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"Mild mannered European civil servant by day, superhero, erm, at weekends and at other times on request..." He is Captain Europe, an anonymous employee of the European institutions whose mission is to lift European citizens' spirits during these hard times, while fighting the mortal enemies that are eurosceptics.
It all began back in 2008, when this civil servant assembled all the pieces of a suit that would become his part-time uniform for the next four years… and those to come. Carrying a European flag as his cape and the 12 golden stars of the European flag glued on the torso of a tight blue suit, he went to a costume party. It was the first day of many as a superhero.
"A colleague was particularly pleased with some work I did, so I sent him a picture of myself in costume and told him to think of me as his superhero. The upshot was that I was invited to take part in Europe Day," he explains. A successful experiment, Captain Europe became a fixed attraction in these celebrations, and his phenomenon went viral after, of course, coming up on Facebook and Twitter. "I got so many appearances that I have just had to order a new suit," he says.
Superpowers and Twitter
On the day that the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize, Captain Europe appeared on the Place du Luxembourg, the favourite square for celebrations in the bubble, passing on his enthusiasm to fellow eurofans as well as passers-by.
When you think about institutional Brussels, you picture suited up adults carrying a suitcase on their way to work. Cheerful kids are harder to imagine in the grey bureaucratic bubble that many have built in their minds, but evidently, the so-called eurocrats have children too, and nurseries and schools also have a place in the city's institutional life.
The European School, or Schola Europaea, stands out among all the educational options provided to EU officials and workers because of its initiative to promote European citizenship and common values among the students. Created in Luxembourg in 1953, the project tried to bring together kids from different mother tongues and nationalities, an educational experiment supported by the Coal and Steel Community of the time. Today, there are 12 schools spread across Europe, all financed by member states, and all with the following words sealed in the foundation stones of each building:
"Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe."
Matilda Sevón, a 31-year-old Finn living in Brussels, arrived at the school when she was 15, after her father got a job in the Parliament. Today, looking back at the statement, she doesn't feel it quite fits her situation. "I think of other Europeans as much closer to me than I did before going to the European School, but in some ways I have also become more fond of my own country," she says.
Imagine Europe in ten, thirty, fifty years. Will we ever be able to build a European identity or will Europe turn into one large museum? Leire Ariz investigates what young Europeans in Brussels have to say about Slavenka Drakulić’s predictions for the old continent.
Carmen Păun is a volunteer for the European Youth Press in Brussels. Like many of the young people in the bubble, she came from Romania to study in a masters programme, and after several internships, settled for a job. She has a German friend of Chinese origin who once told her jokingly: "China can turn Europe into a parking lot."
Museums are for the past
It is a similar statement to that made by journalist Slavenka Drakulić, who was interviewed in E&M's latest issue. Her vision of Europe's future suited that of a theme park. "The continent will be flooded with tourists, mostly from the east, who look at the Old Continent as we now look at Babylon."
Păun is sceptical about the EU's future the way we know it, but doesn't believe Europe will be reduced to a tourist attraction. "Did Russia become an iconic park for communism? Not really," she says.
In general, people in Brussels tend to disagree with pessimistic views about Europe's coming years. It may be because people who come here usually do so because they are convinced Europeanists, or because many have academic backgrounds related to the EU, or simply because their work future is often closely related to that of the continent.
Carmen, Jeremy, Francesco, Mourad and Kaltrina - all five of the bubble-inhabitants I spoke to had amendments to make to Drakulić's prediction. Jeremy, a Belgian journalist, put it in a way that summed it up: "museums are for the past! European identity is in its childhood."
In 1760, British citizens from the Thirteen Colonies coined the slogan: "No taxation without representation." They were unhappy with the economic measures implemented by their Parliament without having a political voice in return. Are European citizens echoing this message today?
Brussels seems to have interpreted the latest election results in Greece, France and Northern Westphalia as a rejection of austerity. But even if the economy remains the main concern, I believe the main message to be heard is political.
After all, if the economy was the only electoral key and we took votes as a referendum for or against austerity, would the massive voting of conservatives in Spain have meant that citizens supported the austerity measures later implemented? Hardly believable considering that one of PP's main campaign videos (and promises) claimed: "jobs are the priority."
This being the case, is there any common message being sent by these voters in Greece, France, Germany, Spain and other countries? It is general discontent. On the one hand, for fake promises on the national level, and on the other, because EU officials have failed to make citizens understand the need for austerity. The result? A quasi revival of the years of enlightened despotism, where "everything is for the people, but without the people."