The Framing of Crises in Europe

Je, 2017-12-07 15:30 - Ve, 2017-12-08 15:30


Workshop "The Framing of Crises in Europe", 7-8 December 2017, Sciences Po, Salle du Conseil (5th floor), 13 rue de l’Université, 75007 Paris

This workshop is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 657949 (LOBFRAM) and hosted by the Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics at Sciences Po, Paris

The concept

Crises seem to be a constant feature of today’s life. Newspapers, commentators, academics and the public speak incessantly of crises, such as the economic crisis, the refugee crisis, the Ukrainian crisis, an institutional crisis in the EU, a legitimacy crisis, etc. And by definition, political action is required to bring the situation back to what is considered normal or is viewed as preferable (Roitman 2013; Hay 1996). Once we call something a ‘crisis’, this narrative structures our thoughts as well as influence political responses. Analysts are not immune from this, as crisis-based analyses look for the origins and causes of failure, for the deviation from the right pattern of action and are based on implicit comparisons of what is normatively supposed to be the alternative and more preferable state of normal (Roitman 2013). In Roitman’s (2013) view, this also precludes a series of other interesting ‘anti-crisis’ questions.

This idea of omnipresent crises thus offers an interesting opportunity to reflect on the meaning of ‘crisis’, on how crises are framed, narrated and what implications this has on political action. While there is extensive research on the causes and responses given by different governments and international organisations to different types of crisis, less attention has been paid to the ways in which these sets of events have been defined and framed as crises in the first place, the types of narratives that have followed from this definition and the impact that the adoption of the ‘crisis’ frame has had on political action and responses.

This workshop thus analyses current crises in Europe to unravel processes of framing and narrative construction, to discuss how frames are enacted and with what implications, to investigate which actors contribute to framing processes and what makes certain actors successful in shaping frames and narratives. Starting from the idea that crises are socially constructed and produced, this workshop brings together people working on different sets of crisis to shed light on the actors, processes, impact and consequences of defining as crises certain events and situations.

Because Europe (meaning the EU and its member states) is in the middle of most of nowadays crises, it is an interesting focal point that would allow a thorough and comparative analysis of the abovementioned aspects.

The main research questions that are tackled in the workshop, therefore, address various aspects of the general topic of how crises are framed in Europe. Aspects that will be relevant to all sessions are as follows, while more specific issues are indicated for each session:

  • When did the crisis begin? Why was it framed as a crisis?
  • Which actors have participated in the processes of framing/reframing/de-framing a series of events as a crisis?
  • How are frames enacted and how is political action shaped by the definition of crisis?
  • What impact has the use of a ‘crisis’ frame/narrative in practice?

The general purpose is thus to challenge the assumption of crisis as a given and to shed light on the construction of events/series of events as crises, the actors involved and implications of the ‘crisis’ narrative in practice. By comparing different types of crises, the workshop also aims to identify patterns across policy areas.




Thursday 7 December

3:30-3:45 pm

Welcome by Benedetta Voltolini and Cornelia Woll (Sciences Po, CEE)

3:45-5:45 pm

Session 1: The financial and economic crisis: A decade-long crisis 

Since 2008 and the fall of Lehman Brothers, newspapers, politicians and academic analyses have used the word ‘crisis’ very frequently. Without denying the relevance of the events that unfolded since 2008, the idea of an economic and financial crisis is linked to a series of assumptions, responses and consequences that are not present (or not necessarily so) in a non-crisis situation. When did the economic and financial crisis actually begin? And what options are available by calling this series of events a crisis? Who benefits from this framing? And who constructed this narrative? What are the implications of a crisis narratives in terms of public policy and legitimacy?

Chair and discussant: Colin Hay (Sciences Po, CEE)


  • The virtue of sacrifice: the procedural and moral legitimation of austerity policies in Italy and Spain during the Eurozone crisis (2010-2013), Arthur Borriello (University of Cambridge)
  • The symptomatology and pedagogy of economic crises, Bob Jessop (Lancaster University)
  • Perpetuating austerity: narratives of the Eurozone crisis, Amelie Kutter (European University Viadrina)
  • ‘A narrow trail’?: Legitimation and adaptation in the reconfiguration of Southern European Welfare Capitalisms, Tiago Moreira Ramalho (Sciences Po, CEE)


Friday 8 December

9-10:30 am

Session 2: Foreign policy crises: conflicts in the European neighbourhood and beyond

Conflicts and diplomatic crises on the international stage are rather frequent. For instance, the Arab uprisings were a wake-up call for Europe concerning the situation on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, while the annexation of Crimea by Russia and Russian actions in Eastern Ukraine are sources of constant worries in Brussels and national capitals. But when does Europe perceive external events as crises? And what does this imply in terms of European action and reaction? Which actors frame events as crises? Which actors ‘gain’ by defining something as a crisis?

Chair and discussant: Christoph Meyer (King’s College London)


  • Reassessing EU foreign policy change: European Neighbourhood Policy reform after the Ukrainian crisis, Nikki Ikani (King’s College London)
  • The framing of Ukraine crisis as (non-)recognition games: categories and metaphors in practice, Michal Natorski (Maastricht University)
  • Non-state actors, crisis construction and early warning: the case of International Crisis Group, Benedetta Voltolini (Sciences Po, CEE)

10:30-10:45 am

Coffee break

10:45 am-

12:45 pm

Session 3: The migration and refugee crisis: normal or exceptional times?

Migrations and refugees are not new phenomena in Europe, but the influxes in recent years have been perceived as amounting to a crisis. Media have played a substantial role in shaping the public image of crisis and of dramatic situations and consequences. Politicians have been criticised from all fronts and for all types of actions. Populists and right-wing parties have used the ‘refugee crisis’ for political purposes. In this chaotic situation, how do actors make sense of the situation, when and why have migrant and refugee influxes been perceived as a crisis and who has contributed to this definition? What role has the media played in this framing process? And what political actions do these frames allow?

Chair and discussant: Virginie Guiraudon (Sciences Po, CEE, CNRS)


  • The Rise of Prejudice in Europe: A Migration Crisis or a Crisis of the EU's Political Project and its Values?, Valeria Bello (United Nations University Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility)
  • Contested borders: pro- and anti-refugee movements in Italy, Pietro Castelli (C-Rex, University of Oslo) & Lorenzo Zamponi (Scuola Normale Superiore)

  • Making sense of the refugee crises in Europe and North America, Leila Hadj Abdou (European University Institute)
  • The Refugee Crisis in the Mediterranean: Norm Entrepreneurship and Policy Change in Europe,Sarah Léonard (Vesalius College, Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

12:45-1:30 pm


1:30-3 pm

Session 4: Europe and horizontal crises: from legitimacy to environment

A series of horizontal and cross-cutting crises are currently challenging the EU. While the legitimacy of EU institutions has frequently been contested by many political actors across the left-right spectrum over the years, the rise of populist and far-right actors has recently opened up a new and more vigorous challenge. The British referendum in June 2016 and the process of Brexit have also undermined the European project, opening a debate about the EU, its legitimacy and its ability to cope with existing problems. If institutional and legitimacy crises are clearly a main issue on the EU agenda, other horizontal and pressing issues such as the environment have also entered mainstream European political discourse, but have remained in the sphere of ‘normal politics’. It is therefore worth asking whether there is a legitimacy crisis of the EU and European politics. Which frames prevail in this context? What role does the media play in framing some issues as crises while others not?

Chair and discussant: Florence Faucher (Sciences Po, CEE)


  • Half-full or half-empty? Framing of UK-EU relations during the Brexit referendum campaign,Tatiana Coutto (University of Warwick)
  • The Political Economy of Ecological Crisis, Martin Craig (University of Sheffield)
  • It’s not the elites! The Far right and the framing of Euroscepticism on Twitter in Western democracies, Caterina Froio (University of Oxford)

3-3:30 pm

Conclusions and way forward


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