World views of the EU vital to enlargement and boundaries debates

Understanding how Europe is viewed, both by European Union Member States and by external countries, is vital for issues such as the enlargement process, setting EU boundaries, trade and external economic influence. The EuroBroadMap research project believes the EU could better succeed on the world stage in terms of diplomacy, finance and trade, if it had a coherent and shared vision of its place in the world, both inside and outside Europe. Unlike other world powers, the EU faces major difficulties in attempting to combine the visions of Member States, each of which has a different historical, political and cultural heritage.

The countries of Europe have experienced a continuous decrease in their share of world population and wealth during the period 1950-2000. It is only due to the enlargement process that the EU has maintained a constant share of around 6% of the world’s population and 20% of the world economy.

EuroBroadMap found that many different visions of Europe’s place within the world currently exist within EU Member States. This leads to external countries or groups of countries pursuing different strategies towards it, which in turn have varying impacts and outcomes on the EU. The project also assessed the view of Europe’s place in the world held by non-European countries, such as Cameroon, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, China and India, and charts the implications of these external visions for the future development of European Union society.

The study was carried out by an international consortium from France, Belgium, Portugal, Sweden, Malta, Romania, Turkey, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Russia and India, and was multi-disciplinary in nature, bringing together geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, political scientists and economists.

EuroBroadMap analysed three types of non-Eurocentric visions of Europe in the world:

  • Subjective, or how Europe exists in people’s minds, by quantitative analysis of the ‘mental maps’ of 9300 undergraduate students in 43 cities and 18 countries from both inside and outside the EU, and qualitative analysis of the perception of migrants from different migratory channels toward Europe (Latin America, Africa and Southern Asia).
  • Political - The institutional visions of Europe produced both by states and by supranational or transnational organisations, and what norms are transmitted to children through education.
  • Functional – Flows and networks, such as trade, finance, migration and diplomatic relations, and an objective analysis of the position of Europe within them.

EuroBroadMap has produced two novel interactive tools to present its results:

  • Subjective mapper (see: shows in clear, visual terms the views of migrants and students, the visions of international organisations such as NATO and the United Nations, and flows such as trade, finance and diplomatic relations. Its interactivity means that researchers, stakeholders and policy makers can choose from a range of themes and make comparisons of the views held by different groups in different countries

Main findings:

EuroBroadMap produced evidence that four visions of Europe currently exist:

  • Europe as a world economic power – Results support the existence of a functional region much larger than the EU, including those areas covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy1 and neighbouring countries like Russia. However, without a firm commitment towards a common external policy for deepening bilateral relations with EU neighbours, the EU’s global economic power could be dramatically reduced.
  • Europe as a continent with borders – Although people inside and outside Europe divide the world using the concept of continents, in practice such borders are ‘fuzzy’. The borders are well defined towards the South, but not in an easterly direction – Russia and Turkey are sometimes included or excluded depending on the country of origin of the respondent or their education. The ‘fuzziness’ of mental borders has not been an obstacle to the creation of international organisations or trade blocs, such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), which do not fit exactly with mental maps of continents.
  • Europe as a normative ‘soft’ power – Despite or because it is relatively weak in military terms, the EU considers itself a ‘soft’ power, supporting democracy and human rights. However, the image of the EU as a ‘soft’ power, and a leader on issues such as global warming, is not necessarily shared by people outside the EU, whether by foreign students, potential migrants located outside the EU, or non-EU delegates in international institutions.
  • Europe as an attractive cluster of nodes in global networks – A vision of Europe as a cluster of advanced global cities, firms and universities, ensuring a flow of innovations in the knowledge economy to balance the decline in traditional activities. The north-western part of the EU is more likely to attract highly qualified migrants, which could increase the internal disparities of the EU. Geographical, historical and linguistic proximity is crucial in migrants’ choice of destinations. Therefore, the EU should consider developing partnerships in Higher Education with neighbouring countries rather than trying to attract people from a long distance.

The researchers believe these four visions are contradictory rather than complementary, each requiring different definitions of the geographical entity called ‘Europe’ and different strategic choices regarding political priorities. No single vision can provide a sustainable future for the EU’s development as an institution. EuroBroadMap therefore recommends a fifth vision, exploring different strategic paths or scenarios for the future of the EU, some of which could be combined, but which are based on the existence of a ‘secularised’ EU, unconstrained by the myth of an eternal Europe. These are:

  • The West scenario - the contraction of the EU to a ‘giant Switzerland’.
  • The North scenario - the strategic alliance of old industrial countries.
  • The East scenario - the dream of a great continent from the Atlantic to the Urals.
  • The South scenario - the building of an integrated Euro-African region.

EU citizens will be better able to decide on their future if they are aware of these different possible paths. The EU needs a broader perspective on its position in the world and roadmaps for a sustainable future. Any enlargement of perspective implies a dramatic change in EU citizens’ current perceptions, which will not be possible without abandoning ‘fuzzy’ and contradictory notions of Europe.

This research is a continuation and deepening of questions and methods explored in a previous research project called ‘Europe in the World’, part of the ESPON programme2.


1 See:

2 See:

EuroBroadMap – Visions of Europe in the World (duration: 1/1/2009 - 31/12/2011). FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities, Activity 4 “Europe and the world”, Research area 4.3 “Europe’s changing role in the world”. Collaborative project (small and medium scale focused research project).

See: (project website); (scientific reports)

Contact: Prof. Claude Grasland,; Prof. Clarisse Didelon,;