Some theoretical thoughts and talks about Europe and the EU
After the blog about the places I will visit, I should also provide you with some of my thoughts about the research that I’ll do on my trip. Why am I going here and what do I plan to bring home? The idea of making a trip through Eastern Europe has been following me for years. When all my friends started travelling, I always stayed home. Knowing that after my studies I was going to travel and benefit from the knowledge that I gained during my studies. I did not know back then, that my topic of studies was going to be so highly debated at the moment of my trip, making my project much more relevant and interesting.
‘Primetime for European related discussions, so for me.’
At the moment it is primetime for everyone interested in Europe and the EU. With the threat of Russia, Brexit, the Solidarity crisis, Populism, the backlash of the crisis, etcetera, with on the background the running up to the European Parliament elections. It is time to look for new answers and solutions to problems that are related to each other. In order to save the EU and the idea of a peaceful and united Europe, we need to get to the bottom of the malfunctions causing these problems.
The weekend before my departure, De Balie and Dutchculture organized the second edition of the Forum for European culture: Act for Democracy. We went to see one of the most interesting thinker about the EU at the moment, Ulrike Guerot in debate with Jan-Werner Muller and Slawomir Sierakowski about Populism in the EU and Europe. There is obviously a lot that they had to say about the problems with populism, but one that I would like to pick out is that we may not realize enough that populism is structurally working against the EU as it has a strong link with Nationalism. The governments of the states still have an enormous power and influence within the EU. If the governments of the states turn into the populist direction, the project of the EU will be damaged. Guerot, Muller and Sierakowski all agreed that populism damages democracy, liberalism and constructs nationalism and protectionism. At their turn Nationalism and protectionism are both deconstructive in the process of reforming the EU into a widely supported project.
‘Are you solidair?’
During my conversation with Emilia Palonen, professor at the Helsinki University, we talked about the solidarity crisis and populism as reasons for the stagnation in the EU politics. The project of the EU started out of mostly economic reasons, and not out of solidarity. The construction of the EU is therefore not build to foster solidarity. And as we are tearing down our national welfare states because of austerity reasons, we are less likely to have solidarity on the international EU level. She pointed out that we need a new narrative so we can build a new form of solidarity between the North and the South. This can be the narrative focusing on climate change. Though as the South is dealing with refugees, this may not be the narrative that will root there. Another option is to focus on the local and regional actors and stimulate cooperation. If we manage to bring together different actors of local democracy all over Europe they can exchange knowledge and experiences, become more efficient in their problem solving and transferring knowledge. By meeting people from other area’s and by exchanging experiences, a form of identification and a European public sphere is also stimulated. As the lack of solidarity is not only due to protectionism and nationalism it is also combined with identity politics and the missing of a functioning European public sphere. When Emilia Palonen talked further, she highlighted how distant the EU feels and how unreachable it is for local entrepreneurs and citizens. The EU is building up walls not only around the EU geographically, but also on the inside. There is almost no control on the politicians working for the EU. How can the public know what is going on and how the EU functions if they are not educated and there are almost no journalists reporting about it? There is a serious lack of open and non-elite discussion on the EU within Europe.
At the moment there is no incentive for the nationstates to change this situation and stimulate the knowledge and the European public sphere. They use the lack of knowledge to make the EU their scapegoat for national problems and mistakes. The lack of journalistic reports makes that the second truth told national by the politicians, is never checked. We simply do not really know how decisions are made, how laws have come about and how new regulation has come to exist.
This is the time that I started to look for Europe, culturally, geographically and politically. My stories will be marked by this and so I hope to contribute my part to the European public sphere. Ulrike Guerot described the process very well. We are at a moment in time where we have to rethink our systems, our world. And while we are doing this, everyone wants to have a say. All these stories, views, perspectives have to twirl and in the end we will find a new system to organize our world in.
I could go on and on about amazing stories that I have studied for so many years, about nationalism, wars, symbols, revolutions, maps and so on. And I will go on about these stories in my blog. I hope that these stories get contested, put out of context, turned around and added with much more insights. I hope to get back with a much broader and stronger understanding of our region and what Europe actually binds. The title of the project highlights this search, because the first question asked during European Studies is, Where is Europe? Though this is mostly meant geographically, it is also interesting to ask the question culturally. For both these question it is important to never expect a straight forward answer or an answer at all.