The European Union Visitors Program: public diplomacy in the transatlantic crisis of the Seventies. In search of a European identity.

Background

Within the m4ajor field of Diplomatic History, my focus is on European public diplomacy and the transatlantic crisis of the Seventies. At a time when the future of the Atlantic alliance seemed to be at stake, the European Community deeply discussed ways in which support for the troubled partnership could be bolstered. The aim of my study is to investigate one particular way, namely the launch, in 1974, of the European Union Visitors Program (EUVP – once ECVP), one of the oldest and most explicit examples of EU’s public diplomacy.

In the last decade or so, a number of worthy studies have been conducted on Public Diplomacy and its role in international relations (Cull, 2006, 2008); (De Gouveia-Plumridge, 2005); (Ninkovich, 1981, 1996, 2001); (Arndt, 2007) and, more interestingly, there is a growing literature on educational exchanges. From a historical point of view, increasing attention has been devoted to examine the origins and the significance of US exchange programs and accounts exist of their historical development and institutional apparatus. The Fulbright Program has itself generated worthwhile studies ( Arndt, 1987, 1993, 2007); (Johnson and Colligan, 1965), and there are several others on the State Department’s Foreign Leader Grant (Arndt, 2007); (Richmond, 2003); (Scott-Smith, 2008). However there is an alarming lack of in-depth accounts of public diplomacy projects as far as Europe is concerned. It there is some knowledge of  the Member States’ programs, there is no large amount of historical researches focusing specifically on the EC/EU public diplomacy. Indeed, the only study that was carried out on the European Union Visitors Program is the pamphlet by G. Scott-Smith, written on the occasion of the 30th EUVP Anniversary, in 2004.

Therefore, my project aims at contributing to fill the vacuum of historical studies in this particular field.

My research concentrates on the origins and the development of this first educational exchange program set up by the EC. Originated as an initiative of the European Parliament, it has been jointly administered by both the Parliament and the Commission since 1974. Originally, the Program aimed at fostering understanding of the EC in the US in order to bridge the transatlantic “knowledge gap” at a time when the future of the Atlantic alliance was seriously challenged. The ECVP consisted of fellowships awarded to selected American candidates who were invited to Europe on a study mission. Unlike most European exchange programs, the ECVP was not academically focused but rather addressing young professionals who were potentially in a position to exert some influence in the governmental field, such as officials, journalists and trade unionists, just like early US programs (Marshall Plan; Productivity Drive etc.). The goal was to identify, establish and maintain “useful contacts” with rising leaders that could make a contribution towards establishing a transatlantic “community of values and understanding”. The rationale behind such an objective was based on the belief that the rift between the US and Europe was partly due to different interpretative paradigms that impaired them to understand each other’s reasons and positions. Therefore, the establishment of a large community of people actively engaged in a constructive mutual dialogue would serve the purpose of laying the ground for a common thinking thus for finding smooth solutions to the crisis. These theoretical assumptions on the benefits of spreading knowledge to promote understanding and gain influence are explicitly drawn by the practice gained by American public diplomacy. In fact, the ECVP was modeled on some of the most prestigious and sought-after US grants, i.e. the Fulbright Program and the International Visitors Program but, despite the efforts, the EC’ s model proved to be limited in scope and unable to fulfill its potential. Although it has expanded considerably since 1974, engaging more than 70 countries today, its development has gone more in an “enlargement” direction rather than in a “deepening” one. Priority has been given to the geographical expansion of the program, overlooking its side effects and the negative impact on the quality of the visits. The lack of resources and infrastructural support, the inefficient coordination between the Parliament and the Commission, the lack of political will to invest in such diplomatic tools have prevented the EUVP from becoming significantly effective. This petite histoire allows a reflection about the international identity of the EU since it shows the gap between ambitions and fulfillment, hence highlights the unsatisfactory performance of the Union vis à vis its high goals.

Nonetheless, the EUVP hasn’t been too modest a program to claim historical importance. The narrative of its background and of its development sheds light on interrelated aspects of the forming international identity of the European Union, which I intend to investigate.

Objectives

The goal of the research is threefold:

  • To point out the reciprocal intellectual influence between the US and Europe close at hand. It examines the impact American public diplomacy has had in shaping the political culture of Europe at a time when anti-Americanism was tangible in Europe and was paralleled by growing anti-European sentiments in the United States. The transatlantic relationship proved to be the framework within which the definition of self was possible, or at least, was started. In such a dialectical relation, the EC could sketch its identity proving to be something different, without denying the existence of a common cultural matrix.
  • To account for and assess the contribution of the European Parliament to the overall strengthening of the European Community and, above all, to the visibility of its external action. Indeed, the ECVP stands for the incipient effort of the Parliament to match the ambition of the EC to strengthen its internal unity and project itself on the international stage speaking with one voice. After the Hague Conference, a new balance of power within the Institutions’ system was hardly but tirelessly sought after. In this sense, the Visitors program mirrors the political will of the Assembly to gain space and influence, regardless of the heavy obstructionism from the Commission.  The Program is at the cross road between two intertwining policies: that of the external relations and the policy of information and communication. In order to support the gradual development of the EC into a global actor, an international acknowledgment was all the more needed and it was agreed it could be achieved also through the establishment of a network of contacts who served as “information multipliers”. Such an initiative came from the Parliament, which not only stressed the importance for the EC to engage in a public exposure but also singled out the US as the major partner to address. Given the breadth and depth of the critics coming from the ally, the Parliament considered fundamental to prevent the Atlantic bond from weakening irreversibly. The Commission of the EC was then asked to join in and it finally did in 1974. To date, the EUVP is the only program sponsored and administered jointly by both Institutions on an equal basis.
  • To provide some critical reflections about the “cultural capital and drawing power” of Europe for other nations and individuals and to analyze, from this perspective, the quality and the efficacy of the EC/EU public diplomacy instruments. Despite their acknowledgement, they often remain underused.

Methodology

The research develops in three stages, taking into account different dimensions.

  • ECVP was originally understood as a contribution given by the Parliament to the relaxation of tensions between the US and the EC. The transatlantic crisis is the starting point of the research. The traditional analysis of economic factors, as well as the examination of strategic and political issues will enable to understand the nature of the crisis, thus the meaning of the political and intellectual debate within the US and Europe over the supposed end of atlanticism. The importance attached to the maintenance of the Atlantic community by the Parliament, albeit nuancé by the ambition of stressing the autonomy of the growing EC, is worth of narration.
  • The second level of analysis is less broad and focuses on the project through the description of its background and functioning. Already in 1972, a delegation from the European Parliament went to Washington paving the way to the official establishment of regular contacts between Congressmen and MEPs. The positive personal relationships, the special commitment of some Senators such as Ben Rosenthal and Donald Frazer, the contribution of Ambassador Schaetzel helped the Europeans set up the Program. Once the Commission decided to share responsibility with the Parliament in a joint steering committee, the ECVP was launched. The research will monitor its development.
  • Finally, the debate over the American public diplomacy will help to identify the influence it has played in shaping some aspects of the European political culture. A considerable influence on the ECVP’s development was played by the practice gained by American public diplomacy itself.

Sources and State of advancement of my research

Starting from the secondary literature on the topic, the study is based on an extensive research in several North-American and European Archives above all for what concerns the more specific aspects of the program and its background. Among the principal archives, there are the Historical Archives of the European Union (Florence), le Centre Archivistique et Documentaire du Parlement Européen (CARDOC-Luxembourg), the Archives of the European Commission and of the Secretariat of the EUVP in Brussels, the Archives of the Delegation of the European Commission in Washington D.C., the J.R. Schaetzel Papers collected at the Dwight Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas. Other relevant collections are the Nixon Presidential Materials (National Archives, College Park) and the Council on Foreign Relations Collection (Princeton).

Likewise, oral history can give a sensible contribution to the research. I have already interviewed: Mr. Eduardus van Koolwijk, Head of EUVP Secretariat and Théo Junker, Honorary General Director of the European Parliament, member of the Steering Committee of the ECVP from 1974 to 2001; : Mario Castillo (EUVP visitor); Edward Flatteau (trial visitor); Clifford Hackett (trial visitor); Ella Krucoff (EU Delegation, Washington); Alan Platt (trial visitor); Ingrid Rose ( EU Delegation, Washington); Glenda Rosenthal (Visiting Scholar at the Centre for European and Mediterranean Studies, NYU; she used to work for the EC Information Office in NY in the Sixties and Seventies); Robert Whiteman (Senior Advisor; Congressional and Parliamentary Liaison; Delegation of the European Commission).

The research is completed and I am currently writing my dissertation; however, since I have been awarded a Fulbright-Schuman fellowship for research at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, I am going to keep on working on the same subject, at least for other six months.

Significance and originality

The European Union Visitors Program is at the cross road between two intertwining policies: that of the EU’s external relations and the policy of information and communication. Carrying out a comprehensive study on such a flexible tool for projecting the EU as an international actor may be highly relevant both from an academic and a professional point of view.

As far as the historical research is concerned, if the research on US programs can boast of remarkable studies, the knowledge of European initiatives is incomplete. In this sense, and to a certain extent, my work would start filling the gap and account for the efforts made by the EC/EU in the public diplomacy field. Professionally it may offer insights into a program that is still working but could be managed in a more efficient way to the benefit of Europe and the international community. Still today, the way Europe communicates with the world is often atomized and disjointed, thus ineffective. Its external action has been compromised both by its reluctance to engage pro-actively with foreign publics and its failure to communicate an accessible message to foreign elites. It is very much so not only today and with regards to third-countries that don’t share the same cultural matrix, instead these problems are rooted in the past as it is proved by the difficulties affecting even the special relationship with its historical ally, the USA.

It is clear that though cooperation between governments is essential to address major challenges, even the most carefully crafted policies are unlikely to succeed in practice without the support of publics. My research could provide policy-makers with a reliable source of information shedding light on past achievements as well as on the limits of some of the EU’s communication strategies that would facilitate and drive improvement.

 

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