of two dimensions focusing on citizens’
relationships with the polity (vertical dimension) and each other (horizontal dimension). Second, we review
the state of research through a local, predominantly urban ‘lens’. Third, we systematically develop
assumptions from the literature about what may influence European cohesion locally: activities and discourse.
Finally, we introduce empirical expectations about the role of the local for European cohesion and suggest an
operationalisation of European cohesion.
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European Cohesion as a Two-Dimensional Concept
In the European Union, the concept of cohesion has a long political tradition. It is closely linked to policies
and funding schemes that aim to limit economic, social and territorial disparities (see Art. 174 TFEU). Thus,
in European political practice, it is thought of rather in socio-economic than in political terms. Cohesion was
put on the European agenda when the capacities of inclusion through the welfare state eroded and was mainly
thought of in terms of its economic functionality (Novy et al. 2012). Cohesion is discussed as a counterpart
to various crises of liberal democracy, ranging from polarization and populism, erosion of trust to inequality
(Deitelhoff et al. 2020: 10) and can be regarded as a ‘defensive strategy’ (Maloutas and Pantelidou Malouta
2004). Thus, cohesion is seen as a resource for pacifying conflict and ‘allowing for respectful communal
conduct between heterogeneous groups’ (Scheurer and Haase 2018). However, some argue that this focus on
cohesion glosses over the productive force of conflict in voicing and mediating interests (Eizaguirre et al. 2012)
and thus serves to depoliticize legitimate conflicts.
In academic literature, many mourn both the conceptual ambiguity of ‘cohesion’ as well as the political and
normative charge (Chan et al. 2006). Deitelhoff et al. describe cohesion as an ‘empty signifier’ that is ‘open to
a variety of sometimes diametrically opposed conceptions’ ranging from ethnic homogeneity to post-national
solidarity (2020: 13, own translation). Its core, however, consists of a ‘positive relationship of some kind
among members to each other and to their community’ (Deitelhoff et al. 2020: 13, own translation, emphasis
Table 1: Cohesion’s Horizontal and Vertical Dimensions
Attitudes towards fellow citizens
Societal participation (e.g.
Attitudes towards political
institutions and public officials
Adapted representation based on the two-by-two framework by Chan et al. (2006).
We follow Chan et al. (2006) who devise a conception of cohesion that focuses on exactly these horizontal
and vertical relationships (see table 1) and apply it to the European context. The horizontal dimension focuses
on socialisation, relationships and mutual trust between citizens. The vertical dimension encompasses
individuals’ connections to the polity. Like Chan et al. (2006), we furthermore distinguish between attitudes
. This approach uses the individual perspective as a gateway to determining cohesion at the
local societal level. It stresses cohesion as a political concept in distinction to the notion of cohesion employed
in European Cohesion Policy, a notion that primarily focuses on socio-economic aspects.
State of Research – European Union Cohesion at the Local Level
Based on this two-dimensional definition of cohesion, we argue in favour of systematically linking the
relatively distinct academic debates on support for the EU in the framework of political science with the issues
Chan et al. term this subjective and objective component (2006).
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of societal Europeanization and of cohesion in cities. We review the state of research to develop systematic
expectations about the local foundations of cohesion in the EU.
The Vertical Dimension: Local EU Support
Most literature that analyses support for the EU takes nation-states as their unit of investigation.
Consequently, differences between the single EU Member States can be identified (Sánchez-Cuenca 2000;
Díez Medrano 2003; Frazer and Van Ingelgom 2013). Seldom there is a territorial dimension, and if there is,
it is regional, not local (López‐Bazo 2021; Gross and Debus 2018; e.g. Díez Medrano and Gutiérrez 2001).
This body of research relying on analyses of survey data like the Eurobarometer investigates how prevalent
for the EU is, and what factors favour or hinder it. Utilitarian concerns are shown to be central for
the explanation of the level of support. This perspective discusses benefits both for the individual and its
nation-state (e.g. Gabel 1998: 350; Sanders et al. 2012a: 209)
. In addition, identity-related explanations for
support focus on whether pre-existing identifications (national or regional) are compatible with a European
one or not (McLaren 2002, 2004; Hooghe and Marks 2009; Díez Medrano and Gutiérrez 2001). Other works
point out the role of so-called ‘cues’, meaning heuristics or prompts individuals rely on to make assessments
about political issues (Pannico 2017; Sanders et al. 2012b). Furthermore, individual characteristics like socio-
demographic features, knowledge or individual experiences are also linked to EU support (Kuhn 2011; Clark
and Hellwig 2012; Karp et al. 2003).
Although utilitarian concerns are arguably most important, EU support thus is influenced by a larger set of
variables. Also, there is ambivalence and indifference in practice (Van Ingelgom 2014). Qualitative research
on support has contributed to identifying this ambivalence as well as tracing individual processes of meaning-
making (Gaxie et al. 2011; Duchesne et al. 2013; Van Ingelgom 2014; Díez Medrano 2003; Hurrelmann et al.
Most of these findings are situated at the level of nation-states. Nevertheless there are a few explicit findings
on local EU support. Tausendpfund (2013) shows that support for European integration varies considerably
between cities, explaining this with individual-level factors and to some extent with city partnerships and the
integration of foreigners. Others find a size effect: Large cities’ inhabitants tend to be more EU-supportive
(Royuela 2020) than their surroundings, creating a distinct ‘geography of discontent’ (Dijkstra et al. 2020:
. In a study of intra-European movers, so-called ‘Eurostars’, Favell shows that the local opportunity
structures have an impact on citizens’ participation and feeling of belonging (Favell 2010). This also reflects
in varying political participation, as the local turnout in European Parliament elections shows (Linderborg
2019). However, little is known about the reasons for this variation beyond inconclusive findings, for example,
on the role of European funding for turnout (cf. Mattila 2003; Fiorino et al. 2019). Thus, local political
participation in European politics deserves further investigation. Also, the extent of the Europeanization of
Support for the EU often is measured by individuals’ opinions about their country’s EU membership (e.g.
Gabel 1998), integration in general (e.g. Clark and Hellwig 2012) or concerning policy fields (e.g. Hooghe
2003). Other measures include the satisfaction with or trust in institutions or EU democracy (e.g. McEvoy
2016) or identification with the EU (e.g. Díez Medrano and Gutiérrez 2001; Polyakova and Fligstein 2016).
Finally, there are several studies that combine different measures (e.g. McLaren 2002; Garry and Tilley 2009)
or create indices (e.g. Levy and Phan 2014).
There is a debate on how to measure utilitarianism. While some use macro-economic indicators (De Vries and
Van Kersbergen 2007), others use respondents’ perceptions of their benefits (Mau 2005; Levy and Phan 2014;
Dijkstra et al. 2020).
Most likely, size is a proxy for opportunity structures and transnationalization.
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local politics (like local elections, local party manifestos etc.) is largely unexplored. Recent undertakings like
the Local Manifesto Project will enable such research in the future (see Gross and Jankowski 2020).
In addition to these findings that are specific for the local level, we can derive expectations about local
manifestations of cohesion from the general literature on support. Knowing that utilitarian concerns are
among the central drivers of EU support, we can expect local cohesion to vary with a city’s economic structure
and its dependence on EU funds. Furthermore, the local socio-economic structure could have an impact given
that people with higher formal education or high-skilled jobs are more supportive of the EU since they tend
to profit more from it (McLaren 2004). Thus, differences between the levels of EU support across cities may
be explained by these structural factors. However, to what extent EU-support is susceptible to changes
through local agency is so far unknown.
The Horizontal Dimension: Europeanized Local Societies
Analyses of socialization processes in Europe, too, usually take national societies as their unit of investigation.
There are internal differentiations by socio-demographic and -economic factors, but rarely spatial or sub-
national ones. This sociological strand of research phrases the question of European cohesion in terms of inter-
personal relationships and the existence or development of a European society. It asks whether citizens feel
connected to a polity’s other members, be they individuals or other countries’ peoples (Recchi et al. 2019;
Lahusen 2019). Like in Chan et al.’s definition, this includes both attitudes (feelings of closeness etc.) and
behaviour (e.g. their transnational behaviour in travelling or personal networks). While issues of the
relationship of people within Europe to each other can be described as societal Europeanization, other
concepts take up these issues as well. For instance, the academic discourse on a European identity also revolves
around relational questions. Here, too, the importance of ‘bottom-up processes that involve education,
socialization, political conflict, and social interaction’ to develop a European identity has been pointed out
(Fligstein 2008: 126, see for example also Bellamy and Castiglione 2008).
In general, one can observe a certain level of societal Europeanization, although there are limits and national
differences, too. Attitudinally, Europeans tend to feel more familiar to other European peoples than peoples
outside Europe, although there are distinct country patterns shaped either by proximity or connections of
labour migration (Savage et al. 2019). To some extent, individuals perceive other European peoples to be a
point of reference for their own lives (Lahusen and Kiess 2019). There is a certain level of European solidarity
as the willingness to give something to others (money, help) without any returns (Gerhards et al. 2021),
although solidarity varies in intensity depending on a perception of the recipients’ deservingness (Díez
Medrano et al. 2019). Behaviorally, Europeans are ‘astonishingly mobile’ (Salamońska and Recchi 2019).
Intra-EU mobility, as Recchi shows, is a strong predictor of attachment to Europe (Recchi 2017) and
therefore is linked to the vertical dimension of cohesion.
Those findings, although gained, again, at the national level, may also provide expectations about cities. For
example, the Europeanization of local society may depend on the transnationalization of the local economy,
geographic position and proximity to other European countries as well as the composition of the local
population (e.g. the number of European migrants, the existence of a university or transnational company).
Also, we may expect differences in the development of a form of Europeanized society depending on the local
opportunity structure for transnational exchange. For example, cities that are close to borders or are actively
engaged in town twinning produce more occasions for exchange that is, based on transactionalist thinking
(Salamońska and Recchi 2019), expected to foster the Europeanization of societies. Still, these expectations
need to be taken with a grain of salt. Whether individuals behave transnationally is ‘highly stratified along
educational attainment, age and occupational background’ (Kuhn 2011: 828), and does not automatically
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produce Europeanness in individuals (Damay and Mercenier 2016; Favell 2010; Pötzschke and Braun 2019).
These ambivalent findings on the concrete effect of transnationalism (mobility and other contacts)
substantiate our interest in a more fine-grained analysis that investigates differences between cities.
In Urban Studies, there has been broad research on cohesion in cities, although without a specific focus on
Europe. Their findings can inform an analysis of European cohesion in cities. These studies often share an
interest in how differences (social plurality and economic inequality) affect local cohesion and how factors
like welfare (Andreotti et al. 2012), the labour market (Pratschke and Morlicchio 2012) or (spatial) segregation
(Cassiers and Kesteloot 2012) impact local cohesion. The spatiality of cohesion is stressed and with it the
possibility of tensions between objectives of cohesion depending on the scale we look at (Kearns and Forrest
2000). The internal cohesion of neighbourhoods may not be the same as city-wide cohesion, since tight-knit
communities may conflict with one another (see for example Oxendine 2016 on 'bridging' and 'bonding social
capital'). Increasing cohesion within a neighbourhood thus may result in less cohesion between
neighbourhoods (for a critical account of the types of social capital and their local role, see Blokland and Savage
2008). This connects to the debates about in- and exclusivity of identities in Europe and stresses the
importance of local experiences and practices.
Thus, the literature on societal Europeanization has investigated both attitudes (feelings of closeness,
familiarity, Europeanness, trust) and behaviour (transnational personal networks, physical and virtual
mobility, solidarity-focussed action). And there is a body of literature on urban cohesion, but these are rarely
linked. How European cohesion manifests in cities requires further analysis.
Local Agency and Cohesion in Europe
There is ample reason to believe in a central role of the local for European cohesion, both theoretically and
empirically. However, some of the factors that have been shown to influence European cohesion can be
classified as structural ones, for example, the characteristics of the local economy and the resulting socio-
economic position of the local population. While it is important to acknowledge such structural factors as the
framework within which cohesion develops (or not), we will in the following focus on those aspects that are
susceptible to local agency.
Local authorities are outstanding stakeholders of interest in the EU due to their position as an important
implementation level of national and European legislation and as the frontline level for most issues for
European citizens. Against this background, they perform numerous Europe-related activities. We propose to
distinguish four types of Europe-related activities: uploading, downloading, networking and
. Uploading includes, for instance, activity in umbrella organisations like the Council of
European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) or EUROCITIES aimed at representing interests at the
European level. Downloading comprises activities in implementation and the use of EU funding. Networking
refers to, for example, town twinning. And communication includes the systematic information of citizens on
the cities’ European activities, framing and discourse on European issues. However, the level of activity varies
significantly between cities (Verhelst 2017).
We argue that Europe-related activities by collective actors – be they local authorities or civil society
organisations – can be expected to affect the local population’s attitudes and behaviours regarding other
Europeans and the European polity, thus the local manifestation of European cohesion. Drawing on the
These types of activities may overlap in political practice. For example, participation in organisations like
EUROCITIES may fulfil functions of networking as well as uploading.
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literature on cohesion in general, we discuss where to expect such impacts. In the following, we investigate
two aspects of local agency. First, we look into horizontal and vertical activities in the European multi-level
system. This includes those activities which might be described as up- and downloading and networking
(Marshall 2005; Kern and Bulkeley 2009; Hamedinger and Wolffhardt 2010). Second, we analyse the
communicative activities. This part discusses how local discourse and strategic framing impact cohesion and
incorporates the fourth type of activity what can be called ‘dissemination’.
Horizontal and Vertical Local Activity
First of all, local authorities can take on the role of actors in the European Multi-Level system. Vertical
activities connect cities to the European level. Their uploading activities aim at feeding their interests into the
European political process (see Heinelt and Niederhafner 2008). This depends on local agency and a city’s
strategic interest in uploading (Huggins 2018). Effective uploading, we argue, can be a source of a feeling of
efficacy for local citizens. Efficacy as ‘a person’s belief that governing institutions are responsive to their
interests’ has been shown to be a ‘key predictor of public opinion towards the European Union’ (McEvoy
2016). Inclusive decision-making processes on European matters within a city may influence people’s attitudes
and behaviour. It has been shown that local opportunity structures for participation matter (Favell 2010)
does the inclusion of civil society and non-profit organisations in decision-making processes (Potluka and
Špaček 2019) and a bottom-up organisation of participation that is not subordinated to pre-determined
administrative goals (Boonstra and Boelens 2011).
Second, there are downloading activities. Given that local government implements European legal acts, this
may be local authorities’ quantitatively most extensive Europe-related activity. Compliance research has
shown that there is considerable variation in local implementation of European legislation, stressing that the
local level has noticeable leeway in dealing with EU law (e.g. Bondarouk et al. 2020). Additionally,
downloading experiences can inform uploading activities. The use of European subsidies also allows local
activity. Existing research shows that European funding has impacts on attitudes towards the EU (Borz et al.
2018), at least if it is used effectively and quickly (López‐Bazo 2021) or has a positive impact on the labour
market (Crescenzi et al. 2020). Citizens wish to be included in decision-making about the use of funding
(Pegan et al. 2018). Where local authorities are creative in framing or redefining their own needs so that they
can be met by European funds (Mukhtar-Landgren and Fred 2019; Pflieger 2014), such effects may be tapped
into. However, this presupposes that local authorities have the will and the prerequisites for using funding. In
concrete terms, this means expertise on funding schemes, personnel and administrative capacities for
acquisition and the availability of financial means for co-financing. Moreover, funding schemes have different
eligibility. Therefore, using European funding also depends on non-state actors ranging from local businesses
to civil society organisations.
Third, there are horizontal networking activities like participation in Euro-Regions, town twinning, or
membership in associations (like Eurocities, CEMR). These constitute a basis not just for uploading activities
within European umbrella organisations but also for horizontal processes of socialization. But as shown by
Tausendpfund and Schäfer (2018), a city’s activities in town twinning alone does not affect support. Instead,
its effect depends on citizens’ active involvement with twinning. Again, this illustrates the importance of
extending the perspective not just on local authorities, but also on local civil society as well. While local
authorities may provide a favourable framework, they cannot fill it with life on their own.
While factors like the party system or voting rights cannot be changed by individual cities, this underlines that
the local framework plays a role.
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Communicative Activity, Local Identity and Framing
Local discourse consists of two aspects. In addition to targeted communication about the EU as well as local
EU-related activities, discourse also includes a city’s Europe-related self-image.
There are different forms of targeted communication about Europe. First, communication activities make
citizens aware of local authorities’ horizontal and vertical activities. Second, research has shown that political
knowledge has an impact on people’s attitudes towards the EU (Clark and Hellwig 2012). Building knowledge
about the EU, therefore, is another task of communication. Civil society organisations and associations play
an important role both for school and out-of-school civic education about Europe. Third, framing (Fischer
2003; Eising et al. 2015) is important for the assessment of the benefits of European integration. As discussed
in the broad literature on utilitarian motivations for EU support, there is a difference between ‘hard’ economic
indicators and people’s perceptions of their individual or collective benefits (Mau 2005). Levy and Phan (2014)
deduce that political actors’ framing of benefits is crucial and can influence people’s perspectives on Europe.
People rely on cues for assessing something as complex as the EU (Hooghe and Marks 2005; Pannico 2017)
and are therefore susceptible to framing. Being strongly involved in the implementation of European policies,
the local level is an important arena for communicating the concrete impact of the European Union on
people’s lives, but also for showing where local problems have a transnational background, thus tapping into
people’s ‘intuitive functionalism’ (Clark 2020; Barbehön 2016).
In addition to these forms of targeted communication about Europe, there is a second dimension of discourse
that includes the leading ideas and images of the relationship between the local and Europe. Local discourse
may be shaped by such ideas about what a city’s place in Europe is (Scalise 2015). On the country level, we
know that the in- or exclusive nature of national (or regional) identities enable or hinder identification with
Europe (McLaren 2002; Hooghe and Marks 2009; Duchesne and Frognier 2008). Given that citizens express
a relationship to the local level as surveys like the Eurobarometer show, we can expect that the in- or exclusivity
of local identification has an impact like the in- or exclusivity of regional or national identity. Identity is not
something that is easily changed. Still, local authorities may promote a certain view of local identity and culture
(see Terlouw 2020) and formulate Europe-related mission statements or self-images. Local discourse, of
course, is not determined by political and administrative actors alone. Rather, it is the product of interactions
with both civil society organisations and individual citizens. Local stakeholders beyond public authorities
contribute to processes of identity-making (Terlouw and van Gorp 2014). Local media represent and
influence discourse about Europe (Barbehön 2015).
Investigating the Local Foundations of European Cohesion
In this paper, we proposed to take a closer look at the role of the local for cohesion in Europe. We argue that
cities are an important avenue for creating and maintaining cohesion in Europe understood with Chan et al.
as a two-dimensional relationship that individuals have with their polity (vertical dimension) and their fellow
European citizens (horizontal dimension). While this expectation drives local and specifically urban policy, it
has received little empirical investigation.
To investigate the role of the local for European cohesion, we formulate a set of expectations about the impact
of local agency on European cohesion. We argue that local agency is not fed exclusively by the activities and
discourse contributions of local public authorities, but also by the activities and discourse contributions of
societal actors (e.g., associations, companies, etc.) who can act as European multipliers (on civil society see Bee
and Guerrina 2014) and give cues (see above).
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When looking at local Europe-related activities we can distinguish horizontal and vertical ones. Horizontal
activities cover networking and exchange between different cities (on the administrative level) as well as
between local associations (on a local societal level). As these provide opportunities for transnational –
European – interaction, we expect these activities to increase European cohesion through enhanced
transnational interaction. Also, they can be a foundation for strengthening the individual’s attention to
Europe and one’s interest in Europe-related involvement. We expect an effect of such activities irrespective of
whether citizens are fully aware of a local government’s engagement. Even if they are ignorant of their cities’
activities, we assume that the latter will have a certain albeit weakened effect by providing opportunities, for
example for exchange, even if this is not directly perceived as Europe-related agency by a city.
Vertical activities, namely up- and downloading by public authorities and social actors, in turn, are directed
at the relationship of the local population to EU policy. Interactions that enable or require local community
participation can become a basis for strengthening individuals’ awareness of and interest in Europe. Such
interactions can be thought of both in political-administrative terms (e.g., representing local political interests
vis-à-vis the EU, fulfilling obligations arising from the community’s affiliation with EU policies) and in social
terms (e.g., organizing participation; or organizing Europe-related social events). Consequently, we expect
that European cohesion will increase if relevant activities lead to positive effects on or in the local community.
This includes the effective mediation of local interests at the European level, successful application in
European funding programs to address local problems, and the organization and provision of structures for
effective citizen participation.
Looking at the local discourse, we hypothesize that the communication about Europe and the shaping of a
certain image of Europe by local politicians and its social, economic, cultural, etc. elites will become a basis for
drawing the individuals’ attention to Europe and European integration. Also, we expect that whether and to
what extent Europe is a part of local actors’ self-perception (e.g. in manifestos) shapes the local discourse on
Europe (cf. Barbehön 2015). This, in turn, can contribute to people’s willingness to actively engage with
fellow European citizens and/or to actively engage in European politics and embrace Europe as a natural
aspect of their own lives and local society and polity. The effect can also be the reverse: If the discourse on
Europe is very eurocritic, it can further erode cohesion. Thus, framing (of Europe and the self-images of a local
community concerning Europe) can change individual perceptions of EU benefits and benefit European
cohesion, but the direction of the effect depends on the type of framing: Positive framing will likely strengthen
cohesion; negative framing may weaken it. Thus, there is a wide range of Europe-related activities and
discourse which allows us to formulate expectations about local agency’s potential impact on European
cohesion. To examine these empirically, we propose to use Chan et al.’s definition of European cohesion to
survey a local population. In so doing, we aim at systematically gathering fresh knowledge on the individual
expression of European cohesion. An according survey must be designed in a way so that it includes both
items on individual relationships with fellow citizens as well as items on the individual’s relationship with the
European polity. Table 2 – drawing on Chan et al.’s definition of European cohesion as explained in table 1
above – gives a (non-conclusive) overview of typical items sampled in such a survey. Since we argue that agency
may have an impact mediated by the opportunities it creates, not just when it is observed and acknowledged
by citizens, we rely on a wider set of variables beyond surveying citizens for their awareness and evaluation of
local agency. These could, for example, be aggregated to an index of cohesion which allows a comparison,
either longitudinally or between different cities, to investigate whether higher levels of activity are related to
higher levels of cohesion. Thus, there will be no pre-defined threshold for cohesion; rather, it is a question of
degree whose significance arises from comparison. Any comparison would, of course, have to consider
different frameworks like the legal status and competences of local authorities. Thus, a comparison of cities
within a European country should be the first step to keep other parameters constant.
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Table 2: Operationalising European Cohesion
Attitudes towards fellow
• feelings of closeness
• European identification
Social participation, e.g.
• donations for or participation in Europe-
• participation in exchanges, town twinning
EU support, e.g.
• evaluation of EU
• support for integration
Political participation, e.g.
• participation in European elections
• active use of participative formats
(European Citizens’ Initiative, local
consultations e.g. on EU-funded projects)
• Europeanization of local electoral
The operationalisation allows a systematic analysis of the effects of local agency on European cohesion. Such
an analysis adds a missing piece to the puzzle of understanding the determinants of European cohesion beyond
the nation-state. Consequently, it submits the academic and political normative expectations about the crucial
role of the local to an empirical test.
The recent Covid19 crisis has only emphasized the importance of such empirical underpinning of political
expectations. Cities performed very differently in coping with the pandemic and, due to their economic
structures, are also affected very differently by its consequences. Debates about stark spatial differences in
incidences that represent inner-municipal inequalities and segregation have vividly illustrated the relevance of
cohesion. And political disputes over border closures, travel returnees, border commuters, or solidarity with
hard-hit regions and municipalities have pointed out both the European and the local dimension of cohesion
and its practical consequences. Local transnational practice and attitudes are by no means independent of
agency. Equally virulent is the role of cities in addressing the new refugee crisis resulting from Russia's war of
aggression against Ukraine. Again, cities are at the forefront of dealing with this crisis, a crisis that is closely
related to notions of cohesion in Europe.
The empirical research we have outlined can make an important contribution to our understanding of these
processes. In the next step, the KommZuEU project will investigate cities’ selected Europe-related activities
and whether and how they are directed at strengthening cohesion. In addition, the link between cities’ agency
and citizens’ relations to Europe as a polity and their fellow Europeans will be empirically illuminated through
a citizens’ survey in a number of case studies.
KOMMZUEU WP 1/2022
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