Business, management


Terry O'Brien

The Reviewers

Terry O'Brien, Systems Librarian, Luke Wadding Library, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland

Review Subject

Historical Dictionary of the European Union

Joaquín Roy and Aimee Kaner


Publisher Name: Scarecrow Press

Place of Publication: Lanham, MD and Oxford

Publication Year: 2006

Article type: Review

Keywords: Dictionaries, European Union, History


Reference Reviews
Volume 21 Number 6 2007 pp. 27-28
Copyright © Emerald Group Publishing Limited ISSN 0950-4125


This volume is the latest to appear in the Jon Woronoff edited Historical Dictionaries of International Organizations series, which started out ironically with the European Community in 1993. That another dictionary was deemed necessary just 13 years later is an obvious indication of the rapid change and evolution that the European Union has undergone in those few short years. Although authors Roy and Kanner are based in America, both have a strong pedigree in writing about EU affairs and demonstrate a very European understanding of the unique and varied culture of the institution now commonly referred to as the European Union. They trace the EU from it's post second world war beginnings as an effort in establishing a stable and peaceful Europe to its present day incarnation as a 27-member economic and political cooperative encompassing just under 500 million people.

The dictionary gives us a meaningful insight and sense of the history of the EU, guiding the reader through the major movers, shakers, events, treaties and landmarks of the past 50 years (for an account of EU history see Vanthoor (2002)). Jean Monnet “the father of Europe”, the Schuman Declaration in 1950, the European Coal and Steel Community 1951, the Treaty of Rome 1957, the accession of the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Greece in 1973, the Single European Act 1987 and the adoption of the Euro in 2002 all provide us with a framework and reference points for the key watershed moments in the history of what the authors call “by far the most ambitious experiment in state cooperation”. More recently the failure to ratify the Treaty establishing a constitution for Europe (2004) in both France and Holland, two traditionally supportive European states, has dealt a blow to the European integration project. Enlargement has, however, continued apace Bulgaria and Romania being the newest members. Of the current “candidate” countries, Turkey continues to provoke most controversy and some little opposition because of its human rights record, Muslim population and its fractious relationship with Greece. The EU's external relationships with significant others such as the US, Africa, China and Russia are covered placing the EU in the context of world affairs.

Jacques Delors called the EU an “unidentified political object”, and in political terms it is very difficult to classify. Much of the debate on the EU has centered around whether its objective is to become a centralized United States of Europe, a federalist super state intent on consuming sovereignty and imposing laws on national citizens. More Euro-positive advocates consider the EU as a union of states promoting interdependence, democracy and economic, political and social development. Roy and Kanner assert that one of the major problems of the EU has been a “sort of chronic identity crisis”. This is probably a slight understatement, as many Europeans remain unsure of what exactly it is they are part of. Variously known as the EEC, the EC and the EU, the regular changing of the name of the European Union (EU), which it has been officially known as since the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, has undoubtedly not helped. Understanding of the institutions and structures of the EU is probably beyond the interest threshold of most ordinary European citizens, unless as Madeline Albright dryly commented, you are “French or very intelligent … or both”. Public perceptions of the EU tend to focus on topics of interest like bureaucracy, grants, the common agricultural policy (CAP), the expenses “gravy train”, interest rates, sovereignty, enlargement and economic immigration.

If the founding raison d'être of the EU is acknowledged as having a firm basis in peace, stability and co-operation, the current raison d'être is much more nebulous and woolly, centering round notions like integration. The management of the EU has become increasingly unwieldy and in this sense it has become a victim of its own success and growth. In such a diverse group of nations, common policy in non-economic areas, is self-evidently difficult as 9/11 and the Iraq invasion recently illustrated. Problems of identity remain and the distance between Brussels (and Strasbourg) and the citizen, both geographically and metaphorically, continue to extend. Despite EU commitments to the principle of subsidiarity (decisions should be taken at the closest possible level to the citizen) Eurosceptics continue to argue that there is a real democratic deficit and increasing centralization of powers. How many people would know for instance, that Sibiu, Romania and Luxembourg City are the EU capitals of culture for 2007? Or that there are now 23 official EU languages, Gaeilge (Irish) being the most recent addition (not only illustrating the linguistic diversity within the EU but keeping a lot of translators in work). The dictionary pre-supposes a certain amount of knowledge of the EU and EU jargon, but does enhance one's understanding of how the EU works. An organizational chart or series of charts of how the structures of the EU operate would have been useful.

That the EU has had positive achievements is not in doubt. Enlargement continues with many pre-accession or candidate countries in the queue. The EU has also shown remarkable longevity despite setbacks. The strength of the community lies in the strength of the institution, echoing Monnet's quote some 50 years ago that “nothing is possible without men, nothing is lasting without institutions”. There have been economic successes such as the Euro, which is stronger than the dollar (albeit a weak dollar), and the now accepted free movement of goods and labor in the common market. The lack of a truly outstanding European political figure in recent times in the mould of Schumann or Monnet has though, impeded the EU and contributed to its lack of identity.

The core dictionary itself covers 207 pages, and the entries are detailed rather than deep. However, the supplementary information adds not just an extra 100 pages, but a real quality and depth to the publication. These include a list of acronyms and abbreviations (surely a whole team of people are employed in Brussels to come up with these), a series of maps outlining new member states, a chronology of key events and dates and selected appendices for easy reference. In addition, a short introductory essay offers a brief but judicious look at the structural and legal framework of the EU and discusses some of the key questions around the sense of identity, and unique political culture and concepts such as “supranationalism”, “intergovernmentalism” and “pooled sovereignty”. The bibliography is extensive and warrants further mention; it covers 30 pages from generalized overviews to more specialized references, and includes an introduction and useful themed headings as well as an ample list of EU related websites.

This book will find a strong audience amongst those with a serious interest in European Union affairs. Undergraduates and postgraduates in European studies, European integration, modern European history, international organizations, international relations as well as EU or government officials, journalists, researchers, scholars and professionals interested in the development of the EU will find this a useful accessible dictionary and ready reference. The book is very much in the style of a handbook both physically and in terms of approach to the subject matter. It may not sell many copies in non-member Norway or Switzerland, but at £50 sterling (that's 73.68), it represents decent value as a reference tool for academic and specialist libraries.