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Cultural stereotyping in European Union governance: research on the impact of stereotypes receives ERC Starting Grant

EUROTYPES is a research project developed by political scientist Adina Akbik, for which she recently received a European Research Council Starting Grant. Her aim is to examine the impact of cultural stereotypes in European multi-level policy enforcement. One of EUROTYPES' innovations lies in its focus. Akbik will study stereotypes among civil servants who implement EU policy on the ground as opposed to political elites involved in decision-making.

Impact on behaviour

Cultural stereotypes are often present in the political and media discourse on European Union (EU) governance: e.g., ‘the lazy Greeks’, ‘the tax-dodging Italians’, ‘the stingy Dutch’, and so forth. Especially when stereotypes are negative, they create conflict between national governments, fuel Euroscepticism among voters, and can lead to the discrimination of citizens or Member States. Yet while stereotypes have been studied in political rhetoric and media coverage, we know little about their impact on the behaviour of national and EU officials. To address this gap, EUROTYPES sets out to investigate how cultural stereotypes impact cooperation and effectiveness in contemporary EU governance.

Unique approach

According to Akbik, the project is the first of its kind because it studies stereotypes among civil servants as opposed to political elites in the EU, who often use stereotypes strategically for electoral gains. The focus is on multi-level policy enforcement, a new phenomenon in European integration which captures the participation of national and EU civil servants in joint ‘on-the-ground’ operations in border control, law enforcement cooperation, financial supervision, etc. Akbik explains that ‘since they are not socialized in Brussels or running for office, such officials are more likely to (genuinely) display cultural stereotypes.’

Personal experience

Akbik also sheds a personal light on the subject: ‘I’m a Romanian national who so far has lived in 7 EU countries and is married to a German-American of Syrian origin. Since I study the EU for a living and work in an international environment, I’ve been exposed to numerous cultural stereotypes over time. Many of them are used as jokes: when someone is late, or too serious, or too relaxed… we often quip about the country or region where they’re from. But joking aside, stereotypes are serious because they can lead to prejudice and discrimination, especially when they are negative. In a multicultural context like the European Union, such cognitive shortcuts can cause real problems. The goal of EUROTYPES is to establish if and how stereotypes affect EU cooperation, and if so, to make recommendations to mitigate their effects. I’m very excited to start working on the project.’

‘I’m also deeply grateful to all the colleagues at the Institute of Political Science who provided feedback on the application and asked challenging questions in preparation for the interview. When I joined Leiden University in 2021, I was very impressed by the infrastructure in place to support people to apply for grants but also by the openness of so many colleagues to invest their time to help in the process. I owe them a lot and I’m happy to reciprocate in the future.’

Political scientist Adina Akbik

The European Research Council

The European Research Council (ERC) was set up by the European Union in 2007 and is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. The Starting Grant received by Akbik is one of the four core grant schemes that the ERC offers. It is targeted specifically at early-career scientists from any field with 2-7 years of experience since the completion of their PhD. This year, the ERC received 2,696 applications, with an overall success rate of 14.8%.

The ERC panel commented that they appreciated Akbik’s ‘impressive track record and extensive expertise in EU scholarship. With experience in leading an autonomous political science research project, and the relevant knowledge in the methodology to be applied, [Akbik] is very well qualified to conduct a project of this kind.’ The panel also appreciated the relevant explanations and general theoretical contributions of the project during the interview. They stated that Akbik ‘gave great, concise answers, grasped the core of all questions and related them to the proposal.’

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