14th Annual HEIRS Conference, Rome, 20-21 April, 2018

The 14th Annual History of European Integration Research Society (HEIRS) Conference casted a light on the recent crises that hit the southern member states of the EU. The conference brought together scholars from history and political science from across Europe to discuss the southern crises and the related phenomena back to historical developments within the European integration process. Under the title European Integration or Disintegration? Causes and Origins of the Crises in Southern Europe, the conference looked at the causes and effects of the economic, migration and political legitimacy crises arisen in southern Europe in the past years from an interdisciplinary approach and a variety of different academic perspectives. The conference was held in Rome at LUISS Guido Carli University and was organized by the HEIRS steering committee members Sara Venditti (LUISS), and Vladimir Bortun and Milan Kreuschitz-Markovič (University of Portsmouth). Besides bringing together PhD students and early career researchers, the conference furthermore involved practitioners from politics and journalism as keynote speakers to broaden the debates and to create a link between academics, writers and political actors.

As the integration-focus and sui-generis approach in the study of European integration has taken steps back in recent years, the conference itself indeed also exhibited a notable shift back to international relations inspired theoretical frameworks to understand the integration process. Whether it is historical or current policy focused research, the conference brought forth renewed intergovernmentalist and competition based perspectives on European integration and the encapsulated struggle between member states to get their interests across, in an apparent revival of realist thought. The perhaps clearest proponent of such neo-realist ideas was journalist, writer and director Thomas Fazi, whose keynote lecture detailed his notions of the misconstruction of the Euro and the supra-national structures of the European Union, calling European integration post-democratic. For Fazi, the lessons to be learnt out of the southern European crises and emerging sentiments within strengthened populist leanings of southern European populations must be a return to the sovereign nation state and the dissolution of the Eurozone. Fazi argued that only the nation state has the democratically controlled capability to enable the true socio economical change, the member states’ populations desire and only sovereign states can pick up the backwind of the current populist surges and use this political momentum to forward new progressive agendas in Europe.

Of a partially different – because firmly pro-European – opinion was the conference’s second keynote speaker, Anna Ascani, member of Italian parliament for Partito Democratico. For Ascani the populist momentum can and should be used by more centrist, progressive forces to re-vamp the relationship between voters and politicians without succumbing to extreme policies on either side of the political spectrum. Drawing from the example of Emmanuel Macron, Ascani argued that the populist momentum can be utilized by moderate progressive political voices using a process of disintermediation and establishing direct contact with the populace, possibly mobilizing patriotic and identity related sentiments and constructing outsider images, while at the same time re-mediating with larger party and establishment structures, including supranational structures like the European institutions. This inside-out politics could ensure contingencies for the inevitable loss of credibility of populists, once they become establishment forces, while also ensuring stability in the European Union.

Besides the most prominent topic of emerging southern populism, which was discussed for Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus in both individual case studies and comparative approaches, the conference’s second hot-topic became the migration crisis in Greece and Italy, including a Turkish perspective. The topic was examined in a variety of approaches, from state and non-state actor perspectives to social science approaches examining public opinion. Finally, perspectives from political economy and historical approaches were employed in the study of the origins of the economic and employment crises of the south. By focusing on historical developments throughout the southern enlargement process beginning in the 1970s and the more fundamental structural cleavages that this opened up in the European Union, the conference successfully linked the ongoing crises back to fundamental faults in the construction of an integrated Europe. This seeming inevitability of the multiple crises in Europe’s south establishes a circular linking of the concepts of crisis and European integration themselves. As the integration process possibly spawned crises itself, it has been noted at the conference that it has historically been through crises that great leaps in integration have been made, with crises acting as catalysts for further and deeper European integration. While the predictability of this notion remains an open book, it is to nonetheless conclude that crises can provide a very useful conceptual tool for the academic study of the integration process for political scientists and historians alike, providing a lens through which the analysis of political, social and economic developments can produce new, valuable insights.

Keynote Speakers:

  • Anna Ascani: “The Inside-Out Progressives”
  • Thomas Fazi: “European integration as a process of de-democratisation”


  • Panel 1: Institutional Effects of the Refugee and Migration Crisis on the European Union

Bahar Yesim Deniz: Assessment of the Migration Crisis from Syria to Turkey

Gian Lorenzo Zichi: A Mirror of European Crossroads. The Impact of the Migration Challenge on the EU Integration Process

Ruxandra-Laura Bosilcā: Framing Migration in the Mediterranean: European Integration in Times of Crisis

Discussant: Milan Kreuschitz-Markovič, University of Portsmouth

  • Panel 2: Financial, Economic and Social Effects of the Eurocrisis

Krystyna Bakhtina: The Roots of the Unemployment Crisis in Italy

Giorgia Trasciani: The Relationship between Public Authority and Social Economy Organisations in the Migration Reception System

Discussant: Thomas Fazi, Writer and Journalist – Social Europe

  • Panel 3: Transnational and Comparative Perspectives on the Political Legitimacy Crisis: Parties, the Left and a new Surge of Populism

Vladimir Bortun: What kind of left is the new left in Southern Europe: Labelling SYRIZA, Bloco and Podemos

Stylianos Tsagkarakis & Ilias Pappas: Populism as a Consequence of Democratic and Social Crisis? Greece, Italy and Spain in Focus

Vicente Valentim: Why Populists Fail: The Portuguese Election of October 2015 in a Comparative Perspective

Discussant: Anna Ascani, Member of the Italian Parliament – Democratic Party

  • Panel 4: Historic Origins for a Crisis-Hit Southern Europe: Mediterranean EEC Enlargement Process in the ’70s and ’80s

Lorenzo Meli: A Real Bridge over the Mediterranean Sea – Lorenzo Natali and the Southern Enlargement (1977-1984)

Giulia Letizia Melideo: “European Greece”. Reshaping the Greek Identity after the Military Regime (1974-1980)

Dimitrios Apostolopoulos: Structural Analysis of the Crises of Southern Europe: The political Economy of Reforms

Discussant: Dr. Carlos López Gómez, Universidad Pontificia Comillas ICAI-ICADE and Universidad Antonio de Nebrija 

  • Panel 5: Societal Responses to the Multiple Crises in Greece and Cyprus

Giorgos Venizelos: Cyprus: The Missing Link from the Chain of European Populism

Dr. Nikolaos Lampas: Why European Societies Perceive Refugee Flows as a Potential Threat to their Security? The Case of Greece

Eleni Katirtzoglou: Social Movements and Political Parties in the Current Financial Crisis: The Greek Experience

Discussant: Dr. Nora Siklodi, University of Portsmouth