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Consumers on the March, 1960s to 1990s

About the project

European integration tends to be seen as a project pursued by political elites from above. A closer look at its history, however, shows that organised citizens have been actively engaged from the early beginnings. It reveals consumers boycotting hormone-raised beef, farmers taking to the streets in Brussels and fishers blocking the port of Calais. We know very little about their involvement and its impact, and about how their attitudes towards the European project have evolved.

‘Consumers on the March: Civic Activism and Political Representation in Europe, 1960s to 1990s’ focuses on one group in particular: the organised consumer movement. From the 190s, the European Community evolved from a project of common market and trade policy to one including consumer participation and protection. Increasingly, individual consumers became the new focus of European policymakers in an attempt to bolster their legitimacy. This change allowed the transnational network of consumer groups, organised in the European Bureau of Consumer Unions (BEUC), to enter the European political arena and become an influential actor.

This research project analyses the representative claims (Michael Saward) put forward by consumer organisations and the strategies by which they have sought to substantiate these claims and further what they conceived of as ‘the consumer interest’. It takes into account national and political differences between organisations and studies how within BEUC a consumer agenda was negotiated. ‘Consumers on the March’ focuses on the interaction with other actors in the field of European consumer policies and the global consumer movement as well. As such, it highlights the inextricable entanglement of regional, national and global governance in the second half of the twentieth century.

The PhD-project focuses on political representation in consumer organisations in the European Community. Addressing political representation at two levels (national and European), it aims to trace the Europeanisation of consumer organisations. The European umbrella consumer organisation BEUC (Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs) is considered as a transnational political arena, in which various European consumer organisations came together, and constructed and negotiated a European consumer interest. Through extensive archival research and interviews with consumer representatives and activists, this sub-project will provide insight into the historical role of consumer organisations in European governance.

Researcher: Alessandra Schimmel

With the creation of the European common market in 1958, citizens in the European Community essentially became European consumers. From the 1960s onward, various institutions and organisations in the European Community, therefore, started presenting themselves as guardians of the consumer interest. The European Commission, the Court of Justice and the European Parliament saw this as an opportunity to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the European Community. Consumer organisations, trade unions, and environmental organisations, on the other hand, claimed that European consumers deserved further-reaching or different kinds of protection. The European consumer had many would-be protectors. This raises the question how these different parties constructed and protected the consumer interest. This postdoc project revolves around the dynamic between these different institutions and organisations, and centers around the question how the protection of consumers on the European common market eventually took shape.

Researcher: Koen van Zon

This project takes European consumer organisations as its focal point and aims to understand how their agendas, priorities and political actions were shaped by the constant interaction with actors on the global stage and in response to issues that extended beyond Europe’s borders. How has the relationship between consumer groups in Europe and the Global South evolved; how much importance has been ascribed to the interests and rights of consumers and producers worldwide? This project will focus on the global Consumers International as well as international platforms, such as the United Nations, where global consumer issues were framed and discussed. Through the lens of global consumer politics, she will analyse the redefinition of ideas and practices of political representation and stakeholder involvement in European and global governance.

Researcher: Liesbeth van de Grift