In recent years, the European Union has faced new and serious challenges that affect the very core of ‘European idea’. There are growing difficulties of integrating European communities. The strategic aim of building a social multicultural space based on principles of equality and of unity in diversity seems increasingly problematic. Events such as migration waves, Brexit and separatist trends in other regions, the spiral of disintegration processes in Italy, Poland, and Hungary, as well as the apparent interference of Russia, China, Turkey and other countries working against integration of Europe, raise many questions. The current tensions among EU member states about the place and scope of the process of integration of Western Balkans in EU is yet another expression of these difficulties. These trends and difficulties pose a major challenge to the EU member states, but they also mobilize the proponents of the European idea and integration within the EU. This was manifested in the last European Parliament elections, the new German-French agreement of 22 January 2019, the debates preceding the constitution of new European Commission, in various civic and intellectual initiatives, and others.


These recent events inspire optimism. But as sociologists and professional social researchers, our optimism is also related to something also important – the conviction that has arisen as a result of our studies that the processes of European integration have begun far back in time since the 14th century with Dante Alighieri’s work De Monarchia. Running at a deep level and under the surface of the political debate, they have been active even when the continent was shaken by conflicts between nations, wars, and even pandemic infection diseases and ecological crises. We believe that in today’s political and cultural opposition, both opponents and EU adherents somewhat forget (or deliberately ignore) these deeper (dis)integration processes. They are rarely mentioned in public debates, in the media, and in the social networks. The importance of these deeper integration mechanisms as a prerequisite and basis for EU integration, and especially the explicit knowledge and awareness about them is crucial for politicians, experts and citizens as a source of strategic governance and inspiration for further integration and development of the EU.


Focusing on three specific areas (science and technology, law and democracy, social policy) where integration processes are taking place, we want to explore the very foundations that establish the conditions for the possibility of EU political integration. We mean the underlying mechanisms and networks that (dis)connect communities in all european countries before they are institutionally constituted. When talking about “hidden integration”, we mean most of all what our colleagues T. Misa and  J. Schot (2005), Arne Kaijser (2005), and others with whom we worked together under Tensions of Europe research network and Eurocrit project (ESF, 2006), called “hidden integration of Europe” by means of technologies, industrial and other standards, infrastructure (ICT, transportation, etc.) shared knowledge and know-how, etc. [ The patterns of continental European law played similar role becoming an important integrative element for the EU countries, which unifies the amalgam of nationions and by which the new member states and accession countries from the periphery of the West European nucleus adopt and implement Western legal and institutional models in order to accelerate their own development and “outwit” history. The concept of law has been enriched with the discourse of human rights, which legitimizes international legal assistance and intervention. Legal development has become almost synonymous with the establishment of human rights and freedom. Hence we claim that the Western law might be also considered as a kind of ‘infrastructure’ quite similar to technologies and science. The ‘social’ (welfare) state is another European achievement, whose values ​​and organizational model have also been playing such a “hidden” integrative role for more than half a century. The recent economic crisis in Europe raised the question whether the European social model is still feasible or should be curtailed in favor of a ‘free’ global market competition. It is precisely the values ​​and practice of European welfare state that today are becoming a key resource in search of a new political and institutional response to the dangerous and potentially destabilizing levels social inequality, where a limited economic and financial elite controls the vast part of public wealth (Stiglitz 2012, Inglehart 2018). Precisely as such ‘hidden social infrastructure’ the European model of welfare state continues to be attractive worldwide, especially for the countries in Africa and Middle East, in spite of the effects of several decades of neoliberal reforms.


Naturally, there are other areas in which European policies and practices are built upon the processes of “hidden integration” – in finance, in the field of environment protection and health, in energy field, and so on. Building on the Department’s specialization and resources, however, the project focuses on the three areas mentioned above. By seeking synergies between them our objective is to create a model of research and teaching of the European integration processes,  which can be expanded in the future in new areas.