Opening words of the 11th Jyväskylä symposium by Niilo Kauppi

11th Jyväskylä symposium, June 2, 2016


‘The political bricolage approach to European integration’

Niilo Kauppi, University of Jyväskylä and CNRS


Dear colleagues and friends,

Welcome everyone to this 11th Jyväskylä symposium, in this beautiful building designed by Alvar Aalto. Built in 1953 as part of a broader project of construction on the campus of the University of Jyväskylä, it was totally renovated in 2013. Lyhty, or lantern, is an appropriate name for it.

This is the second symposium organized by the FiDiPro-project TRACE, the acronym for Transformation of concepts and institutions in the European polity. This project seeks to fuse theoretical and conceptual approaches with more sociological ones. Last year at the first symposium we discussed the political theory of European integration. This time we will focus on three processes that are central to the EU: policisation, democratisation and parliamentarisation.

The papers presented here today seek to conceptualize the EU as a site of political struggle that provide new opportunities in terms of political stakes, controversies and power resources. This approach is in contrast to most approaches in political science and European studies that focus on institutions, public policies, or an increasingly party-political turn. The aim is to draw an alternative picture of the EU as a polity or political community. By examining these three processes the idea is to overcome the divide between national and supranational levels and recenter political analysis to the political aspects of European integration.


Politicisation creates spaces and issues for political action, turning practical issues into political problems, challenging the meanings of the EU, and thereby redefining power spaces. As such it can be positive or negative, depending on the point of view.

Parliaments have a crucial role to play, not only at the national level but also at the European level: they are arenas for controversies, sites of political representation, and actors of politicization and democratization.

Parliamentarisation is not only understood as referring to specific institutions or relationships between these. It also refers to a Kantian regulative idea of political action that involves public debates, pro and contra argumentation, their procedures and practices.

Democracy is not a static, ‘eternal’ state of affairs, as it is all too often presented. It is a constant process that involves a variety of patterned actions and contradictions, for instance in relation to non-parliamentary forms of politics as we have seen lately in France for instance.

While in a historical perspective democratisation refers to politicization through an increase of participation in political life, in the EU it relates to the EU´s institutional dynamic and notably the parliamentarisation of the issues it deals with. Besides these institutional aspects, democratisation is also a politicising practice.

This perspective on politicisation, parliamentarisation and democratisation draws a complex and even contradictory picture of the development of the EU polity: it is not one of linearly increasing parliamentarisation and democratisation, but one marked by complex processes and controversies between institutional and individual actors at different political levels and arenas, their respective political stakes, and the related debates and arguments.


These ideals can be seen as positive or negative. For many today politicisation is something negative as it disturbs the status quo. For others it is the only way forward. For many Gaullist French politicians, parlamentarisation is to be avoided as it would lead back to the Fourth Republic and its political stalemate. Many scholars such as Andrew Moravcsik in his piece “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (2002) see the democratisation of the EU as something unnecessary because the European Commission is an extension of the executive arm of the European nation-state, which is still in charge of European politics.

These questions are particularly topical today with the reinforcement of illiberal democracies in Hungary, increasing tensions between member-states such as Poland and the European Commission, the prospect of the UK leaving the Union, the economic disaster in Greece, and the migration crisis: the list is long and testifies of a difficulty in solving political problems.  

Why does one crisis follow another in a seemingly endless fashion?

One of the reasons is that powerful enough political models for the construction of a legitimate kind of supranational democracy do not exist. To describe Europe former president of the European Commission Jacques Delors used the term ovni politique, objet volant non-identifié, a political UFO or unidentified political object UPO. And why is it that models do not exist? One explanation is that established political interests have stifled the politicisation of European integration, the political struggle over its forms and goals. The lifeblood of the future polis, European citizens, have been more or less excluded from the process of European integration. The result of this complex interaction of politicization/depoliticisation that defines European integration is that politics and its struggles have been trenched to the national level, reinforcing existing nationalistic ideologies on the left and on the right, something European integration was to prevent from happening ever again.

In European political science some scholars, largely forgotten today, have attempted to theorize the politicisation of European politics. French political scientist Pierre Duclos devised at the beginning of the 1960s the concept of “politification” to describe the political dynamics of European integration (Duclos 1962; Sidjanski 2003: 538; Meynaud and Sidjanski 1965, see Kauppi, Palonen, Wiesner 2016 for analysis). By politification he meant the transfer of power from the national to the supranational level, a level that would be equipped with considerable executive power. He considered that a society is "politified" to the extent that it has "a special organization capable of maintaining, failing the approval, consent or agreement of the group, the group’s cohesion, survival, and adaptation"(Duclos 1962).

This transfer to “a special organization” could be sudden, Duclos had in mind the constitution of the US, or gradual like in the case of European integration. Politification would mean that political procedures would replace the normal diplomatic procedures reigning in international politics. In Duclos’s mind politification is a broad development that has to do with procedure or the rules of the political game, the substitution of a diplomatic procedure with a political procedure, that could include parliamentary and democratic procedures, although he did not specify this. It involves a collective conversion, a transformation in the guiding values of groups and individuals.  It requires in the words of Swiss political scientist Dusan Sidjanski ‘the attractive diffusion of a certain number of concepts and ethical principles that will reinforce the innermost convictions (of Europeans) relative to a unified Europe’ (Sidjanski 2003). 

From today’s perspective this global triumph of political procedure has failed and led to the politics of depoliticisation (Bourdieu 1998).  Political decisions are presented as not being political, there being no alternatives. Furthermore, while professional politicians in the EU perceive European integration as a political process, in the sense that political positions in the Commission and the Parliament are integrated into their career paths, European citizens have weak knowledge of European politics, and are on the whole not interested in European Parliament elections for instance. In fact, one could even say that the opposite to what Duclos imagined has happened. To European citizens the politification of European integration has in reality been a process of depoliticisation, in a double sense that it has been presented as being nonpolitical and they have been kept at an arms length from it. This depolicisation and lack of public debate about alternatives combined to supranational ‘policies without politics’ have contributed to increasing political opacity and a generalization of doubt, distrust and political disenchantment.

It was hoped European integration would enable Europe to leave behind its disastrous past. Clearly this has worked only partially. Today everyone agrees that the EU is, like Aalto’s Lyhty, in a dire need of renovation. European integration textbooks give us a standard diagnosis that has to do with the modalities of integration. The key procedures of European integration have been intergovernemntal, incremental (the Jean Monnet method), or an open one as in the Open method of coordination. In my view these miss something fundamental, that is the idiosyncratic, eclectic, experimental, contingent, unclassifiable, even baroque character of this political construction. For me the most apt concept to describe it is the French term of bricolage, taken up by French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss in his work La pensée sauvage. Bricolage refers to a construction achieved by using whatever comes to hand. Lévi-Strauss contrasted bricolage with engineering, a more scientific and calculated activity that requires plans and models. European integration has involved little planning and a lot of bricolage. From the actors involved it has required pragmatic, short-term adaptation as well as tinkering on the spot - without however ruling out longer-term career plans for instance.

The EU is a political creation made up of heterogenous bits and pieces that do not necessarily fit together. But they happened to be available at particular points in time for certain established actors in specific power configurations in response to specific problems. In hinsight, the political bricolage approach has not only left nationalism intact, it has even strengthened it. The political price to pay for a lack of models and an abundance of bricolage is high. The undercurrents of European politics – nationalism and political extremism - have grown stronger. Established interests have furthered European democratic self-governance or citizen activism only when they were felt to be politically necessary. And even then they have taken Ersatz forms. What is known as ‘European civil society’ is a sad and even comical example of this.


As Aristotle famously stated politics is a craft. It is also a productive activity of creation. This positive productivity in terms of questioning established forms of politics needs to be developed in European politics. In this process, scholars have a key role to play. Politicians are not necessarily the ones who will come up with revolutionary new ideas that challenge established practices.

Thank you and I wish you all a great symposium.



Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. Contre-feux, tome 1. Paris: Raisons d’agir.
Duclos, Pierre. 1962. La politification: trois exposés. Politique, avril-juin, 29-72.
Kauppi, Niilo, Palonen, Kari, Wiesner, Claudia. 2016. Controversy in the garden of concepts: The ‘politicisation’ of the EU. Mainz Papers on International and European Politics (MPIEP).
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1962. La pensée sauvage. Paris: Plon.
Meynaud, Jean, Sidjanski, Dusan. 1965. Science politique et intégration européenne. Bulletin du Centre européen de la culture. Xe année no.6, janvier-mars.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 2002.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Europe’s rhetoric and America’s fear. Newsweek 4 March.
Sidjanski, Dusan. 2003. En guide d’hommage: Karl W. Deutsch et son rôle dans le développement de la science politique européenne. Revue internationale de politique comparée vol.10 no.4. 523-542.