A common thesis in the political debate on perspectives for European integration is that the potential for strengthening cohesion in Europe lies in the municipalities. Our research project aims to test this thesis empirically and to develop practical conclusions for best practice in the municipalities’ European activities. The focus is on the European activity of municipalities, e.g. the use of EU funding opportunities, integration into municipal networks, maintenance of intra-European municipal partnerships, etc. Our research question is: (How) Can municipalities act as an anchor of cross-border cohesion in Europe?
The local level, as a frontline level of direct contact between politics and administration and citizens, is particularly suitable for communicating the idea of cohesion in Europe. Based on this, we answer the following sub-questions in an interdisciplinary research project (political science, administrative science, communal sciences) with the support of practice partners:
- How active are German municipalities in Europe?
- How is the EU perceived by the citizens on the local level?
- What are German municipalities doing to communicate cohesion in Europe? Which frames of the EU, European integration and the idea of cohesion are central in this context?
- Is there a connection between the municipalities’ European activities and the perception of the EU by the local citizens? (How) Do different municipal European activities influence the potential for strengthening cohesion?
- How can municipalities be supported and empowered to pursue and develop such activities in the face of often precarious budgetary situations?
The study will be conducted in three empirical steps and comprises an online survey of all German cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants, case studies on municipal European activities, and surveys of citizens on their perception and effects in four selected cities.