H-Diplo Review Essay 351- "The Media, European Integration and the Rise of Euro-Journalism, 1950s-1970s"

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H-Diplo Review Essay 351

16 June 2021

Martin Herzer.  The Media, European Integration and the Rise of Euro-Journalism, 1950s-1970s.  Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.  ISBN:  978-3-030-28777-1 (hardcover, $99.99); 978-3-030-28780-1 (paperback, $69.99).

Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Lindsay Aqui | Production Editor: George Fujii

Review by Wolfram Kaiser, University of Portsmouth

Historians for a long time studied European integration as a process of economic integration and political negotiation among the member-state governments in what is now the European Union.[1] The historiography then shifted to include the study of supranational institutions, especially the European Commission and as of late also the European Parliament and the Court of Justice.[2] It has also focussed on the development of policy fields like agriculture and trade, for example, for which the European Economic Community had exclusive powers from the start.[3] Since then, it has also increasingly explored European integration as a broader process of transnational elite formation and networking, first and foremost at the level of political parties.[4] At the same time, Media and Communication Studies as a discipline has taken an increasingly actor-focussed approach and paid more attention to the role of journalists as brokers between political processes and citizens.

With previous historical research on the media in European integration having focussed on the creation and importance of ad hoc transnational public spheres, especially during acute crises like environmental pollution, for example,[5] Martin Herzer focusses on journalists to explore their role in reporting, explaining, and mediating to European citizens the economics and politics of European integration between the 1950s and the 1970s. Herzer draws on wide-ranging research, including the content analysis of journalists’ newspaper articles, their other publications like books, for example, several interviews with surviving eyewitnesses and exchanges among the journalists, and with politicians as documented in private and state archives. As the archival sources are dispersed and in several European languages, collecting and analysing the data was already no mean feat.  Moreover, the author documents his comprehensive knowledge of the state of the art in contemporary European (integration) history with extensive literature references in the footnotes.

The book is divided into five chapters.  Based on the quite well-developed literature about the first three decades after the Second World War, the first chapter sketches the national print media especially in Germany and France – two founding member-states – and the United Kingdom, which first applied for membership of the European Communities in 1961 but only joined in 1973.  In this chapter Herzer shows how many journalists from a pre-Second World War generation, who initially reported on European integration were critical of the European Coal and Steel Community formed in 1951-1952 as the first ‘supranational’ organisation with political ambitions to overcome the legacy of traditional intergovernmental organisations.  According to Herzer, their criticism was motivated by ‘nationalism,’ Communist positions on the left, Gaullist and conservative intergovernmental preferences on the right, or a liberal economic critique of the High Authority’s alleged dirigisme under the initial leadership of Jean Monnet.

These categories are not clearly enough defined, however, especially ‘nationalism’.  It appears (46) that for the case of Germany, Herzer counts giving priority to German unification as “nationalist” – this despite the fact that many moderate German politicians from the Social Democrat party leader Kurt Schumacher to the left-Catholic Jakob Kaiser initially shared such a preference without opposing Franco-German reconciliation or European integration as such.  Moreover, Herzer’s generational argument is insufficiently developed.  He claims (63) that the views of those journalists who initially reported about European integration after 1945 were shaped by the interwar experience, and that as a result many of them were keen on strengthening the nation-state instead of overcoming it with some form of supranational integration.  However, many of the politicians working towards market integration with long-term political objectives shared the same generational experience, as did Jean Monnet, of course.  It remains insufficiently clear, therefore, why having fought and suffered in the Second World War constituted a necessary or sufficient precondition for the evolution of what Herzer calls “Euro-journalism” from the late 1950s onwards.

The second and arguably most interesting chapter is devoted to the journalists themselves.  This chapter is based on amassed detailed biographical information about many of the journalists who were posted to Brussels, when this became the informal capital of the European Communities after 1958, and who wrote for national or regional newspapers before television reporting started in earnest later in the 1960s.  In this chapter, Herzer distinguishes between “economists” and “cosmopolitans” – the first category comprising journalists with a background and primary interest in the economic aspects of the formation of a European common market and the latter consisting of foreign correspondents who were often multilingual and interested in experiencing and contributing to a multinational and multicultural endeavour like the European Communities.  Herzer claims that the war experience of this new generation of Euro-journalists was decisive and that they saw “supranational European integration as bound up with other causes they supported” (101).

Unfortunately, it is not clear enough, and also difficult to reconstruct of the basis of autobiographical sources, to what extent these journalists went to Brussels because they already supported this form of European integration or formed their views of the European Communities while in Brussels; and to what extent their networks, their contacts with politicians and officials, or their communication with their national media colleagues mattered for turning them into “Euro-journalists.” While Herzer’s narrative style is appropriate for a historical work on Euro-journalism, the book would have benefitted from more thoughtful sociological conceptualisations of processes of ‘becoming European.’ Research on the European Parliament, for example, has demonstrated that until the 1979 direct elections the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in the delegated European Parliament were largely self-selecting;[6] in other words, they already strongly supported European integration before going to Brussels and Strasbourg.  Similarly, it would have been helpful to explore whether the journalists volunteered to go to Brussels, which was then regarded as far less attractive as a foreign posting than Paris or London, let alone Washington, because they were already committed to the cause of integration.

In the subsequent chapters, Herzer analyses the Euro-journalists’ reporting about Brussels matters in the 1960s and 1970s and shows how their increasingly positive narrative about the need for greater European economic and political integration and foreign policy cooperation became more ‘mainstream.’ Herzer discusses conflicts, not just in European Community politics, but also in reporting about it, for example the portrayal by Italian and French journalists of the Federal Republic and its European policies as economically too liberal and socially conservative (241).  Overall, however, he claims that a Brussels-influenced “Euro-narrative moved into a dominant position within Western European journalism” (239).  In conclusion, Herzer also stipulates that Euro-journalism merely ended up contributing “to a divide between elite discourse and the views of the broader public on European integration,” as Brussels media coverage did “not necessarily trickle down into the broader public” (308).  In other words, Euro-enthusiasts – including many journalists from the United Kingdom after its accession in 1973 – contributed to an emerging elite consensus without necessarily informing let alone Europeanising citizen views and their attitudes to European integration.

With this scope and focus, Herzer’s book makes an important contribution to the historiography of European integration, not least by unearthing an impressive amount of primary archival and other sources, which will be valuable for future research.  The book also suffers from several key weaknesses.  Based on a Ph.D. thesis at the European University Institute in Florence, it is too preoccupied with demonstrating how well it is embedded in the state of the art.  As a result, sections of the first chapter read like a literature review with footnotes that are regularly longer than the main body of the text.

Also, the preoccupation with discussing the factual and biographical detail as well citing the existing literature even where this is only marginally related to the topic of Euro-journalism comes at the expense of conceptual clarity and corroborating evidence for some broad generalisations in a more systematic manner.  Terms like ‘nationalism’ are not defined and seem to be used in an ahistorical manner without paying sufficient attention to the context at the time.  Empirical detail about individual journalists is amassed, but not aggregated in a structured enough manner.  For example, it would be interesting to know what languages the journalists spoke before or learned during their stay in Brussels; how they communicated with each other; and whether they did so mainly with their own nationals or in the European associations formed for this purpose.  With national journalists following the debriefings of ‘their’ Prime Minister after each European Council meeting nowadays, it would be important to know, moreover, whether their exchange was mainly with politicians and officials from their own country, or those able to use their own language, or whether it was more Europeanised.

Finally, the book suffers from a Brussels-centric perspective, which is a more wide-spread problem of studies of transnational elite formation, here of Euro-journalists.  Herzer does trace to some extent what became of these Euro-journalists when they were later promoted in their newspapers or to other posts.  However, identifying a degree of convergence among their views and their reporting from Brussels tells us very little indeed about its importance even for the media for which they were working.  In other words, as anecdotal evidence would suggest, but is not critically explored here, their work may well have been regarded as of secondary importance to national or other international events by their newspaper editors; they might have found it difficult to ‘sell’ their stories to their newspaper for lack of drama in the consensual politics in the European Communities with its complex institutional structure, which was difficult to understand for editors, let alone readers.  It may well have been the case, therefore, that the Euro-journalists formed a small group of convinced Europeans, but that they were much more marginal in the national media than Herzer’s approach suggests.


Wolfram Kaiser is Professor of European Studies, University of Portsmouth, UK.  He has published widely on nineteenth and twentieth century European, transnational, and global history including more recently, (with Luciano Bardi et al.), The European Ambition.  The Group of the European People’s Party and European Integration (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2020); (with J. Schot), Writing the Rules for Europe.  Experts, Cartels, and International Organizations (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).



[1] For an introduction to the historiography about European integration see Wolfram Kaiser and Antonio Varsori, eds., European Union History.  Themes and Debates (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010).  See, in particular, Alan S. Milward, The European Rescue of the Nation-State (London: Routledge, 1992).

[2] For a recent example see N. Piers Ludlow, Roy Jenkins and the European Commission Presidency, 1976-1980.  At the Heart of Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

[3] See, for example, Lucia Coppolaro, The Making of a World Trading Power.  The European Economic Community (EEC) in the GATT Kennedy Round Negotiations (1963-1967) (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013); Ann-Christina Knudsen, Farmers on Welfare.  The Making of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).

[4] See, for example, Wolfram Kaiser, Christian Democracy and the Origins of European Union (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[5] See, for example, Jan-Henrik Meyer, The European Public Sphere.  Media and Transnational Communication in European Integration 1969-1992 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2010).

[6] See, for example, Stephen Corbett, The European Parliament’s Role in Closer EU Integration (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1998).