Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Limits of Cosmopolitanism?: European Commission Officials on the Selves and Others

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Limits of Cosmopolitanism?: European Commission Officials on the Selves and Others

Article excerpt


With its institutional motto of "unity in diversity," the European Union (EU) officially embraces a cosmopolitan outlook. This article argues that this motto becomes reality within the institutions of the EU as the officials undergo a cosmopolitan transformation process by experiencing cultural diversity on a daily basis. This cosmopolitanism, however, is not without limits. The discussions on Turkey's EU candidacy are a case in point. By analyzing the discourses of Commission officials with regard to their own identity as well as their discourses on the Turkish elite, this article assesses the extent and limits of cosmopolitanism in the European Commission and its general implications for the EU.


cosmopolitanism, EU, Turkey, European Commission


With its institutional motto of "united in diversity," the self-definition of the European Union (EU) is cosmopolitanist in the sense that it recognizes and builds upon the diversity of cultures within Europe. Within this EU-wide institutional discourse, the diversity that comes with twenty-seven member states and twenty-three official languages is conceptualized as richness instead of a barrier for cooperation. Cosmopolitan assumptions are also built into EU governance through mechanisms that ensure the representation of member states throughout EU institutions. Indeed, the multicultural character of EU institutions has received much scholarly attention, (1) addressing the question of how officials with different nationalities work together in the daily governance of the EU and pointing out to the "transnational" (2) or the "cosmopolitan" (3) identities of EU officials.

From its outset, European integration has had a "cosmopolitan momentum" (4) and, as it stands today, the EU and its supranational governance is often understood as a form of "institutionalized cosmopolitism." (5) However, the fact that cosmopolitan ideals are embedded in the conception of the EU is not sufficient to justify a cosmopolitan status. Most significantly, if national attachments have not been replaced by a cosmopolitan outlook, it could mean that the EU represents an expanded form of nationalism, or "Euro-nationalism." (6) In Edgar Grande's terms, "supranationalism bears the risk of degenerating into a European supernationalism." (7)

The presumed cosmopolitanism of the EU has indeed been challenged, especially during discussions of the European Constitution with regard to the defining characteristics and the boundaries of the EU. The relevance and urgency of these existential identity debates is partly linked to the issue of Turkey's accession to the EU. (8) This is mainly because this proposed accession is often contested on grounds of the "goodness of fit" between Turkey's "European" credentials and the future order of the European project. The question of whether there are limits to the cultural diversity which the EU is able to unite appears to be fundamental and demands to be addressed above and beyond the technical criteria of EU accession. Whereas cosmopolitanism is by definition oriented toward some kind of common world identity, renewed calls for drawing the limits of Europe draw attention to an important contradiction, for, as Owen Parker has put it, "as soon as geographical or cognitive borders are established around the concept of cosmopolitanism, the very essentialisms that cosmopolitans as critics have traditionally sought to confront are reproduced." (9)

The potential accession of Turkey, whose credentials have been challenged in terms of identity and Turkey's potential inability to act "European," (10) thus constitutes a critical litmus test for claims about the cosmopolitanism of the EU. Whereas the EU's official policy has been to conceive of Turkey's accession bid as a further potential "foothold" for a cosmopolitan outlook, (11) concerns about cultural incompatibility have rested on the argument that "Turkey will struggle to assimilate the liberal values of modern(ist) Europe, as these are simply irreconcilable with its primordial Islamic identity. …

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