About the project

The EU, and the international system at large, has entered a new era of unpredictability. States face challenges that tend to outstrip effective collective responses, let alone the response capacity of all but the most powerful governments. These challenges have placed immense strains on the framework of inter-state cooperation and the institutions that regulate those frameworks, be it in the worlds of economics, trade or defence. There is a new volatility in the public policy arena where larger powers increasingly choose to act outside the institutional frameworks which the smaller powers rely on as a guarantor of their stability and prosperity.

The EU is uniquely illustrative of how an organised political and administrative framework can empower small states, as opposed to foras of inter-governmental bargaining where the bigger powers can more easily impose their will. Of its 28 member states, 16 have populations of less than 10 million and 9 of these countries have populations below 5 million. The EU is thus an institution of critical importance when examining the manoeuvrability of small states in international diplomacy and the empowering potential of frameworks based on the rule of law.

Small member states are having to deal with an increasingly unstable international scene. Public sentiment has become increasingly negative towards European integration and cooperation. The general public has started to question EU membership and much of the emerging discourse goes even further and focuses on solutions rejecting the very premise of the EU – culminating in the UK’s Brexit referendum of 2016.

Following the financial crisis of 2008, which hit the economies of small states especially hard, other challenges emerged that have forced the EU to find ways of responding to a changing reality. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its subsequent involvement in Eastern Ukraine has displayed the frailty of international law and has forced neighbouring states – especially neighbouring small states – to rethink their security policies and recalculate their diplomacy. The migration crisis in Europe has sparked an increasingly hostile public debate in many European states on border controls and the free movement of people – a principle small states view as important for their prosperity. Furthermore, the terrorist attacks in Europe have forced countries to rethink their wider sense of security. Accordingly, the free movement of people and Schengen have become more politically contested and emotionally charged issues.

In addressing these complex challenges, the public administrations of small member states are beset with unprecedented tasks and responsibilities. These have placed their already limited capacities under huge strain, while also adding more credibility to populist rhetoric and dissent towards ‘Europe’. In addition, the myriad uncertainties of Brexit and the radical policy shifts emerging from the new US administration, stand every chance of altering the institutional structure that has served as the cornerstone of Western stability as well as the security of small states throughout the international system for decades.

The central objectives of this project are:

1) to examine the ‘coping strategies’ of small states in the current political turmoil, in terms of policy, resources and focus

2) to consolidate and expand the current network of European HEI’s focusing on small state studies

3) to produce advances in knowledge that will facilitate the development of teaching in small state studies in relation to EU studies

4) to raise awareness and influence policy and practice on the challenges of small states in Europe.

The research will focus on four interlinked research clusters that together engender a new research paradigm within small state studies to address the contemporary challenges of small states in Europe (ref. section D.2.)

The objectives of the network are linked to the following activities and outputs:

Publication of an edited academic book

1) 4 high-level peer reviewed papers

2) International academic conference

3) Workshops based on the research clusters

4) Roundtables aimed at young researchers

5) One-to-one teaching Policy-briefs

6) Concluding open seminar in Brussels

The project will have impact by producing advances in knowledge that will aid in the development of teaching in various disciplines, such as EU studies and public management. This is crucial with regard to the added academic value of the project. The publications produced will be added to the curricula of the partners and the results disseminated beyond those circles (ref. section G.1.).

The current political turmoil is a pan-European challenge that the EU states face collectively and thus needs to be examined on an international level. There is a need to analyse the small member states that are especially vulnerable and rely on the EU’s legal framework to navigate their way through these uncertain times. This network´s research will build on four interlinked research clusters that are all focused on the contemporary challenges of small states in Europe (ref. D1) 

1) Small states and the changing security environment in Europe:

2) The return of great power politics. Small states and the current political turmoil related to immigration:

3) Migration, security and populist extremism. Small states and open borders:

4) The effects of limitations on human mobility on small states within the EU. Small states and good governance:

5) The role of public administration in tackling contemporary policy challenges.

In order to ensure coherence and comparability in the research carried out by the network, a joint research framework will be developed that will function as a ‘roof’ for all clusters and to guide the writing of the case studies. This joint framework will synthesize the core of the existing theoretical knowledge on the politics, foreign affairs and public administration of small states and contain a general case study protocol to be applied in the clusters. The overarching focus of each partner’s research will be on analysing how the perception and reality of ‘smallness’ affects the challenges, opportunities and chosen policy responses in each thematic research cluster. This will ensure that the research carried out by the network will result in a comprehensive comparative analysis that should in turn reveal and generate an overarching theme or set of preoccupations as the focus of the network

Partners are assigned to specific research activities based on their specialisation. Research from the specific viewpoint of small states concerning these challenges is scarce. The gathering of information will take place within each partner’s research activities. Each partner will collect data at local and regional level. This data will in turn be presented at an international level, through the workshops, conferences and publication, offering the chance for a comparative analysis and exchange of practices within the network. The research produced will furthermore be disseminated outside the network via the webpage of the project and on the Jean Monnet community websites. The network will meet regularly giving partners of the consortium the chance to exchange practices concerning their research. The workshops and the conferences will be organized as open events giving the civil society and policy makers, as well as the academic community, direct access to the network. The network will make a concerted effort to ensure the attendance of senior policy-makers in partner countries. At the culmination of the project, results will be disseminated at a concluding seminar in Brussels where the network will use its extensive reach to ensure the attendance of policy makers and think tank analysts.

The research originates in small state studies, a discipline that has evolved within IR and political science but remains an area with much unrealised potential in terms of comparative analysis and policy insight. The research conducted by this network builds on this existing knowledge, but also moves it forward by addressing challenges that are new to the discipline and have not been researched adequately. It is often taken at face value that small states behave differently on the international scene and in EU decision-making than larger more powerful states but how exactly is an under-researched area within the research paradigm. This network will present comprehensive research on the actual working methods of small states in the EU and thus produce innovative findings that are an essential component for understanding how the EU works. The research will produce advances in knowledge in EU studies, not only because of its focus on the major challenges facing the EU, but furthermore with the emphasis on small states and their unique challenges. The network will thus promote European integration through providing in-depth knowledge of the challenges small states face at the moment within the EU. Many small states outside of the EU are facing similar challenges and policy makers in these countries can utilize this networks’ research when formulating their own policies (ref. G2).

Supporting the enhancement of existing networks supporting specific activities and fostering the participation of young researchers in EU-related themes

The partners in this Jean Monnet Network are all academically recognized leaders within the field of small state studies. The Centre for Small State Studies (CSSS) at the University of Iceland (Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence) is the coordinator of the network. This network will build on existing collaboration between a number of the partners, while also adding important new partners that will broaden the scope of the network. This enhancement of the network of experts within European HEI’ focusing on small state studies will serve to solidify the discipline as an integral aspect of EU studies. The focus up to now has been on developing teaching between the HEI’s and beyond. This proposed network will add a synergic research component offering the chance to address a gap in the literature on small states in relation to the challenges outlined in the four clusters.

Emphasis will be placed on fostering the participation of young researchers in the network. Each partner will nominate one Ph.D student to participate in the project. They will be given the opportunity to present their research and get valuable feedback from leading experts in the field through roundtables and one-to-one teaching. At the end of the project they will submit a finished paper to the CSSS for possible publication. Exceptional contributions will be invited to co-author a book chapter with leading academics from the network.

Creation and development of consortia of international players in the area of European Union studies

This pan-European network will create a new consortium focusing on the contemporary challenges of small states in the EU. The composition of the consortium ensures extensive reach and covers the spectrum of disciplines needed to fulfill the objectives of the network. Partners are strategically chosen based on their experience and expertise. Emphasis will be placed on innovative research that will be translated into policy recommendations at the end of the project ensuring its value beyond the lifetime of the project. Furthermore, the publications of the network will be added to the curricula of the HEIs taking part in the network and also disseminated to HEIs across the world using the extensive reach of this new Jean Monnet Network.