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Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism

1 Comment 🕔03.Sep 2015

Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson’s Eurafrica is a bold book. Taking aim at what it regards as the “whiggish” field of European Union (EU) history, this work challenges the myth that postwar European integration marked a clean break with Europe’s dark past (26). While Eurafrica is not the first text to offer such a critical perspective on the growth of the EU, it is one of the first to bring together the history of European colonialism and the history of European integration.[1] These fields can seem like two quite remote islands that have drifted far apart: the history of colonialism describes what seems like Europe’s increasingly remote racist past, whereas EU history surveys Europe’s onward march to a democratic and multicultural present and future. By focusing on plans for European integration between the 1920s and the 1950s, Hansen and Jonsson are, instead, able to show how entangled these two histories actually are.

The authors have, therefore, performed a very valuable service: they have not only closed the gap between histories of the EU and mainstream social and political histories of Europe but they have also connected European integration history to broader global and transnational histories of colonialism. They are also able to critique notions of a Zero Hour, the idea that everything changed once Germany was defeated in 1945, from a new angle, revealing previously neglected continuities of colonialist outlook. Parallels and continuities with Nazi plans for European or Eurafrican integration are not explored in any detail, which may seem like a lost opportunity. Hansen and Jonsson’s interests lie elsewhere though: in exposing the links between the integrationist ideas of the post-1945 democracies and their interwar predecessors. Such an approach arguably does more to subvert whiggish accounts of the EU, suggesting a colonialist genealogy to the European project that goes beyond the obviously racist and exploitative National Socialist regime and connects to the interwar democracies. Interestingly, this critical history is based on archival work conducted in the Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU), housed at the EU’s intellectual center, the European University Institute. Much of the archival work conducted by the authors is not featured in this work but will appear in a fuller, follow-up volume. As a result, the current book offers a provocative (although scholarly) taste of what readers can expect from Hansen and Jonsson.

What was Eurafrica during the period studied by the authors? The first full chapter focuses on the interwar period and uses a discourse analysis method to flesh out the meanings of the term. Hansen and Jonsson show that a wide variety of politicians, Pan-Europeanists, and intellectuals sought union with the African continent as a way of reviving and saving Europe. Already concerned with the growing power of the United States and the Soviet Union, these Europeans believed that a Balkanized Europe would not only have to unite internally but also integrate itself with Africa in order to become a third economic and political power in the world. Such an interwar context is necessary for the authors’ major argument, but it does suggest that Eurafrica was many different things to many different groups. As a result, it is a little difficult to gauge just how influential the various schemes were. As the authors recognize, some plans were utopian, while others seemed designed to help colonial nations maintain control of their empires. Nevertheless, this chapter does reveal fascinating details about high-level negotiations between European politicians, which suggests African colonies were regarded as a common currency that Europeans could exchange. For instance, African colonies played a role in Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement agenda: he was willing to “return” parts of the German empire in Africa as compensation should Germany be persuaded not to pursue their claims in Austria and Czechoslovakia too aggressively (70).

Chapters Three and Four get into the details of the postwar political history of European integration, focusing particularly on the negotiations from 1955 to 1957 that preceded the Treaty of Rome. One result of such negotiations was that “overseas countries and territories (OCTs)” were “associated” with the European Economic Community (EEC). This meant that French and Belgian OCTs received EEC funding, while EEC members gained duty-free access to new African markets. Whereas other historians have largely seen this provision as a footnote in the history of the EU, Hansen and Jonsson argue that it indicates a more ambitiously neocolonial agenda among the architects of European integration. As they put it, this association agreement was prompted by a Eurafrican agenda that was “anti-independence yet non-colonial” (227). In other words, EEC leaders wanted to dissociate themselves from the tarnished colonial pasts of European empires but nevertheless exploit African resources, regarding them as a shared European patrimony.

There is much that is interesting in Hansen and Jonsson’s account of the Eurafrican dimension to the Treaty of Rome. Their presentation of the various schemes for Eurafrica and the negotiations around African colonies powerfully conveys how in flux ideas about the complexion and geographical extent of Europe were during what could be regarded as the Sattelzeit of the 1950s. The account also sheds light on the way Europe’s OCTs were (often inelegantly) fitted into an emerging Cold War that left European nations themselves torn between Western alignment and neutrality. Such insights feature prominently in Eurafrica’s very strong Chapter Four, which is based on extensive archival research in the HEAU. Revealing the degree of improvisation used by European statesmen during this decade serves to demystify the process behind the EEC Treaty and challenge more heroic accounts of the ‘path to Europe.’ The account of the negotiations also effectively shows that at least some Europeanists envisaged colonialism as part of Europe’s future rather than its past, suggesting that they might not have been so unambiguously on ‘the right side of history.’ Readers may still doubt that most European leaders believed they had a common Eurafrican destiny in the mid-1950s, rather than simply seeking to accommodate French colonial interests. (Belgium and its colonies feature in the text but only somewhat briefly.) Yet the authors are keen to stress, for instance, that Germany had an economic rationale for supporting some kind of Eurafrican arrangement. Focusing on German interests in Africa adds a new perspective on the French-German axis that has been so important for the construction of the EU.

The focus on Germany and France nevertheless suggests that the major actors in this story were still national actors. If this is true, then Africa is significant to the history of European integration not because radical Eurafrican schemes were important in and of themselves, but because the issue of African colonies adds another dimension to how the EEC became an intergovernmental rather than federal union. In other words, if we follow Alan Milward in thinking of the European treaties of the 1950s as the “European rescue of the nation-state,” then we might wonder if European integration was anything more than the (short-lived) European rescue of the French and Belgian empires.[2] It is clear that Hansen and Jonsson think that the Eurafrican dimension to the EEC was more profound than that. But when they “drilled deeply” into the negotiations between 1955 and 1957, they suggested that various nations were doing national cost-and-benefit analyses rather than representing a common European colonial mindset (222). Thus, while the French were very eager to incorporate Algeria into the EEC, the Italians worried about the competition their agricultural sector would face from agricultural products produced in this part of the French Empire. If Hansen and Jonsson had been able to present more detailed accounts of how many EEC employees were assigned to work on EEC relations with African colonies or of how much of the EEC budget went to ‘developing’ the colonies, then they may have been even more effective in showing the existence of a common European approach. A more detailed examination of the concept of ‘development’ may also have been productive: the issue of how an integrated European development agenda related to earlier forms of colonial mission is addressed but not examined in depth (231).

One other way in which Hansen and Jonsson might have explored a common European approach to Eurafrica would have been to look again at the Christian dimension to the European project. As Wolfram Kaiser, among others, has shown, much of the enthusiasm for an at least somewhat federal European Community developed out of Christian (particularly Catholic) conceptions of politics.[3] Politicians such as Konrad Adenauer turned to European integration because they believed that a federal Europe, based on personalist Christian principles, would turn Europeans away from nationalism and worship of the state.[4] How these Christian perspectives affected the way European statesmen regarded nationalist movements in colonial Africa is a fascinating topic but one that is not explored in this volume. Had Hansen and Jonsson paid attention to this religious dimension, they may have discovered more than simple economic exploitation at work in the Eurafrican project. This is not to say that European statesmen would have necessarily appeared in a more favorable light. These statesmen may rather have appeared as one more type of European missionary, carrying a self-imposed “white man’s burden” (28). But their attitude towards national liberation movements in Africa may also have been revealed in a more nuanced light. Given how problematic the process of nation-building in Europe in 1918 had turned out to be, it is certainly possible to imagine more benevolent reasons for Christian democratic architects of European integration regarding the process of nation-building in Africa with some wariness.

While these comments may suggest there is scope for further explanation and exploration of the idea of Eurafrica, they do not invalidate the major arguments developed by Hansen and Jonsson. For the authors do convincingly show that European leaders, including much-feted architects of the postwar integration project, could imagine a united Europe playing a greater, rather than lesser, role in the affairs of the African continent. These leaders wanted to strengthen and extend colonial networks to more intensively use and develop the resources of the African continent in order to strengthen Europe as a Third World power. As the authors suggest, Eurafrica therefore served as a “vanishing mediator” between European colonialism and European integration (231). While European integration offered a new model of political community achieved through the pooling of sovereignty between nation-states, European colonialism was supposedly designed to raise African peoples to statehood, even if the process seemed destined for indefinite postponement. Ideas of Eurafrica bridged the conceptual divide between these two models of political community as well as conveniently allowing European nations to retain control of their colonies. Hansen and Jonsson’s book therefore shows the immense potential for historians to rewrite the history of European integration if they pay attention to postwar European nations’ colonial commitments and abiding colonial aspirations. Scholars and students of European integration and of colonialism alike can eagerly look forward to the more detailed empirical work that the authors of the present volume are ideally placed to provide.

Reviewed by Christian Bailey, The Open University

Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism
by Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson
Hardback / 344 pages / 2014
ISBN: 9781780930008

[1] Texts that have recently critiqued linear histories of the EU include: Undine Ruge, Die Erfindung des “Europa der Regionen”: kritische Ideengeschichte eines konservativen Konzepts, (Frankfurt a.M.: Campus, 2004); Vanessa Conze, Das Europa der Deutschen. Ideen von Europa in Deutschland zwischen Reichstradition und Westorientierung, (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2005); Martin Conway and Kiran Klaus Patel, Europeanization in the Twentieth Century, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); Christian Bailey, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: German Visions of Europe, 1926-1950, (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2013); Dieter Gosewinkel, Anti-Liberal Europe: A Neglected Story of Europeanization, (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2014).
[2] See Alan Milward, The European Rescue of the Nation-State, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2nd ed. 2000).
[3] Wolfram Kaiser, Christian Democracy and the Origins of European Union, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
[4] For more on Personalism, see Samuel Moyn, “Personalism, Community, and the Origins of Human Rights”, in Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann (ed.), Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 85-106.


  1. 🕔 20:54, 23.Sep 2015


    Christian Bailey’s balanced and insightful review shows how valuable Hansen and Jonsson’s telling of the “untold story” may be because it both exposes and begins to fill fairly tangible explanatory gaps in the formation of the European Economic Community and the emergence of the EU by exposing the African connections. Ultimately, this research may expose the historical roots of African migration and its economically-linked political instability to Europe’s current African immigration,

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