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Charting European integration: EUI welcomes Professor Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol

An international economic historian with a specialty in European economic and financial governance, Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol comes to the EUI from the University of Glasgow. In addition to the appointment at the EUI's History Department, he will take over from Professor Federico Romero as Co-director of the Alcide De Gasperi Research Centre at the Historical Archives of the European Union.

Mourlon-Druol is also the Principal Investigator of an ERC research project, EURECON, which will now be hosted by the Department of History and the De Gasperi Centre for the final grant year, 2023. For information on project activities, take a look at two upcoming conferences.

In this interview, he discusses his research background, expectations, and educational goals while at the EUI.

You refer to yourself as an international economic historian. How did you come to study European integration in particular? 

Actually, as an undergraduate I thought the topic of European integration was deadly boring. This changed when I began an MA programme at the LSE and was inspired by a 'sampler' course on the topic. I am intrigued by the role of financial and non-state economic actors in the integration of Europe post-1945. This field draws on a whole range of disciplines – economics, law, sociology and political science – which makes it particularly fascinating to me.

What courses do you plan to offer at the EUI? 

As you might guess from the Chair's title, I'm currently teaching a seminar on European cooperation and integration in the 20th century. I am happy to see that this course has attracted researchers from the Department of Political and Social Sciences as well as the History Department, which will enrich the discussions. At a later point I would like to teach a seminar on the opportunities and impacts of using digital approaches (such as network analysis or text mining) in historical research. 

Your ERC project examines the shortcomings of the single currency and its developmental period from 1957 to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which sealed the introduction of the euro. You posit that the monetary union’s faults, so obvious today, did not arise from a lack of imagination or economic expertise but are the result of complex political debates and trade-offs – perhaps even a contest among visions of Europe’s future. Has the research to date confirmed your claim?

Yes, more strongly than I expected, in fact. There was no shortage of debates and proposals: unemployment insurance, a centre for the coordination of economic policies, a European deposit insurance, and many other things, were intensively debated prior to Maastricht. But except for monetary policy obviously, any centralisation of powers remained taboo. I recall a Commissioner in charge of the financial affairs portfolio opening the first meeting of the new Banking Advisory Committee in 1979 saying that in the future there may be a central European authority for banking supervision. But on the draft of his speech, his assistant simply wrote: "This should not even be mentioned."

You have been looking at the role of non-state actors (including banks, big business and trade unions) in the creation of the monetary union; what is the most striking finding here? 

This part of the project is difficult to carry out, because the cast of characters constantly changes, and there are also key actors who change their own views over time. Luckily, I have had a large research team with expertise on different countries, institutions, and issue areas – for example, trade unions in Germany, France and Italy; or banks in the UK and France. Non-state actors could be very inventive but sometime their ideas differed little from those already developed by governments. They often shared the same biases as the states, in that they did not set out clearly how to build an economic union in the perspective of a monetary union.

Your ERC Advisory Panel includes political scientists and sociologists: where are the perspectives from other disciplines particularly useful? 

I’m dealing with recent history. Other disciplines often approach these issues before historians can finally access primary sources (archives are usually released after 20 or 30 years). Sociology in particular has a very lively field mixing a historical approach and sociology (socio-histoire in French). Approaches we have used such as prosopography ('collective biography') – that is, the study of a well-defined group of people's education and career – are sociological.

Would you say today's EU operates basically the same way as it did 50 or even 30 years ago, when in the process of inventing itself? 

Of course, as a historian, I am always on the lookout for continuities and discontinuities. The major changes are obvious: the size of the EC/EU, the stakes involved, in the daily lives of people, when policies are set at the European level (the euro, free movement of goods, people and services). But there are many continuities, in particular the enduring debate over, and opposition to, centralisation. Here I mean both the centralisation of decisionmaking at EU level and the centralisation of financial resources – in other words, power.

If you don't mind playing the pundit, tell us what you consider to be the greatest challenge to European integration at this point.

Bearing in mind your previous question, I think I’d say the greatest challenge to European integration remains the extent to which EU member states may be ready – or not – to centralise. Whether we think of NextGenerationEU, foreign policy questions or the completion of the banking union, the heart of the matter remains whether and how to centralise power. 

You studied for your PhD in history at the EUI in 2006–2010 and returned to the Institute in 2017–2018 as a Jean Monnet fellow, at the Robert Schuman Centre. Now you are settling in for the third time. What do you notice has changed about the institute?  

The biggest changes I see so far are physical: the campus has grown to include Villa Salviati. The co-location of the Archives, the De Gasperi Centre, and the departments of History and Law is a boon for people in my field. When I was here as PhD researcher or Jean Monnet fellow, my workplace and most colleagues working on European history were in Villa Schifanoia but the archives were located a couple of kilometres away, in Piazza Edison. My daily routine was fragmented. The relocation of the units is a very positive thing and makes the De Gasperi Centre a unique hub bringing together HEC and the HAEU in a single location.