Saturday, 1st September 2007
Researching Europe can be undertaken on several levels. Starting with the national, one finds significant government, mass media and academic sources. The UK perspective to this report should therefore be seen as representative of a pattern that can be found to a greater or lesser extent throughout all of the EU Member States, once an entry point for a country has been found.
[Editor's note: A new report from the FUMSI Regional Research Series aims to sketch some of the background to the EU's development, point out the functions of some of the key institutions and above all indicate useful sources of information, both on the EU and on Europe considered more broadly. Below is an excerpt, but you can order the report in its entirety at <http://web.fumsi.com/go/report/>.]
At the national level it is less likely that one will find English language versions of the information given. (The website of the Swedish Parliament's EU information service <http://www.eu-upplysningen.se> is a partial exception to this rule; they will furthermore supply printed versions of additional information like fact sheets in English.) Also, at the current level of development, translation websites and tools are not capable of dealing with language of any great complexity or ambiguity. It would therefore be best to be fluent in the language of a non-English speaking country in order to get the best from the information sources available for it. To help locate such sources, there are specialised search engines for various European countries gathered together at Netmasters <http://www.netmasters.co.uk/european_search_engines> and Aniota <http://www.aniota.com/europa.html>. Phil Bradley <http://www.philb.com> (click on Country Search Engines tab for alphabetical groupings) and The Big Search Engine Index <http://www.search-engine-index.co.uk> are especially comprehensive, not just for European but worldwide coverage.
With the latter site, ignore the categorised section which produces basically sponsored results and scroll down to Pick A Country for the search engines. A good way into resources for a particular country is to see if its embassy has a Web presence. Many embassies now understand that part of their mission to present information on their country needs to be undertaken on the Web. Check Embassy World <http://www.embassyworld.com> for an extensive list. If the country or countries you wish to research have a physical presence, the chances are they will have a virtual one too, with information and links (eg official investment contacts) tailored to citizens of your country.
Another way to locate sources for a specific country is to incorporate its Internet suffix into your search terms when using a general search engine such as Google or Yahoo. A list of these suffixes (eg fr = France, es = Spain, etc) is provided by the Internet Assigned Names Authority <http://www.iana.org/root-whois/index.html>.
Beyond this level there is the regional (for example Western, Central or Eastern Europe) and organisations like the EU or the Council of Europe, which aspire to be more or less pan-European. With the regional and pan- European levels, awareness and public interest as reflected in the media seem lower, and sources that come into their own are university departments or faculties, think tanks (often with some sort of ideological slant to their work), and specialised commercial research organisations. It should also be observed that to some extent this division into levels is always artificial, so for example the EU's anticipated enlargement will take it further into the Balkans, and its developing economic and political power will inevitably have growing implications for Russia. Therefore research on an individual country often cannot remain restricted to that country because of the interdependence that is increasingly apparent in Europe.
General sources of information
The quality of information obtainable from and about the EU and its Member States matches its vastness. There has been a conscious movement by the EU in recent years to place much more online, as well as developing information networks to deal with enquiries from citizens and businesses. For pamphlets and books, including online versions, the EU Bookshop <http://digbig.com/4tqjs> and the EU Publications Office <http://publications.europa.eu/index_en.htm> are the best places to start. The Publications Office home page also serves as an immediate gateway to important publications like the Official Journal and EU Whoiswho.
Europa <http://europa.eu/index_en.htm> is the preeminent official gateway. All the main areas of activity are covered, from Agriculture to Transport, with links rapidly leading from the broad to the very specific.
Eurojargon <http://europa.eu/abc/eurojargon/index_en.htm> attempts to put into plain, concise language many of the activities and concepts that underlie the EU. This is a good quick reference.
Europe Direct <http://ec.europa.eu/europedirect/index_en.htm> has a clickable map to indicate centres for EU information in each of the member states. They are intended to be able to answer enquiries on all aspects of the EU, whether it is a question of policy or the practical exercise of rights.
In Britain, the European Information Network <http://www.europe.org.uk/info/> not only provides links to Europe Direct centres, but also includes networks aimed at specific audiences:
European Union Delegation of the European Commission to the USA <http://eurunion.org/infores/euindex.htm> maintains an extremely thorough collection providing links to many important EU sites. They are organised as Essential EU Sites, Essential Sites in Business, Education and Law, and sites for EU institutions and agencies. Since the workings of the EU are probably as mysterious to many Europeans as they are to Americans, it's also worth knowing about the PDF publication, 'The European Union: a guide for Americans' (included under Publications), which is a good introduction.
Even more comprehensive is the superb set of links maintained by the office of the European Commission in the UK <http://ec.europa.eu/unitedkingdom/links/index_en.h tm>. Some of the individual sites it collects will be referred to in the course of this report, but this is an essential jumping-off point. It includes such subject areas as European Institutions and Agencies; Consumers/Health; The Euro; EC Delegations around the World; and Business Advice. There are also particular links to UK Government departments which have a European dimension.
The Library of Congress has a series of Portals to the World. The European one is at <http://www.loc.gov/rr/international/european/euro.html>. This brings together categorised links by country (although there is also a set of links for the European Union) in such areas as Business, Commerce, Economy; Education; Recreation and Travel. Search engines for each nation are a further category. The British Library takes a national approach for Western Europe, and a somewhat more regional one for Eastern Europe. For example, resources related to France are at <http://www.bl.uk/collections/westeuropean/france.html>, but many links for Central and Eastern Europe are at <http://www.bl.uk/collections/easteuropean/slavonicinternet.html> (especially useful is the section Information sources on Central and Eastern Europe). There is a further layer of links to resources for individual countries such as Bulgaria or Poland. Typically these gather together official, academic and news sites.
Berkeley University's European Union Internet Resources <http://digbig.com/4tqjw> is particularly well-organised and comprehensive. Each of its broad subject areas - EU Institutions and Bodies, EU by Subject, EU Documents by Type, and Other Items of Interest - is in turn logically broken down, enabling a researcher to quickly find potentially relevant sites for an enquiry. Indeed all of the library collections noted here share these qualities. There is also an inevitable degree of overlap between them, but being aware of these various gateways maximises the chances of finding useful sites.
Academia is an important source of European information, not least because the study of the EU, an organisation unique in terms of political science, is a burgeoning field. The British Library gateway noted above includes an extensive list of academic links.
This academic interest has produced valuable Open Access material. Some indicative examples are:
One of the best of these is Tim Bale's European Politics Guide <http://www.palgrave.com/politics/bale/guide.htm> which has chapter by chapter links for his book 'European Politics: a comparative introduction'. These relate to chapters on issues like 'Federalism, devolution and the European Union' and 'The Media: player and recorder', so are good for keeping informed on important issues. More broadly, the same site's EU Resource Area <http://www.palgrave.com/politics/eu> has contributions from other authoritative writers, producing features such as guides to 'The European Union on the Web' and 'European Union Environmental Legislation', along with a chronology of European Union integration.
Most of the websites in this chapter are pan- European in scope (although quite often providing the opportunity to drill down to national-level sources). However there are some which take a more regional view. WESSWEB, <http://wess.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Main_Page> maintained by the Association of College and Research Libraries in the US, is a clearly laid-out site concentrating on Western Europe. Some countries have their own section (eg Dutch Studies), others are grouped into regions (eg Iberian Studies). In each case they lead on to Subject Resources, a Reference Shelf (dictionaries, guides and directories) and Newspaper and Other News Sources.
A good equivalent for Central and Eastern Europe is Slavophilia <http://www.slavophilia.com> whose range extends from the Czech Republic up to and including Russia. Entry is either through broad subject areas (Computers and Internet, News and Media, Science, etc) or through the Country Focus section. Coverage of some countries is significantly better in some cases than others, but this is probably as much to do with the relative underdevelopment of the Internet in those places as any other factor. Slavophilia does at least provide a starting point for researchers which, given the nature of the Internet, inevitably leads to further links.
Taken altogether, the above resources should give useful information on many areas of life for just about every European country, whether or not it is an EU Member State or a candidate country, or not in the EU at all. The following chapters in this report will concentrate on resources for more specific areas of interest. However the general sources should always be kept in mind, as they constitute an enormous and well-organised treasury of information.
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