< SWITCH ME >
I believe it was Socrates who said, "I am not an Athenian nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world." This idea never seemed as true as it does today, in a globalised world and even more so living in a Europe where the different nations, citizens and states seem to be more intertwined than anywhere else in the world.
So what does it mean to be a citizen in today's Europe? What kind of actions, attitudes, attributes can you find behind such dense concepts? These are the questions which 21 young Europeans from across the continent tried to answer at the week-long seminar "Promoting Citizenship", organised by the Berlin based NGO Citizens of Europe. Germans, Romanians, Lithuanians, Georgians, Armenians and Belarusians – you couldn't find a more diverse group if you tried – attempted to come up with a definition of citizenship that fits one and all. Needless to say this proved to be an almost impossible task.
In Warsaw in mid-September, the German led "Future of Europe Group" announced its plans for the next political development of the European Union. Both in that moment and subsequent speeches, the driving force behind this development has not been the traditional "engine" of European integration, a now increasingly fraught Franco-German partnership, but a new coalition led most prominently by Germany and Poland. Whilst eurozone states remain embroiled in financial crisis management, it is Poland, a leading EU member without the euro, that increasingly takes the lead. Germany may hold the immediate financial future of Europe in its hands, but it is Poland that has both the interest and the opportunity to shape a new Europe.
Radosław Sikorski, Poland's foreign minister, made waves in a Berlin speech in late 2011 when he announced that "I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity." What is less reported is the systematic programme of European reforms that formed the core of his speech. At the end of the Polish Presidency of the European Council, he advocated a smaller, stronger European Commission, with economic oversight for national debt in agreement with parliament; a central role for the European Central Bank underpinning the eurozone; and a pan-European list of candidates for the European Parliament. Sikorksi spelled out more specifically what the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, has broadly spoken of when he describes the solution as "more Europe".
Poland has the raw economic interest to further embed itself within a European political framework. The common market has been a major driver in Poland's economic success. At a first glance, its astonishing that the eurozone crisis has not stifled Poland's growth, as around 60 per cent of Poland's imports and 80 per cent of her exports come from within the EU. Yet over a quarter of its trade is formed of bilateral agreements with Germany, a value of between 60 to 70 billion euros. As such, Poland has been largely insulated from the ongoing instability in the eurozone. Poland also benefits from receiving the highest net value of distribution of EU funds; 11.8 billion euros, from a 3.3-billion-euro investment. When the Commission votes on the 2013 budget, it will expect to lose some of its 7.8 billion in cohesion for growth and employment funds, but will nevertheless have enough influence within the Council to ensure it remains significantly better off through its European membership.
In March, E&M wrote an open letter to the Director General for Enlargement, protesting against an official promotional video which was supposed to encourage young people to support EU enlargement. We wrote the letter together with www.die-euros.de out of a sense of embarrassment: we felt that the video underlined racial stereotypes and implied that all threats to European unity come from the outside. The DG Enlargement said (and still says) that the video was meant to communicate with young people who don't already know a lot about the EU, and who will recognise and respond to references to video games and martial arts films.
You can read the response we received from Director General for Enlargement, Stefano Sannino, here.
So what should the DG Enlargement have spent its money on, instead of a glossy martial arts video? In his response, Mr Sannino invited us to give him our suggestions, saying: "tell us what you would like to know about EU enlargement and how you would like to receive the information. We will be happy to discuss your ideas together with you."
E&M Magazine is not affiliated with the European Commission, and nor is it our job to help the Commission with PR. But we asked our authors what they would have liked to see rather than the triumph of twelve identical women in yellow leotards. Here are a few of their ideas.
1. no need to bring a passport
For most of us, EU-membership does not mean the ability to defeat aggressive samurai-wielding men. It has concrete, everyday benefits, and that's what we want to hear more about. Currently, Ukrainians often have to wait hours before crossing the Polish border, for example. Why not create videos showing how easy it is to cross borders within the EU, or how consumer law helps keep trade secure and fair? A video could follow a group of young people interrailing around Europe, or going off to study in other European countries.
2. Tell us a true story
How have real young people benefited from the Common Agricultural Policy (even if they don't know it?) How have individuals been affected by consumer law or EU funding for local development? We'd like to hear some true stories. The American project StoryCorps has been collecting recordings of real life stories for years - the format is generally an interview in which people ask each other about their experiences. Why not ask a young person from a candidate country to interview someone from a member country about their everyday life, and how it has changed since their country joined the EU? Animated videos of interviews could be more fun to watch than classic head-shots.
The recent "Science: It's a Girl Thing" campaign by the Directorate General for Research and Innovation has shown that true stories work best: while the barely-relevant video of three girls dancing around in high heels created so much outrage that it had to be withdrawn, the interviews with role model scientists are a great way for young women to find out what scientists actually do all day and what a lab looks like!
Each week, two E&M editors share their favourite European reads. From blog posts to essays, it can be anything that amused them, worried them or got them thinking about Europe.
Juliane, Diaphragm Editor
Feminism: It's a girl thing
When I tell people that I'm a feminist, they often shrug and think I'm crazy. What's left for feminists to be mad about? Women can work in almost any kind of profession and the universities are filled with women. We've won the battle, some might say. Well, I beg to differ. The reason we still need feminists to speak up about the way things are is because there still is a problem with the attitude towards women. Unfortunately, it seems that the latest example of this has come from the EU - who apparently have not learned much from their last PR disaster. The video "Science - it's a girl thing" produced to attract more women to the natural sciences proves that we still have a long way to go in terms of changing attitudes towards women. Apparently, the EU thinks women need to believe that science is about pretty scientist girls and hot scientist guys in order to be attracted to it. The EU has withdrawn the video, but for me, the damage is already done. Think about how many people must have reviewed this video before it was released - and not one found it offensive? That's why I'm still a feminist. Read more about why it's a problem to think that girls can only be attracted to science when it involves lipstick here.
Brace yourselves: The festival season is coming
For me, summer equals festivals. Some people might not agree with me, but a dirty field, loud music, sleeping in tents and drinking beer all day spells happiness to me. I've already been to two festivals this year - Distortion Festival in Copenhagen (which The Rolling Stone magazine dubbed the European version of SXSW, the largest music festival in the world) and Northside Festival, the German Southside Festival's little sister in Aarhus, Denmark. In a few days, I'm going to Roskilde Festival for the 7th year in a row (hint: Keep an eye out on the blog...) - but there are dozens of other opportunities to enjoy the music, the beer and the beautiful people all over Europe. Here are a few options to choose from and be inspired by.
Tweet, tweet: I'm crazy
I love the idea. I really, really do. The Swedish government turns over a twitter account (@sweden) to different citizens each week, the idea being that the best people to showcase Swedish culture and mentality are the Swedes themselves. Well, it worked fine... Until Sonja got to make the calls. I'm not quite sure if it's for real or not, and some of the things are just outright offensive, but I can't help but think that her photoshopped picture of Freddie Mercury ogling a strawberry salad entitled "hungry gay with aids" is the most absurd (and possibly, if she actually means what's she tweeting, the most offensive) thing I've seen online in ages. Check out the story here.
Is there such a thing as "speaking European"? How does our identity as Europeans affect our everyday lives? And is there actually a difference between German Frikadellen and Turkish Köfte?
These are some of the questions we asked ourselves at our workshop in December - and now, we're launching a special section of the website to present you with our ideas. Among other things, you'll find a European cookbook, a comic strip about transnational love, and a guide to Berlin. Plus you'll discover how our participants see their personal futures in Europe - from Laura, who comes from Romania and is studying in the UK to become a journalist, to Sezin from Turkey, who says she knows the recipe for happiness... And if you're really serious about speaking European, you can get stuck into our European Dictionary or listen to our multilingual poem.
A very special part of the project is our film, What do you believe in?, a mini-documentary in which the participants tell us whether they believe in God, love, stories or laughter - and why.
So: happy reading! Does this understanding of Europe match your own experiences? Tell us with a comment and we can add it to our collection of speaking Europeans!
And look out for news of our next event in the not too distant future!
What if Europe had its own version of The West Wing? Could a thrilling fiction show like Sorkin's perhaps make the "behind the scenes" of the EU attractive and understandable for the average European?
When I asked my friends, the answers were all negative: "To begin with, you would need Europeans to speak the same language," or "you would need EU politics to be entertaining in itself," or my favourite, "that would be too American."
It's funny how whenever I come up with an idea based on something that is originally from the US, the argument against it is that it is "too American." After some months dealing with conversations about European identity, I keep noticing how we reject any inspiration from them, but how in fact, we define ourselves as opposed to them. That is, we take peace as our flagship, while the US has a wider acceptance of war; we are proud of our welfare system, as opposed to their "ferocious capitalism." Fine. But none of these will ever mean that we cannot learn from them in those fields they nail. Communication certainly being at the top.
The idea about Sorkin began fermenting last week, when I was disappointed in the lack of headlines about the Spanish general strike in pan-European media. If the issue was big enough for the Wall Street Journal to publish this interactive graphic narrating the struggles of the families in the crisis, why not for Euractiv? I wonder why foreign international media have more coverage of our stories than our own pan-European media.
Outlets like Euractiv or the European Voice mainly cover EU affairs, which does not necessarily mean European news. That is, the pan-European media we have developed so far is not really about Europe, but about the Brussels bubble. Like the institutions they cover, these media tend to be technical and target an elite, but not the general public which needs to be brought closer to the institutions.
While national media often fail to provide in-depth analysis because of their efforts to reach a general audience, pan-European outlets face the opposite problem. They have the right dose of technical and thoughtful analysis, but provide the citizenry with little ground for mutual understanding.
Ever heard of Council Regulation 36/2012? Wondering what 2011/782/CFSP refers to? Exactly. EU-Officials are struggling to foster people's interest in European affairs. Meanwhile, young people have become fully fledged Europeans on quite a different level.
The founders of InterRail got it right when they initiated the Europe-wide train pass that allows young people to travel conveniently across our continent. In 2012 they celebrate InterRail's 40th anniversary and still carry some 250 000 travellers each year. The idea is simple: Get young Europeans to explore their neighbouring countries. This is not only an affordable way to spend enjoyable holidays abroad, but it furthers the travellers' awareness of what binds people together in Europe. A conversation with a random foreigner tells you much more about a country than any political communiqué or travel guide. Exploring the similarities and differences between European countries through travelling is the most obvious way to find out what Europe really is. At the end of the day, a European identity can only grow from within the population, not through regulations and policies.
While governing politicians across Europe are pushing for further integration in order to overcome the debt crisis, the people are not necessarily so enthusiastic, as the success of Eurosceptic parties demonstrates (in the upcoming elections in France, Eurosceptic parties from the extreme right and the left are expected to gain about 30%). Worse, most European citizens know little or nothing about what is going on in Brussels. European representatives lead a shadowy existence, remote from the public. Apparently, the EU is an attempt at European governance without a people that is interested - without a "European people." This unbalanced situation does not exactly help to increase support for the European project.
European leaders have agreed to go forward with a new round of unilateral sanctions, in which the EU would ban oil imports from Iran. Instead of actually imposing these sanctions however, the EU should threaten to impose them, using them as a "stick" to bring about negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme.
In the French daily Le Figaro, French foreign minister Allain Juppé announced the result of the latest EU deliberations over sanctions against Iran: "On 30 January," he said, "the Europeans will hopefully decide on an oil embargo." The debate about banning oil imports from Iran is not new, in fact it emerged as soon as it was clear that the initial sanctions imposed vis-à-vis Iran were rather toothless. The new sanctions were discussed after the latest IAEA report contained stronger-than-usual language about the programme, accusing Iran of having had a nuclear weapons programme until at least 2003, and carrying out experiments more recently. A European oil embargo is likely to hit Iran's economy hard, as European states are second only to China in importing crude oil from Iran. Greece, Italy and Spain, are arguably the three hardest-hit states in the sovereign debt crisis and are also the biggest importers of Iranian oil. Implementing the ban would hit these states the hardest.
Publicly Iran states that this decision will not have a severe impact on its economy. Yet it comes at a time of heightened tensions, after a US spy drone crashed or was brought down by Iranian forces who later launched repeated and highly visible manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf. Therefore, when the 1st Iranian Vice President Reza Rahimi threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the narrowest point in the Persian Gulf, many observers immediately feared a further escalation, with an oil price uptick of more than 2%. However, it is unclear whether Iran would actually be capable of or even willing to close the Strait for a significant amount of time. Whereas technically, it would not be very hard for Iran to do so, holding it would be considerably harder, especially with the United States threatening retaliation. Apart from a potential military escalation with the United States, the move would be suicidal for Iran's economy. Not only 35% of the global seaborne shipments of oil pass through the strait, but the Iranian government gets 60% of its revenue from oil exports, which have to pass the strait as well.
There was a very good point in reaction to my last post, on a no-fly zone in Libya, arguing that the West could not claim to be the moral arbiters for the world. Even though this is not entirely what I aimed at, there are plenty of examples to support this comment. Ivory Coast, a former colony of France, is just the latest example.
Despite regaining some media attention at the moment, the Ivory Coast has been largely ignored since the election last year. The former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara won the elections in a process that the UN called "free and fair" and is internationally recognised as president of Ivory Coast, but incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refuses to leave office. Reports now claim that supporters of Gbagbo shot at protesters with live ammunition, killing hundreds, maybe up to 1,000 since the elections took place in December.
Unlike Libya's case, which is being broadcast 24 hours a day, Ivory Coast's position is considerably weaker. If you consider it's geopolitical position in comparison to Libya, it does seem to make a difference whether your main export product is cocoa or oil, (and possibly illegal migrants). It may not be surprising then that despite trade sanctions against two Ivorian ports, the European response has been limited to 'concern' over escalating violence (Germany) or hollow calls to the UN to investigate the violence (France). As in the wider Middle East, Europe has once again missed the opportunity to make a bold statement in promoting democracy and liberal values.
The International Crisis Group warns that the rapidly worsening violence "is a serious threat to peace and stability in West Africa" and that the African community needs to prevent an "all-out war". Rather than supporting African attempts to settle this situation, Europe shrinks from pushing this topic firmly onto the international agenda. The time in which Europe can (re-) claim moral righteousness has once again moved further away.
Turkey’s possible membership in the EU has caused widespread discussions across Europe. Whilst there are good reasons for the EU to say "hayir" (no) to Turkish membership at the moment, saying no on the basis of cultural differences, as seems to be happening now, does not only go against fundamental European principles but will create an unprecedented distance between Turkey and the EU.
Despite the fact that Turkey’s economy is seeing double digit growth, has a higher per capita income than Romania and Bulgaria, and ranks better in risk assessments than Italy and 10 other European states, Turkey’s democracy has still got a long way to go before it could be regarded as consolidated. On the one hand, of course, Turkey still has to deliver on many internal issues. The controversial article 301 that prohibits insulting the Turkish state has caused severe concern for press freedom. As journalists privately admit, they impose self-restraint because of fear over lengthy court cases and possible imprisonment for 5+ years.
Additionally, human rights and rights for minorities still pose challenges. The shaky state of Turkish democracy is further underlined by the troubled opposition that could indulgently be described as divided and lacking a clear plan, as well as the almost-ban of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by the constitutional court over violating the secular principle of the Turkish state. If just one more judge had voted to ban the AKP, Turkey would have slipped into a crisis with an unforeseeable future for Turkish democracy.