For some 60 years now, various measures have been introduced to bring Europeans together as citizens, based on the idea that increased cross-border encounters would create familiarity, generate a sense of community, facilitate economic activities and ultimately bring about a shared identity, however fragile at first. Town twinning and numerous exchange and mobility programmes of many kinds are cases in point. These programmes typically were anchored in the municipal, educational and vocational realms. While these mechanisms functioned well, some seem to be losing their innovative capacity; yet all reveal a structural middle-class bias. On the whole they systematically exclude those groups among which the rise of Euro-scepticism and support for anti-European political parties is the strongest, particularly the less well-educated and the new precariat. With the fiscal crises reducing the capacity of many EU member states to support the European Project financially, what mechanisms or policy instruments could, in the sense of social engineering, strengthen social bonds across borders and re-energise Europe’s social space?
•Mobility programmes for tertiary education and vocational training regularly do not reach lower social status groups. They should be made more inclusive by using targeted recruitment campaigns and monetary incentives.
•Teachers, social workers in youth organisations, community activists or coaches in sports clubs can be effective in reaching out to youths. The success of EU mobility programmes is dependent on such social mediators. Professions and institutions with high social outreach should themselves become targets of training and exchange programmes.
•Town twinning has become overly institutionalised, relying heavily on established professional and local elites. Town twinning projects need to open up socially and involve a greater variety of participants, in terms of social class, ethnic background and age.
•Europe needs to embark on an ambitious and large-scale volunteer programme. Such a programme should be incentivised to include participants of the new precariat, be linked to qualification schemes and become part of a sustained campaign to help ‘build Europe from below’.
In the aftermath of World War II Europe’s future social space, like its reconstructed economy, was to make divisive, violence-prone and unmanageable conflicts among nations less likely, in particular the wars that had destroyed much of the continent twice in little more than two generations. Somewhat simplified, Europe’s integration as a social space was intended to bring about more Europeanised civil societies in terms of connections, identities and value orientations. The idea was to make Europeans and their civil societies more connected across borders, to make citizens identify more as Europeans than solely or mainly as citizens of their countries and to instill shared values and a sense of common destination in future generations.
Such changes do not come about by themselves. Like the political and economic reconstruction of Europe, institutions and organisational infrastructure are required to make them happen. Since the 1950s, based on an implicit theory of change, and without a master plan as an overarching vision in place to guide it, a number of mechanisms were developed and established to help Europe’s populations overcome the mistrust and divisions of the past and to move closer to a shared social space.
A prominent example of such mechanisms is the town twinning movement. Official and organised twinning projects, as we know them today, developed around Franco-German reconciliation efforts in the aftermath of World War II. Twinning projects emerged at the local level, mainly facilitated by local authorities and civil society organisations, as early as 1950 (Vion, 2002; Zelinsky, 1991) and their growth accelerated, particularly in the 1960s. The multiplication of twinning links becomes especially evident in the Franco-German case. According to the databank of municipal partnerships by the German Association of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (n.d.) they rose from 49 in the 1950s to 2036 in 2011. Importantly, the twinning movement developed mainly as a bottom-up process that relied on local, reciprocal initiatives in both countries.
Other mechanisms were put in place by European foundations and bilateral institutions (such as the Franco-German or German-Polish Youth Offices). They set up exchange programmes that largely mirror the logic of reciprocity that is also found in town twinning. Still other instruments are those designed and implemented by the European Union (EU) in a top-down process. Under the auspices of the European Commission, numerous programmes aim to foster cross-border interaction among Europeans, most notably in the educational realm.
Although these mechanisms differ in agency and approach, they all rely on the power of networks among people and organisations and the promise that engineered contacts generate greater familiarity, mutual awareness and understanding among Europeans and, ultimately, construct a social space needed for Europe to develop as a connected, integrated system of civil society – and with high levels of social, economic and cultural capital across borders. Travel, exchange and mutual learning served as the three pillars. This reasoning, presented in Figure 1, is well known among sociologists as bridging social capital between adjacent as well as noncontiguous communities (see Putnam, 1993) and can indeed be regarded as the model of social integration in Europe. Of course, the two components in Figure 1 are closely interlinked and while the model initially assumes a unidirectional approach to jump-start the process of generating social capital (Deutsch, 1972), the relationship will become mutually reinforcing over time (Mau, 2006, p. 27; Roose, 2010, p. 24).
Against the background of fundamental political, economic and social changes that have taken place since the end of World War II, we first explain the need to revisit the basic model of social integration. Secondly, we elaborate on the relationship between social class and European identity before, thirdly, testing the social inclusiveness of two European mobility programmes. With Erasmus and Leonardo da Vinci (LdV), two programmes from the EU’s education and training policies have been selected. Targeting a significant number of young Europeans, their potential contribution for social integration in Europe is specifically worth studying. Finally, we reflect on how to re-energise a common European social space and make it accessible to a variety of groups.
Rethinking the basic model
Reconciliation was the central motive for encouraging cross-border bonds in the immediate decades after World War II. Notwithstanding the rapid expansion of network ties among Europeans since due to an expanding infrastructure of exchange opportunities, several developments suggest that it is necessary to revisit the way in which cross-border common social spaces became structured. Firstly, tracing the development of the twinning movement over time, we observe decreasing rates of new initiatives between French and German municipalities after a peak in the 1980s and most notably since the start of the new millennium (see Table 1). Similar saturation effects can be observed for twinning agreements between Germany and Great Britain (starting in the 1990s), Italy and Poland. Taking into account that the symbolism of the year 2000 (in marking the new millennium) temporarily produced more new agreements (68 with France, 27 with Great Britain, 22 with Italy and 46 with Poland), the drop in numbers of new twinning partnerships for the entire decade 2000–2009 is striking.
Table 1. Development of new twinning agreements between Germany and the four most important partner countries*
*The numbers refer to ‘full’ partnerships, that is, those not limited in terms of time or topic, and based on a formal twinning agreement. Source: German Association of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions
As Falkenhain et al. (forthcoming) suggest, the nature of town twinning has changed in recent years. In the case of Germany (Falkenhain et al., forthcoming) and the UK (Großpietsch, 2010, p. 116), the number of traditional town twinnings between two municipalities is decreasing whereas new forms of exchanges, often temporary, focused on functional cooperation and with several partner cities, is on the rise. This form of town twinning is complex and requires professional management. EU funding targeting exclusively local authorities (European Commission and Education and Audiovisual, and Culture Executive Agency, 2011) might be conducive to this professionalisation. It may at the same time impede the traditional citizen-led approach of town twinning to evolve.
Secondly, the EU has elaborated mechanisms with the aim of encouraging interaction among Europeans (for example, funding for town twinning projects and mobility programmes for different target groups) at a time when growing social divisions in Europe started to challenge the idea of creating a common social space. Indeed, we can observe two overlapping processes in Europe: convergence between countries and divergence within countries. We suggest that Europe is becoming more alike and more unlike at the same time, yet available programmes are ill-equipped to reconcile the two. Let us look at each process in turn and then explore the implications for the kind of social engineering needed to grow Europe’s social space.
Firstly, decreasing disparities between countries are certainly a positive consequence of EU membership. Economic and social differences between northern and southern, western and eastern Europe are less pronounced today than they were 20, let alone 50, years ago (Mau and Büttner, 2008). According to Eurostat data, the average per capita GDP in the EU-15, for instance, declined from 16 per cent above the EU-27 average in 1995 to 10 per cent above the EU-27 average in 2010. This development went in hand with a convergence from the bottom up. The pronounced socioeconomic cleavages, notably between the West and the East that were ‘imported’ with the 2004–2007 enlargement have at least been partially bridged, albeit unevenly. Some Central and Eastern European accession countries have made significant improvements in the last years (with approximations to the EU-27 average of up to 20 per cent in individual countries), though most still have a per capita GDP of around 40 per cent below the EU-27 average (Eurostat, 2010, 2012).
Increasing social inequality in most EU countries is another trend. Within the last two decades inequality of income has increased significantly in Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden. Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, the UK, and the Czech Republic have experienced slight increases. The inequality has remained almost unchanged in Belgium, France and Hungary. Finally, Greece is the only EU country with available data series showing that income inequality declined between the mid-1980s and the late 2000s (OECD, 2011). Developments over time show that incomes in Europe and the entire OECD world became more unequal, particularly during the 1980s OECD, 2011. The late 2000s suggest that inequality levels within the EU are converging (Eurostat, n.d.). Indeed, countries with income inequality below the EU-27 average in 2005, notably Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta, recorded rising levels of inequality by 2010. High-inequality countries (ranging above the EU-27 average in 2005), such as Estonia, Greece, Italy, Poland and Portugal saw a decline in their gini coefficient until 2005.
While the EU-27 average hardly changed in recent years, two groups of countries are moving in opposite directions. The EU-15 became slightly more unequal on average (with a gini coefficient rising from 0.299 to 0.305) between 2005 and 2010, whereas the 12 new member states moved towards more equal income levels in the same time period (that is, a decrease in their gini coefficient from 0.332 to 0.302).
In addition to growing levels of social inequality, a large number of EU member states are socially ‘immobile’ societies. Scholars agree that intergenerational income mobility is especially low in the UK and the southern EU member states, whereas the Nordic countries are relatively mobile (Björklund and Jäntti, 2009; Corak, 2006; Solon, 2002). Nevertheless, the link between parental and individual earnings has not been eliminated in any European country for which data are available (Corak, 2006, p. 31; OECD, 2010). According to the OECD (2010), intergenerational persistence in education is one of the key factors for wage immobility (see also Raitano and Vona, 2010, p. 8). Persistence in education over generations is particularly high in the southern EU member states but also in Luxembourg and Ireland (OECD, 2010).
Growing social inequalities in Europe (that is, increasing income inequality, limited wage mobility and intergenerational persistence of education) not only have implications for Europe’s economic and political dimension, but also for the process of social integration.1 If both interaction with other Europeans and identification with Europe are influenced by social status, what are the implications for the basic model of social integration, as suggested in Figure 1?
Europe’s social space: an elite project?
Findings from several population surveys highlight the positive relationship between socioeconomic factors and identification with supranational or international organisations. On the basis of data from the European Values Study, Arts and Halman (2006, pp. 188, 189) show that men, the young, those with higher income and education and the non-religious identify more easily with larger geographical units, and this is true across all EU member states. This finding is in line with Fligstein (2008) who argues that both the degree of identification with the EU and the extent of interactions with other Europeans are strongly related to socioeconomic factors, especially socioeconomic status (SES). For Fligstein (2008, p. 249), well-educated people and high SES citizens, in particular, have benefited most from EU integration: they interact more frequently with other Europeans and they identify most strongly with the EU (Figure 2).
Fligstein’s social class argument resonates with that of Gerhards (2010), who suggests that interactions with other Europeans (for example, through communication, travel and friendships) are facilitated by what he labels ‘transnational educational capital’ (p. 27). This includes knowledge of foreign languages and intercultural competencies of knowing how to interact in different, often diverse social and cultural circumstances. Such capital shapes an individual’s capacity to respond to opportunities and challenges that emerge from Europeanisation, ranging from educational options to labour market developments and from cultural appreciation to lifestyle choices.
Gerhards and Hans (2012) suggest that access to transnational educational capital is even more unequal than access to general educational capital. For example, they find that in Germany, transnational educational capital is closely tied to enrolment in secondary education and to stays abroad during secondary education. As the transition from primary to secondary education is already class-biased, and given that stays abroad involve significant costs and are rarely subsidised, SES becomes an important determinant for transnational educational capital – a finding that has to be put in the context of the social mobility trends cited above to appreciate its full implications on European integration.
In sum, Europe’s social space has become stratified. A cleavage has emerged between ‘The Europeans’ (especially professionals and other highly mobile and well-educated groups) who are at ease in living and negotiating the new Europe and lower social strata, who seem more likely to be ill-at-ease, even turning to anti-European political parties (Risse 2010). Indeed, Lubbers et al. (2002) find that in Western Europe the unemployed and lower SES voters are more likely to votes for extreme right-wing parties. Studies investigating the typical voter of the National Front (Neocleous and Startin, 2003) and of the True Finns (Arter, 2010) bear out this pattern. Disillusionment among some population groups, in particular the less educated and the unskilled, the rise of Euro-scepticism and anti-European political parties, and the fiscal crises that have hit many EU member states have exerted great pressure on the European Project. Against this background, how do mechanisms that seek to strengthen social bonds across borders compare? Do they reflect or alleviate social class differences and effects?
Mobility in tertiary education: the Erasmus programme
The global number of mobile students has dramatically increased, notably in the last decade. It rose by 53 per cent from 1999 to 2007, which is an annual increase of 5.5 per cent (UNESCO, 2009).2 Mobility programmes such as the EU’s Erasmus programme have contributed to this growth. The number of participants grew from 3244 in 1987 to 213,266 in 2009. In total, Erasmus has had 2.3 million participants since 1987 (European Commission, 2011a), making it the largest student mobility programme in the world.
Beyond the objectives of fostering the territorial mobility of students and improving the quality of education, the Erasmus programme, as part of the EU’s education and training policies, also has a social component. The promotion of equity, social cohesion and active citizenship is defined by the EU as an explicit long-term objective in this policy field (European Commission Education and Training, 2012). Against this background, the question of whether the Erasmus programme is able to respond to the challenges raised by an increasingly stratified social space becomes especially relevant. The network matrix presented in Figure 3 shows the in and outbound movements of Erasmus participants in 2009/2010.3 Both the position in the network and the visualised strength of ties correspond to a country’s centrality in the network.
The countries clustering in the centre (Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the UK) are the most strongly connected in terms of mobile students. In addition to these five core countries, the matrix shows a group of 11 countries in the semi-periphery, and 16 countries (of which a large majority consists of 2004 and 2007 EU accession countries) in the periphery.
Several studies show that Erasmus students typically have privileged backgrounds. Their parents will in most cases have completed tertiary education and have a higher income compared to their non-mobile counterparts (European Commission, 2000; Souto-Otero and McCoshan, 2006, p. 2). Data on mobile students in the UK (King et al., 2010, p. 28) and in Germany (Heublein et al., 2008) confirm the link between parents’ education and income with participation in Erasmus and with student mobility in general. In the case of Germany, Finger (2012, p. 4) finds that in the context of the Bologna process social inequality in terms of student mobility has increased in the last decade, contrary to what might be expected.
Importantly, Souto-Otero (2008) shows that the importance of students’ socioeconomic status is more pronounced in high GDP countries than in low GDP countries. This finding might reflect different motivations for studying abroad, that is, mobility for consumption for students with a privileged background in higher GDP countries and mobility as investment for students from less privileged backgrounds in lower GDP countries (Souto Otero, 2008, p. 146). Analysing the Erasmus network matrix from this perspective reveals interesting findings. The core of the network consists of countries with an average per capita GDP of 7.6 per cent above the EU average. The country group in the semi-periphery has a per capita GDP of almost 4 per cent above the EU-27 average. Finally, the periphery can be divided in an established small country periphery (ranging at 87.6 per cent above the EU average) and a true periphery with a GDP per capita of almost 39 per cent below the EU average (Eurostat, 2012).
Building on Souto-Otero’s findings, the Erasmus network is characterised by two different dynamics. Since Erasmus tends to be an incentive for low SES students from low GDP countries, we can, firstly, observe a social conveyer belt from the periphery to the core. Here, for the lower GDP countries, SES does not play the selective role it plays in high GDP countries. Secondly, in high GDP countries clustering in the centre of the Erasmus network but also in some countries of the semi-periphery and the established country periphery, low SES students are less likely to participate. There is no comparable social conveyer belt from the centre to the margins.
The shortcomings in respect to the social dimension of international student mobility have started to receive political attention in recent years. According to official documents (European Commission, 2009; European Ministers responsible for Higher Education, 2009, 2012), the European Commission and the EU member states recognise the need for further efforts to make participation in higher education and student mobility more equitable. Concrete and tangible steps, however, still remain to be developed.
Mobility programmes in vocational training
The LdV programme was set up in 1995 to implement the EU’s vocational training and education policy (VET). The programme supports transnational interaction and cooperation of trainees in vocational training, VET professionals and their institutions. Compared with Erasmus, the number of participants is much lower, at 65,078 LdV participants in 2008 compared to over 200,000 in the Erasmus programme in the same year. However, the number of participants has been steadily increasing (European Commission, 2011c).
Research into mainstream labour market programmes including vocational training backs the LdV survey findings, showing that disadvantaged groups are typically underrepresented in these programmes (Nicaise and Bollens, 1998). In programmes specifically targeting disadvantaged groups, in general the least disadvantaged segment of the target group participate at higher rates. However, the participant outcomes measured are independent of SES. Strengthening of soft skills, such as personal initiative, team skills and open-mindedness towards new cultures and people are not exclusive to high SES participants. Indeed, parents’ educational background has no significant influence on participants’ success in vocational training mobility projects (World Social Forum Economic and Social Research 2007, p. 61).4
The way forward
Fligstein’s analysis suggests that interaction with other Europeans has a positive effect on attitudes towards Europe, leading to higher identification with the EU regardless of social class (Fligstein, 2008, p. 155). In other words, if interaction takes place (for whatever reason and despite the different social backgrounds), we can expect the power of networks to become effective (for example, by producing changed subjective perceptions and interpersonal learning). The question, then, is whether and how existing mechanisms and policy instruments created to consolidate Europe’s social space can successfully respond to the challenges raised by increasing levels of social inequality. What both mechanisms – mobility programmes in tertiary education and in vocational training – currently have in common is a tendency to enforce existing inequalities rather than to weaken them. The programmes tend to involve the better educated and the upper-middle classes and fail to reach the less educated, blue-collar workers and the lower-middle classes, never mind the new precariat (see Figure 4). For the Erasmus programme this finding holds true for high GDP countries and is less relevant for low GDP countries.
If Europe’s social space is to grow with the demands puts on its population and required by economic and political integration, Europe needs new or re-engineered forms of cross-border network generators. The question is, what mechanisms or policy instruments could re-energise the European social space and make it accessible to those parts of the European populations established mechanisms left behind (see Figure 5).
The demographics of the Erasmus programme show that social inequalities are perpetuated, most notably in high GDP countries. The EU and the respective member states should attempt to include more low SES students in the programme. Given that Erasmus scholarships are often not sufficient to cover the costs of living abroad, more attractive monetary incentives are one option. Moreover, financial assistance for universities to be able to attract and train such students from abroad should be available.
Mobility programmes for vocational training, notably the LdV programme, rarely reach disadvantaged groups. In order to make such programmes more attractive, European commerce, trade and craft associations should be encouraged to offer secondary school leavers incentives to enroll in vocational training. Moreover, they should develop a decentralised network of paid internships in order to encourage the mobility of less privileged youths. Such an initiative would, however, require responses to the specific needs of the target group by offering individual supervision in the preparation and implementation of the internship as well as in the transition phase to the next step in professional formation.
Encouraging cross-border interaction at school level may also increase interest in interaction in higher education and vocational training. Given that there are important material (participation fees, inability to host guests) and psychological (lack of motivation) barriers to young people participating in exchange programmes, foundations and municipalities should develop twinning programmes that explicitly target those least mobile in Europe. The EU should allocate appropriate funding for these efforts. Social integration, migration and intercultural dialogue should become topics of cross-border exchange among marginal local communities.5 For example, an interesting programme that promotes exchange between young people from the French municipality Clichy-sous-Bois and Berlin′s Neukölln district, two socially deprived areas hotspots in France and Germany, has been developed and implemented by the French-German Youth Office (Wagner and Baumann 2010).
Opportunities for interaction in Europe often become known and fruitful due to social mediators only. Teachers, social workers in youth organisations or trainers in sport clubs are most effective in reaching out to youths and overcoming psychological barriers. The success of top-down mobility programmes, initiated by the EU among others, is thus dependent on those mediating professions or institutions with high social outreach. With that in mind, offering training programmes to those actors and opening up the possibility for exchange with their counterparts in other EU member states are important measures to equip them with the skills and experiences needed for their work.
Cross-border volunteering can help build common social spaces. Indeed, the EU has recently acknowledged the need for creating more opportunities for volunteering in Europe (European Commission, 2011b). The European Voluntary Service (EVS) is certainly an important tool. Its modest capacities and financial means are, however, striking. While the number of participants in the EVS has increased over time (from around 1200 in the late 1990s to around 4000 in 2006 and 6907 in 2010), it is significantly lower than the newly established volunteer scheme in Germany (with 35,000 volunteers in the first year). In 2010 €45.7 million were spent in the EVS compared to €350 million that was allocated in the German programme (Anheier et al., 2012; European Commission, 2006a, 2006b, 2011b, 2012, p. 8). Europe needs to embark on an ambitious and large-scale volunteer programme that encourages citizens of all age groups (and not limited to youths, as EVS does) to serve in other member countries for periods of at least 3 months, and repeatedly. Such a programme should be incentivised to include disproportionate numbers of participants of the new precariat, be linked to qualification schemes and be part of a sustained campaign to help build Europe from below, as was recently advocated by Ulrich Beck and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (2012).
In order to make cross-border interaction more sustainable despite a relative lack of financial resources in public budgets, the possibilities of virtual exchange should be explored and included in mobility programmes. Regarding cross-border interaction and identification, it can be assumed that the Internet reinforces social cohesion among Europeans who already identify with Europe and other Europeans. At the same time it may reinforce the isolation of other, less sociable individuals (see Jensen 2011, p. 19: Van Dijk 2006, p. 269). The exchange programme between Clichy-sous-Bois and Neukölln has shown that the Internet and social media are widely used by young people from less privileged backgrounds once personal contacts across borders have been established.6 The cyber space offers many opportunities to engage, not only for youths, but also for established institutions such as the media. Online editions of newspapers and magazines can link different communities and create blogospheres, especially in and for border regions, as well as for geographically noncontiguous social and professional communities around areas of mutual interest.
Finally, Europe should open up its public administrations for meaningful cross-EU participation, especially in terms of professional development and career patterns. Joint recruitment and career tracks that could span several member states come to mind, as do mentorship programmes that link public officials across borders. At present, the personnel policies of the 27 public administrations in the EU remain too close to a 19th century national state model, and have yet to seize the opportunities presented by the European Project and to make a much needed contribution to help create a common social space.
For Western democracies, scholars have confirmed a link between an individual’s income, education and class on the one hand and non-participation (for example, voting, party membership and civic engagement) on the other. See, for instance, Kohler, 2006; Merkel and Petring, 2011; Schäfer, 2011; Solt, 2008.
Compared with the enrolment in tertiary education, however, the share of mobile students in Europe has largely remained unchanged. The global outbound mobility ratio (number of outgoing mobile students as a percentage of total tertiary enrolment in a given country) was 1.9 per cent in 1999 and 1.8 per cent in 2007. However, differences between regions exist: whereas the ratio between 1999 and 2007 remained stable in Central and Eastern Europe, it fell by 0.5 per cent in Western Europe (UNESCO, 2009).
The network matrix is based on data provided by the European Commission Education and Training (n.d.) and encompasses 32 European countries, that is, the 27 EU member states, the two EU candidate countries Turkey and Iceland, and Norway and Liechtenstein. Data have been analysed using UCINet software and visualised with NetDraw. We would like to thank Dr Alexander Ruser (Max-Weber-Institut of Sociology, Heidelberg University) for compiling the network matrix.
According to the authors, one reason for the insignificant correlation between parents’ educational background and positive effects on participants’ social, personal and professional skills may be found in high levels of motivation and willingness to go abroad. In other words, by securing a place in the LdV programme the young people have already proven their ability to compensate for any impeding conditions in their family situation (World Social Forum Economic and Social Research, 2007).
The claim to rethink the contribution of the twinning movement to these specific issues was raised during the European Congress on Citizenship and Twinning organized by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions, Rybnik, Poland, September 2011. A similar recommendation has been made by Verlinden (2008).
Interview with programme manager, Franco-German Youth Office, Berlin, October 2011.
Helmut K Anheier is Professor of Sociology and Dean at the Hertie School of Governance. Mariella Falkenhain is Research Associate and PhD Student at the Hertie School of Governance.