Defence of Annie Niessen’s PhD thesis

On July 1, 2021, Annie Niessen will publicly defend her thesis entitled “A Tale of Europe(anness): Interpretations of the “European State” in the Discourse of the Political Institutions of the European Union”, submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Political and Social Sciences.

Due to the pandemic, the viva will take place online.

July 1, 2021 at 1:30 pm via (registration required).


Article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union enshrines that any “European State” may apply for membership in the European Union (EU). As a primary eligibility condition, the “European State” formulation has defined the nature and scope of the EU since the inception of European integration. While the term “European” holds various meanings, there has been no clear definition in EU law of that which makes a state “European”. In the absence of such a definition, the EU political institutions – the European Commission, European Council, European Parliament, and Council of the European Union – have needed to interpret states’ European character amid, among others, membership requests. The thesis aimed to investigate the various interpretations that have been provided by the EU political institutions amid European integration; in other words, it aimed to tell a tale of Europe(anness), as the “European State” formulation is embedded in wider narratives and representations pertaining to the idea of Europe and Europeanness.

Building on a corpus of various archival resources, the research uncovered four main interpretations of the “European State” formulation – and, by extension, of Europe(anness) – in the discourse of the EU political institutions. These are the geographical, cultural, historical, and political interpretations. Each interpretation was critically addressed by analyzing thematically and statistically its substance, and considering illustrative enlargement cases. It provided a comprehensive understanding of the “European State” formulation and the dynamics and logics surrounding notions of Europe(anness). It highlighted how these notions have been constructed at the EU level and instrumentalized toward strategic and legitimation ends, relying on cherry-picked practices and on representations and narratives of Europe(anness) that percolate in the public space. Beyond the construction of the EU institutional discourse on Europe(anness) surrounding European integration, this thesis explored the complexity of the intertwined meanings underpinning the EU’s self-understanding, offering further insights into the fields of enlargement, European collective identity, and European integration.


Prof. Dr. Geoffrey Geuens (University of Liège) – Thesis co-director

Prof. Dr. Geoffrey Grandjean (University of Liège) – President of the jury

Dr. Gilles Grin (Fondation Jean Monnet pour l’Europe & University of Lausanne)

Prof. Dr. Quentin Michel (University of Liège) – Thesis director & Secretary of the jury

Prof. Dr. Kiran Klaus Patel (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich) – Thesis committee member

Prof. Dr. Maria Stoicheva (Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”)

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