Julia Langbein: “The pandemic underlines the need for an inter- and even transdisciplinary perspective”


Julia Langbein studies how the EU shapes room for development in its three peripheries. In times of crisis, such as Covid-19, there are growing calls for a stronger, more active role for both the European Union and domestic states in promoting economic development.

Which countries and which topic does your current research focus on?

In a current research project, I study how the EU shapes room for development in its three peripheries: the less developed Southern and Eastern EU member states and the neighbouring states outside the EU. I investigate how different EU integration strategies shape the capacities of states to successfully insert their economies in the regional market and upgrade the position of their industries in European value chains.

In another project, I study how market integration with the EU affects regime (in)stability in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. I want to find out whether market integration helps to broaden access to economic resources for a diverse group of economic actors representing different sizes of firms and sectors, or whether trade liberalisation and assistance help to consolidate the power position of rent-seeking elites.

What impact does the pandemic currently have on your work?

A couple of face-to-face events, which I wanted to use for disseminating research findings from recent and ongoing projects, are now taking place in the form of webinars or podcasts. The greater outreach of these virtual formats and their climate-friendliness are certainly an advantage. At the same time, my impression is that the exchange with the audience is somewhat more formalized and less interactive in a virtual setting. On a more personal note, I am trying to make the best of working from home, home schooling and home cooking but it is certainly a challenge.

How has Covid-19 influenced your research topic / the objective of your research?

I started my research on the effect of EU integration strategies on room for development in peripheral economies after strong political forces from countries like Hungary, Poland and Greece had begun to challenge the claim that  market integration will benefit all participating countries. Even in the scholarly literature, the dominating view is that market integration distributes gains and losses unevenly among participating countries and has the uniform effect of decreasing the room for development, particularly in peripheral economies. In times of crisis, such as Covid-19, there are growing calls for a stronger, more active role for both the European Union and domestic states in promoting economic development. So this debate is here to stay.

On a related note, it will be important to analyse how the call for building inclusive and resilient economies in the three associated Eastern Partnership countries Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine can be matched with the means and resources the EU has at its disposal during Covid-19.

In your view, what are the most important long-term effects of Covid-19 in your region?

The economic and social consequences of the pandemic are devastating. The three associated countries Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will find it even more difficult to attract much-needed domestic and foreign investment. Moreover, the EU faced many challenges even before Covid-19, both internally and externally. The pandemic will further reduce its capacity to support these countries in making full use of the developmental opportunities offered by the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs). Achieving the long-term objective of inclusive and resilient economies in the associated countries is thus likely to become an even more distant objective in the current context. Consequently, social inequalities will further increase and the chances of weakening oligarchic structures in those countries are likely to diminish. To what extent these developments will increase the attractiveness of integration strategies pursued by Russia or China remains to be seen.

Looking at the social sciences, how will the experience of the pandemic change how research is done in general?

The pandemic underlines the need to look at research problems from an inter- and even transdisciplinary perspective. Thinking about my own research topics, the pandemic reveals the vulnerability of global value chains (GVCs) ranging from the production of automobiles to food or pharmaceutical products. In order to understand how existing GVCs can be restructured in an economically and ecologically sustainable way, we need insights from different disciplines within the social sciences, engineering but also from business representatives, to name a few.

Julia Langbein is a senior researcher at ZOiS and leads the research cluster ‘Political economy and integration’.