Is this really the end of the Erasmus Programme in the United Kingdom?

By Gianluca Michieletto

It has been almost five years since my first taste of Erasmus experience in Brighton, United Kingdom. It was a crisp mid-September morning when I flew from “my” Venice to London Gatwick with one of the many flights that connect the two European cities. I was very excited and scared at the same time, trying to imagine how my life would change from that point on. The year in Brighton did not represent my first study-abroad experience, since I had already enjoyed several short language courses in Northern Ireland and England. However, this represented the first long-term experience away from my family and my country, and, for an average Italian youngster, it is never easy to leave your “mamma” and move abroad (I am sure that my Italian fellow students would agree with me on this). Yet, I could have never imagined that Erasmus changed myself and my life so much in such a positive way.

Even though it was only five years ago (2015), things have drastically changed: I was a degreeless 18-year-old boy, my English and life skills were the opposite of flawless, and Brexit had not happened yet. 

On January 9th, 2020, British MPs voted against the possibility of the United Kingdom to continue benefiting a full membership of the Erasmus programme after Brexit (344 to 254 votes). Proposed by the opposition, the “New Clause 10” would have in fact assured the participation of the United Kingdom also for the cycle 2021-2027.

Even though the government has denied the possibility to fully abandon the programme, the decision represents a crystal-clear stance against the EU. As reported by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, in fact, different conservative MPs have argued that the decision was taken in order “not to have their hands tied in the next negotiates with the EU”.[1] For the moment, the government and the European Union claimed that funds for the upcoming year are secured and will be honoured, as well as the two-year scholarships. After the transition period, however, it is still not clear what is going to happen.

Yet, the United Kingdom would not represent the first country outside the Union to benefit of the Erasmus programme, since countries like Norway, Turkey and Iceland are called “programme members”’ and fully participate in the programme.[2] It must be mentioned, however, that the new British government’s plan aims at cutting all the old relationships with the EU, trying to maintain only economic ties. This currently leaves the UK with only one option: leaving the Erasmus+ Programme. Moreover, as the BBC reported, even though the United Kingdom wanted to renegotiate the terms and re-enter the Erasmus programme, it would not happen until the beginning of the next cycle,[3] meaning 2027.

Thus, there is a not-so-remote possibility that British universities would not benefit from the programme for almost a decade, consequently denying several thousands of students the possibility to enjoy this huge opportunity. At the same time, also students from other EU member states would have more difficulties applying to British universities compared to their previous “colleagues”, since the Prime Minister Boris Johnson will probably not be soft on immigration policies. Moreover, in the case of a “no-deal”, British universities would lose their appeal in the European university market, since European students would be forced to pay higher tuition fees. Indeed, the current agreement between the EU and Westminster “safeguards” member states’ students with a privileged status, thus paying the same tuition fees as British citizens.

On this line, at the beginning of 2019, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) claimed that EU students have been extremely important in British universities, accounting 5% and 8% respectively at the undergraduate and postgraduate level in 2017.[4] In the same year, moreover, it must be argued that 16.561 UK students enjoyed their semester or year abroad through Erasmus funds, while 31.727 students from other European countries studied in British universities.[5] Since then, the number of incoming and outgoing students have continuously increased.

The decision of the United Kingdom of not renewing the Erasmus+ agreements would deprive students of the possibility to live in another country, to integrate in another culture, to learn a new language, as well as meeting new people and experiencing unforgettable adventures. As the majority of Erasmus students argue, in fact, the Erasmus year represents the best year of their lives and a non-renewal would symbolize only a theft to future generations. Once again, as it occurred in the Brexit election, it is older generations, who never experienced such an opportunity, to decide for our (I also include myself) future.[6]

As already mentioned in the introduction, I consider my Erasmus year in Brighton one of the most important experiences of my life, since it somehow matured me and shaped who I am today. Erasmus is in fact not only responsible for the development of peculiar abilities needed in the university and work environment, but it is essential in the growth of personal skills and values. Indeed, what I did not tell you in the beginning is that the Erasmus experience enlightened my path of life. Some people could argue that it represents a stupid and naive sentence to say, but I am who I am today thanks to Erasmus and all its related experiences.

After my year abroad, in fact, my unconditional support for the European Union, its values and its possibilities, made me understand what I wanted to do after finishing my bachelor’s degree. In 2018, I was lucky enough to enrol in the Euroculture Programme, an Erasmus Mundus Master which focuses on European politics, culture and history. For those who may not know, Erasmus Mundus Masters are EU funded programmes, which give students the possibility to earn a double degree by studying in different countries. As for myself, I studied in Göttingen (Germany), Bilbao (Spain) and Indianapolis (USA).

After explaining my story and my points of view, I feel in the position to state that a possible agreement of the UK to leave the Erasmus Programme could only be considered catastrophic. Catastrophic, not as much for the United Kingdom and the European Union as political entities, but to their future students, who could not benefit from similar opportunities. However, while member states’ future students would continue to benefit from the programme by choosing other university destinations, British students would have fewer opportunities to study abroad, thus being sealed inside their own bubble.

Picture: Dunk, Banksy does Brexit (detail), Flickr

Sources:

Statista Research Department, “Brexit votes in the United Kingdom by age”, Statista, August 9, 2019. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/520954/brexit-votes-by-age/

Bieber, Hannah. “Brexit and the generation that was robbed”, The Euroculturer, October 13, 2019. Available at: https://euroculturer.eu/2019/10/13/brexit-and-the-generation-that-was-robbed/

Cosslett, Rhiannon Lucy. “Thanks to Erasmus programme, my small world grew big”, The Guardian, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/09/erasmus-programme-year-studying-europe

Adams, Richard. “UK ‘committed’ to maintaining Erasmus+ exchange scheme”, The Guardian, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jan/09/uk-committed-to-maintaining-erasmus-exchange-scheme

Tommasetta, Lara.”Brexit, il Regno Unito vota per abbandonare il programma Erasmus. Ma è davvero un addio?”, TPI News, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.tpi.it/esteri/brexit-regno-unito-addio-erasmus-20200109525875/

Guerrera, Antonello. “Brexit, Londra non conferma l’Erasmus: Eventuale accordo andrà rinegoziato”, La Repubblica, 9th January 2020. Available at: https://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2020/01/09/news/brexit_il_regno_unito_dice_addio_all_erasmus-245321403/

Reality Check Team, “Erasmus: What could happen to scheme after Brexit”, BBC News, 9th January 2020. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-47293927

To have more information, look also at: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/about/brexit_en

[1] Antonello Guerrera, “Brexit, Londra non conferma l’Erasmus: Eventuale accordo andrà rinegoziato”, La Repubblica, January 9,2020

[2] Reality Check Team, “Erasmus: What could happen to scheme after Brexit”, BBC News, January 9, 2020

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hannah Bieber, “Brexit and the generation that was robbed”, The Euroculturer, October 13, 2019

[5] Ibid.

[6] Statista Research Department, “Brexit votes in the United Kingdom by age”, Statista, August 9, 2019

The shock of a nation: The avalanche of Erfurt

By Guilherme Becker

In the mountains of Thüringen, the lack of snow points to a mild winter. On the ground floor of its capital Erfurt, however, an avalanche has been spread and felt all over Germany. For the first time a far-right populist party has helped electing a governor. At first, it may not look so serious, but in Germany it has been considered a completely unexpected, surprising, and worrisome taboo breaking. A blast that is hurting the political spectrum nation-wide.

What a time to be in Erfurt, from a journalistic point of view. When I started my internship at Thüringen Allgemeine, I could not imagine that I would live in such a vivid and turbulent period. Not at all. As I am currently working for the biggest newspaper of the state, in its capital city, I would like to explain what went on and what might go on regarding the state parliament leader election, its effects and the great repercussion that led even chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) to respond directly from South Africa on February 6th.

Some weeks ago I spent the whole Friday (31.01) hanging out, watching sessions, interviews and keeping my eyes close to the work of the reporters at Thüringen Parliament. It is a kind of experience that fits really well into a journalist and Euroculture student’s life. I even got time for a joke when walking through the corridor reserved for politicians from far-right populist party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland/Alternative for Germany), well known for its xenophobic, racist and anti-immigration policies. “Am I allowed to be here? You know, I am a foreigner…”, I asked a journalist. He laughed and promptly joked back: “Yes, true, but you have German blood… So don’t worry…” We all laughed.

The time for jokes ended soon after, precisely on Wednesday (05.02), when the election of the new Thüringen governor was about to happen. The predictions and expectations were all set for the reelection of leftist Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke). But then the most unlikely scenario led to the election of centrist-liberal candidate Thomas Kemmerich (FDP), at the last minute. Unexpectedly, instead of voting for their own candidate, AfD politicians decided to support Kemmerich to defeat the left. That is not the only problem: CDU (conservative right-wing) also supported Kemmerich, which means that two traditionally moderate parties made an unpredictable – if not unbelievable – “connection” with far-right extremists. A complete shock for Germany.

The impact was so huge that protests erupted – and keep happening – not only in Erfurt, but in many other cities of Germany. In the capital of Thüringen public transport was highly affected with delays not only on that Wednesday, but also on the following days given the demonstrations that followed the election.

Then on Thursday (06.02), only one day and 34 minutes after the election, the then newly-elected governor Kemmerich announced his resignation. On Monday (10.02) Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned the CDU leadership. Therefore, she will not run next year in the national election as a possible substitute for Merkel. Some days earlier, Merkel had fired Christian Hirte, then minister for former East German states and secretary of state for the economy and energy. The reason? He greeted Kemmerich’s election on Twitter. One avalanche after another.

But why? Why so much anger and outrage over a vote? Well, let’s start from the beginning.

Thüringen state parliament is made up of six different parties: Die Linke (29 seats), followed by AfD (22), CDU (Christian Democratic Union, Angela Merkel’s party, conservative right, 21 seats), SPD (Social Democratic Party, socialist left-wing, 8), Grüne (environmentalist left-wing, 5) and FDP (Liberal Democratic Party, liberal centre-right, also 5).

The governor election is indirect. Therefore it is necessary to have a majority through the seats to elect the governor – and then have a future majority on approval or rejection of projects and laws. National conservative and liberal centre-right headquarters parties, such as CDU and FDP, have always claimed and made clear that any “connection” – even informal alliances – with AfD was not allowed and should not happen at all. But it did happen. Usually AfD does not give and does not get any support to or from any party. This time, though, they decided to vote for FDP instead of voting for their own candidate. A completely unexpected political trick.

I see this scenario as a sign that two traditional parties, by accepting AfD support – even not being allowed to do that -, may be ignoring national premises and acting independently to come to power. The point is that the parties’ headquarters strongly condemned the election primarily arguing that Kemmerich should not have accepted the outcome of it. But he accepted, and only later on decided to resign after seeing the pressure and the protests coming from all sides. CDU’s more conservative wings have already flirted with the possibility of approaching AfD. For the most part, however, it has been avoided at all. Moreover, the result of this election might be a message that AfD is gradually getting closer to the “political game” and attempting to gain power under any circumstances.

The reason for the shock in Germany is obvious: parties, politicians and civil society from all political backgrounds abominate the possibility of the far-right approaching power. They voted for and elected politicians precisely to not do what they just have done. In their minds, it is something completely unacceptable which I definitely agree with. When traditional right-wing and centre-right parties (such as the CDU and the FDP) accept AfD’s support, the ideology fades away, and the subsequent message is that what really matters is to come to power. A great offense, so to say.

Another great concern is that this “connection” among these parties leads people to question and consequently disregard even more the traditional parties, which in the last elections have significantly lost votes to extremists. As Kemmerich resigns and a new election is blinking, maybe CDU, for example, will connect to Die Linke, which, in my point of view, can make the electorate migrate even more to the extremists, namely AfD. In other words, it all means that there might be a huge loss of confidence in traditional parties and a vote of confidence for extremists.

The rise of AfD in Thüringen might have come along through many reasons, such as a strong conservatism, but also from some trauma left by DDR, and some subsequent economic reasons. Estearn German states have never got as industrialized as their Western neighbours, for instance. A study launched two weeks ago, for example, pointed out that only 22% of Eastern Germans are completely satisfied with democracy. The number is almost half of the 40% that said being satisfied with it in former Western German states.

At the same time, I see Die Linke as the current majority more as a result of the so-called utilitarian vote, in order to avoid a majority for AfD, although the region remains a traditionally working-class region, what might have led part of the electorate to migrate to the extremes, be right or left.

I do not think that I need to explain the concepts and the political agenda preached by AfD. It is actually more than only conservative. It is racist and xenophobic. One need only to google Björn Höcke and will certainly soon realise what I am talking about.

In the end, what happened last week in Erfurt was actually a strong and unprecedented taboo breaking. Germans are aware of the weight of their own history. They know that it was in Thüringen that the country had the first state government with the involvement of the Nazis. Incidentally, it was also in February, 80 years ago, that Hitler’s party gained substantial power. In Erfurt. In Thüringen. That was the first taboo breaking that later led Europe to the ruins, and Germany to collapse. Hopefully a majority of people are not in the mood to repeat some obvious and terrible mistakes.

Picture: Links Unten Göttingen / Flickr

Brexit and the generation that was robbed

By Hannah Bieber

Starting my first semester in Uppsala, Sweden, I have encountered a lot of students who came from the United Kingdom to do their Erasmus+ year abroad. We discussed extensively about Brexit and the uncertainties that currently hang over their head. These young British citizens who may be the last to enjoy the Erasmus+ experience as we know it today, have made me realize that students may be the first to suffer the consequences of Brexit.

Brexit and the higher education system

No one knows for sure what consequences a ‘no-deal’ Brexit will have on the British – and European – higher education system. 

First of all, British universities may become less attractive for students from the European Union (EU) countries. In January 2019, the Higher Education Statistic Agency (HESA) published a bulletin which showed that, in the year 2017/2018, 5% of the undergraduate students in the United Kingdom came from EU member states. At a masters level, EU students accounted for 8% of the total of postgraduates. However, previous reports reveal that since the referendum, Britain has experienced a slight but significant drop in the number of EU students enrolled in its universities.

In addition, in the event of a ‘no-deal’, EU students would lose their privileged status. Indeed, as fellow European citizens, they had to pay the same tuition fees as other British students – while international students from outside the EU had to pay twice the price. When Britain leaves the Union, no one knows for sure if EU students will still benefit from this status. If it is not the case, many could be discouraged from turning to the United Kingdom for their studies, as argues a ‘No-Deal Briefing’ published by a consortium of 136 Universities in August 2019.

On the other hand, the question of residence permits might also make British universities less attractive. The government has already promised that, even in the event of a ‘no-deal’, EU students would be able to remain in the country for up to three years. But for these universities, this is not enough. Longer curriculums, such as Bachelors with a year abroad, some Scottish Bachelor and PhD last longer than three years. What would happen to these students? Universities demand more efforts from the government in this respect.

Finally, what makes the United Kingdom such an attractive place for students is the quality of education, greatly due to the high level of research. But this has been reached partly thanks to EU funding, such as the European Research Council (ERC) and Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA), as the briefing argues. Without these funds, British research might be hindered and the universities could become less competitive than others in Europe and the world. In an article published in March 2019, the International Students House also pointed out that students were a very benefitting immigration on many levels. Thus, the United Kingdom higher education system has a lot to loose in the event of a ‘no-deal’.

What about Erasmus+?

On March 27, 2019, the European Parliament adopted a regulation to ensure that British students who had started their year abroad could still get their grant even after Brexit and even in the case no deal was reached. Thus, these students are assured to get their mobility grant – on which their entire mobility relies for most of them. But it will not be possible for students to apply for the Erasmus+ grant after Brexit. If their mobility starts after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union, they will not be benefiting from the Erasmus+ program. This could keep many of them from doing a year abroad.

Another downside is the question of residence permits. In countries like Sweden, international students from outside the European Union have to apply for a visa in order to live and study there. These administrative measures make the mobility more complicated prior to the departure, it can also be a drawback for many students in the future.

In February 2019, Universities UK launched a #supportstudyabroad campaign to demand financial support from the government for international mobilities. Apart from the human and personal journey one experiences when they study abroad, this campaign highlighted the fact that students who have spent time studying abroad are more likely to get a first-class degree and have higher chances of getting hired at the end of their studies. In the last three years, British universities have been increasingly pressuring the British government to allot funds that would allow students to do a year abroad, even in the event of a ‘no-deal’, which would mean the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Erasmus+ program. The recent reports and briefings have been requesting a ‘full-funded replacement scheme to Erasmus+’ to allow students who are supposed to go abroad during their degree to do so. But will this be enough?

The generation that was robbed

What particularly struck me when I met British students here in Uppsala and talked about Brexit is that they did not recognize themselves and their country in this situation. This generation of young people has been growing up in a Europe where they could fly and stay anywhere without residence permits, where they could feel themselves both British and Scottish and European. In a book published in 2019 called Youthquake 2017: The Rise of Young Cosmopolitans in Britain, James Sloam and Matt Henn observed that 80% of the full-time students voted to remain in the European Union. According to the authors, this category of people is more open to cosmopolitanism, mobility and cultural exchanges. In August 2018, the BBC News published a survey that revealed that over 80% of the people aged 18-24 would vote to remain in the European Union if a new referendum was launched. 

The problem is that, at the time of the referendum, most of the people who are now on exchange and did not have the right to vote. This is the frustration that many of those I encountered have manifested. They feel robbed and have also chosen to do a year abroad because they knew that they might be one of the last generations of British Erasmus+ students. This is not to mention that some of the Scottish and Northern Irish think that, since their region voted to remain, it is unfair that they have to suffer of the consequences of the Brexit. 

Many of them also evocated the fact that their last two Prime Ministers – Theresa May and Boris Johnson – had not accessed their position after democratic elections. But more than that, what is particularly difficult for these students right now is the uncertainty. Brexit should have happened in March 2019 and ever since, the situation seems to only get more and more complicated every day. These students do not know if they will have to apply for a residence permit any time soon, or what repercussions a ‘no-deal’ Brexit could have on their year abroad. They are powerless, waiting for a government which they feel does not represent them any more to make decisions that might have a tremendous impact on their life.

No one knows when Brexit is actually going to happen, nor how it will happen. Lately, the British government has been heading towards a ‘no-deal’, but this process is so long and complicated that we may not see the end of it any time soon. However, one thing is certain: these young British citizens will keep on carrying the European dreams and ideas – of freedom, mobility and exchange. Whether they transmit them to the next generations is now up to us all.

Crossing the street in the Netherlands or “how transportation changes the manner we live the city”

By Richard Blais

Crossing the street in the Netherlands for the first time is a sort of adventure. You get closer to the road in a shy manner, you prepare to step and cross it, and a bicycle passes. Then a second one and a third and you lose track. You get patient, and when finally the right moment arrives another bicycle passes again, and a second and then a third. It is an endless cycle. Dutch people have the reputation of being born on wheels, and after a semester in Groningen I can testify that this assumption is below reality.

After a year in Bordeaux, a city where cycling became a very common practice, I assumed the situation in Groningen would be extremely similar. A terribly wrong and underestimating assumption, resulting probably of the famous French arrogance. It was when I first arrived in front of the Rijksuniversiteit, the University of Groningen, that I realised my mistake. If we talk of a park for bicycles, the Dutch style consists in long thickets made of bicycle, where gears, chains and handlebars replace the branches. A park found in all circumstances in front of the main building of the university, despite the (usual) rain and wind. A true anecdote: some days, I have spent more time looking for my bike than riding it to university.

Moving around in a Dutch city is to experience a specific setting seemingly designed for bicycles. With the omnipresence of cycling tracks and a – almost – disappearance of any ground elevation, it seems that the Netherlands has been constructed specifically for the two-wheelers. After I rented my bike in this city I noticed how much my daily life has changed for the better and I became an immediate lobbyist for this means of transportation around me arguing against the few unfortunate friends who had not been touched by the holy (dynamo) light. Indeed, there is always a cycling track for the cyclist, either on the side of the road, or on a separated portion. They have their own circulation-lights, and the notions of one-way streets do not apply to the person riding a bike. Reflecting on this, I asked myself the following question: are the cities built around a means of transportation? 

Thinking of it, means of transportation are part of the experience of a city. Modern (Northern) American cities have been conceived in a manner which makes the car essential to daily life. The capital city of Bolivia, La Paz has set a system of urban cable-cars, particularly relevant for a city standing 3,000 meters above sea-level [1]. Moving in a city is part of its experience. The German historian Hartmut Kaelbe, reflecting on common elements which were constituting this elusive European identity we try to grasp in this master have noticed that the scale of the European cities could be a possible element of it, as it is possible to just “walk” in them.

To study the favoured mode of transportation in a city is to study society itself. Looking at the 20th century, and consequently the boom of the urban growth in Western society helps at understanding the societal changes and how they are reflected in the conception of cities. At the beginning of the century, the most adapted manner to have public transportation in the mind of urban-planners is to have a tramway, or even better, an underground metro system for the largest cities in order to save some precious space. This is why by travelling to Portugal or Czech Republic, the tourist may find a tramway network of a certain age, with a charming feeling of authenticity.

And then, the Second World War occurred, and following this tragic event, the rise of car production in the 1950s and 1960s made the tramway an obsolete thing. The average person preferred to public transportation their own automobile which was, as Barthes commented, associated with positive values such as self-liberty. When the individual transportation was triumphing, the collective ones are transforming differently depending on the region of Europe. Mass transit is not in the mind of city-planners in the Mediterranean countries and remained focused on the automobile. On the other hand, countries of the Soviet Bloc kept pushing for this egalitarian common system of urban transport. That is why every student who had the chance to discover the wonderful city of Olomouc (my vision might be biased after a semester there), surely noticed the vintage tramways circulating around the city.

The ambition to keep urban policies primarily focused on the car-usage slowed down at the end of the century for a few reasons. The first one is a saturation of the road network and the disagreements it causes. The car, symbol of freedom, is soon perceived as a constraint, the one of pollution, traffic, and expensive road maintenance. And the oil crisis of the 1970s and the sharp increase of the price of fuel pushes for a new reflection on urban policies.

It is in this specific context that older means of transportation resurfaced in the mind of city-planners. The tramway shifts from its outdated image to a symbol of a modern urban asset. Modern tramways are tied to the goal of having a sustainable society and increase the value of the urban spaces located around their rails. In the Netherlands, the holy-land of the two-wheelers, bicycles only became a norm after the oil shock of 1973. Following the sharp increase of the price of black gold, cities are re-thought to adapt the bicycle to the daily experience of the city, by developing infrastructures to fit the usage of the cyclists through construction of bike parking, cycling tracks etc.

However, sustainable development and the price of fuel are not the only arguments which push for greener means of transportation. A broader range of reasons pushes the inhabitants of city to prefer a certain means of transportation than another. It depends as well on local culture, the attitude of consumers (their own experience, lifestyles), physical constraints, or the manner in which the city is constructed. 

Each city or country has a dedicated manner to move around which is the most adapted to its own context. Movement is part of its local culture and is a reflection of its society. In a similar fashion with museums, landscapes, streets, houses, means of transportation are part of the local city culture. To experience bike-riding in the Netherlands is to take an interest in Dutch culture. The experience of a similar manner to move around locally creates a group of individuals sharing an experience. Codes, habits, conditions – either terrible or excellent – are all elements shared by those who experience daily the city. It is extremely easy to know if someone is a tourist or not in public transportation. Online, Facebook groups and Twitter accounts exist to jokingly criticise means of transportation in some cities. These groups rely on a shared experience of users who posses keys to understand  humour creating an informal community of users. Moving in a city seems to be one of the elements of local urban culture.

However, considering all these information will not prevent you to curse at this continuous flow of Dutch people people on bikes, until you master the delicate art of crossing a street in Netherlands.

Featured picture: David King, Flickr

References

Bolivia: El Teleférico Que Unió Dos Mundos – BBC Mundo. Accessed September 15, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnc6W_6xGT0.

Carré, Jean-René. “Le vélo dans la ville : un révélateur social.” Les cahiers de médiologie 5, no. 1 (1998): 151. https://doi.org/10.3917/cdm.005.0151.

“« Il nous faut nous désintoxiquer de la voiture ».” Le Monde.fr, August 5, 2019. https://www.lemonde.fr/festival/article/2019/08/05/il-nous-faut-bon-gre-mal-gre-nous-desintoxiquer-de-la-voiture_5496579_4415198.html.

“La Nouvelle Citroën, Extrait de ‘Mythologies’ de Roland Barthes.” Accessed September 15, 2019. https://www.desordre.net/textes/bibliotheque/barthes_citroen.htm.

Lois González, Rubén C., Miguel Pazos Otón, and Jean-Pierre Wolff. “Le tramway entre politique de transport et outil de réhabilitation urbanistique dans quelques pays européens : Allemagne, Espagne, France et Suisse.” Annales de géographie 694, no. 6 (2013): 619. https://doi.org/10.3917/ag.694.0619.

VERS UN SOCIETE EUROPEENNE. Une histoire sociale de l’europe 1880-1980 – Hartmut Kaelble. 

Introducing the European Union: Between Supranationalism and Intergovernmentalism

STRAATSBURG-VLAGGENPaul-gilbert Colletaz│paul.colletaz@gmail.com

The press often portrays the European Union (EU) as a remote, almost foreign authority which makes decisions and forces them on its member states. As a consequence, it often fails to portray the power of the member states in the EU decision-making process.

This debate involves two concepts: supranationalism and intergovernmentalism. Supranationalism refers to a large amount of power given to an authority which in theory is placed higher than the state (in our case this authority is the European Union). Intergovernmentalism focuses on the importance of member states in the process of creating EU-wide regulations.

“The debate involves two concepts: supranationalism and intergovernmentalism…”

In order to explore these notions in more detail, let’s go back in history.

The traumatic events that happened during World War II led Europeans to think about ways to prevent another war from breaking out.  This reflection resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1951, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ESCS). Coal and steel are two major materials needed to build heavy armoury and therefore wage wars, so sharing those assets would theoretically block any intra-European wars. Political peace and its social benefits were to be achieved through economic partnership.

Nowadays, as the chemical attacks which recently took place in Syria prove, steel and coal seem outdated in the field of war.

In order to stay competitive and promote growth, the EU has gained decision-making power, and some laws are now taken at an  EU-level and then imposed on member states. This supranationalism is different from what happened when the ECSC was created. Most of the time the Community required unanimity from all member states – an intergovernmental method.

We are back to our focus: supranationalism and intergovernmentalism.

As a whole the EU is the largest economy in the world and it is a unique political organisation combining supranationalism and intergovernmentalism.

The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are two of its supranational bodies. To put it simply, after a vote, the majority result wins and all member states have to implement the decisions that have been made.

On the other hand, this mechanism is pondered by some regulations applying intergovernmentalism in some fields such as: taxation, the accession of new states, and the common foreign and security policy. When it comes to those areas, unanimity is required and no one decision can be forced upon a state.

In order to make a partition between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism, the Treaty of Maastricht, signed in 1992, introduced the principle of subsidiarity.

This principle states that the EU can only take actions when it is most relevant for it to do so. Thus, each time when discussing a new regulation the EU must prove that this decision would be more effective if taken at the EU-level than at a national level (and by doing so, the EU dismisses any claim that it would take decisions for instance only for the UK, France or Italy).

Yet, this does not happen without any problems. When it comes to energy, even though joining our forces seems sensible because it makes the EU more competitive, therefore leading to growth and the creation of jobs in the long term the case of Germany and the Netherlands have recently shown the negative short- and medium-term effects of such strategies.  Recently, Germany overproduced electricity and exported massively to the Netherlands where, as a consequence, some energy producers became obsolete and had to lay off some workers because they could not afford to pay them anymore.

The economic aims of the EU have overpowered its political and social ones, but this situation is more complex than it seems. Economic achievements go hand in hand with social development, and in a globalised world social benefits are still acquired through economic growth.

It is therefore wise to ask yourself: Should the EU as a whole be more efficient by gaining more power (supranationalism) or should each country’s interests come before the EU’s even though this could reduce this country’s influence in a globalised world?

“Are globalisation and the EU flattening our differences and turning us into relatively similar human beings?”

This will surely lead you to wonder: Are globalisation and the EU flattening our differences and turning us into relatively similar human beings thus losing our diverse cultures and traditions?
A question I will try to answer in my next column.

Paul new profilePaul-gilbert Colletaz, Contributing Writer & Columnist 

Paul is from France and graduated in British and American Literatures, Civilisations and Linguistics from the Sorbonne (Paris) spending the last year of his undergraduate diploma in Edinburgh, Scotland. A Euroculture student from September 2011 to July 2013, he studied at the Universities of Strasbourg (France), Udine (Italy) and Pune (India). He is curently working at the French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain as Publications and Communications Assistant. His interests go from EU politics and Franco-British relations to Scottish Civilisation and Gender Studies.

Recommended reading:

What is Globalization? Global Europe Explained by Daniele Carminati

What does Trump mean for the European Union? Looking at the reality of a Trump Presidency from the perspective of the EU by Eoghan Mark Hughes

The European Parliament as a space for discussion

The European Parliament offers a space for dialogue to politicians with different backgrounds and perspectives. It provides a forum for them to debate constructively their ideas, because they have to work together within a common group.

Paul2_The European Parliament Chamber
The European Parliament Chamber

Paul-gilbert Colletaz│paul.colletaz@gmail.com

The European Union (EU) consists of different cultures, countries, nations and languages. It is diverse and this diversity reflects the multitude of political systems, working in accordance with their own rules and regulations.

France, for instance, is a unitary semi-presidential republic. Indeed, in contrast to a federation pulling together different political units and a federal government coupled with more local governments (like Germany or the United States of America), France has one constitution effective across its entire territory. It is semi-presidential because the President shares her or his power with the Prime Minister.

The United Kingdom (UK), in comparison, despite being also a unitary state, is a Constitutional monarchy. Currently, its head of state is Queen Elizabeth II and the country is governed under a body of laws,  and not a constitution. To complicate things, the process of devolution gave Scotland its own Parliament, and Northern Ireland and Wales their own Assemblies.

“For example, a unitary semi-presidential republic and a Constitutional monarchy exist together in the EU…”

Several national political parties, classified according to their positions on economic and social issues, can be gathered in European-wide political groups.  Currently and until the next European Parliament election in 2014, nine different political groups are present in the EU Parliament.

A strategic choice must be made: national parties must decide whether their elected Members of the European Parliaments (MEPs) should join a European political group in order to gain size, supporters and votes. If they do not, the MEPs fall into the Non-Attached Members, the ninth political group – marginal and therefore often more boisterous.

Thus, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group is presently made up of the Party of European Socialists and three unaffiliated national parties.  Within the Party of European Socialists, the French Socialist Party and the British Labour Party work together.

French culture is famous for its anti-Americanism. The word liberalism in the XIXth century was used to refer to the Orléanist movement wishing for the return of a monarchy after the French Revolution. Given that the 14th July is the French National Day associated with the storming of the Bastille, and consequently the Revolution and the end of the monarchy, it is clear that ‘liberal’ had negative connotations for the majority of the French population.

“It was no surprise when De Gaulle vetoed the entrance of the UK into the EU…”

This mind-set surely influenced modern French politics, and it was no surprise when De Gaulle vetoed the entrance of the UK into the EU both in 1963 and  1967, describing the UK as ‘America’s Trojan horse’ and thus hinting atthe indirect entrance of liberal American ideas.

Last week, coming back from work, I was reading the Metro in the tube. Non-surprisingly, I stumbled across a Eurosceptic article. It presented the EU project to introduce a tax on financial transactions, and the EU proposal to cap bonuses paid to bankers to 100% of their base salary (or 200% if shareholders approve):the article referred to both as ‘stupid’.

On that very same day, a French company moving its headquarters to London did not allow my work division to publish an article on the matter. The former knew that if this information came out publicly, the French media and the majority of the public opinion in France would strongly criticise that move, immediately assuming it must have been motivated by the wish to pay less taxes.

Two visions – worlds apart.

It has often been repeated that there is no major left-wing party in British politics. On the other hand, despite criticisms from French voters over the centrist or rightist policies the French government has put into place since its election, the French Socialist Party is a left-wing party in the country where education is free.

Queen Elizabeth II (left) and Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix(1830)
Queen Elizabeth II (left) and Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix(1830)

All this gives us insight into why it is hard, at first, to imagine the French Socialist Party and the British Labour Party working together in one group.

Yet, the Party of European Socialists is what the European Parliament provides.

“The European Parliament offers a space for dialogue…”

The European Parliament offers a space for dialogue (as opposed to criticisms and condemnations) to politicians with different backgrounds and perspectives. It provides a forum for them to debate constructively their ideas, because they have to work together within a common group.

It is clear that petty criticisms based on the form of the debate rather than  its content exist in EU politics.Nevertheless, this happens much less than in national politics, due to the scale of EU politics and its diversity forces for cooperation and discussion.

My European Union, through one of its legislative bodies: the European Parliament, theoretically allows 377 MEP, 9 different European-wide groups representing more than 100 national political parties to express themselves and thus as many different inputs and ideas.

Paul new profilePaul-gilbert Colletaz, Contributing Writer & Columnist 

Paul is from France and graduated in British and American Literatures, Civilisations and Linguistics from the Sorbonne (Paris) spending the last year of his undergraduate diploma in Edinburgh, Scotland. A Euroculture student from September 2011 to July 2013, he studied at the Universities of Strasbourg (France), Udine (Italy) and Pune (India). He is curently working at the French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain as Publications and Communications Assistant. His interests go from EU politics and Franco-British relations to Scottish Civilisation and Gender Studies.

Inside the ‘Eurobubble’?

‘Eurobubble’ is a web mini-series, which unveils the lives of young European Union (EU) professionals. What lies ‘inside’ the Eurobubble then? 

Susanne_Eurobubble1

Susanne Wander│susanne.wander@gmx.de

As the capital of the European Union (EU) institutions, Brussels has always been an attractive place to work for many Europeans and non-Europeans alike; including not only “Euroculturalists” studying MA Euroculture but also graduates from other fields of study. It offers many possibilities to start a career in EU affairs and has the highest percentage of foreigners in the whole of Belgium.[1] With the recent economic crisis in Europe, it seems that it is becoming all the more attractive as a place to work for young graduates and professionals from all over the world. The fact that a high percentage of fellow MA Euroculture graduates are seeking to start their career with a traineeship in one of the EU institutions or in an EU-affairs related Non Governmental Organisation (NGOs) is just one example.

At the same time, there are many stereotypes about life in Brussels, the most common being that all EU professionals (or ‘Eurocrats’, as they are more commonly called) and also EU-related professionals, for example in NGOs and consulting agencies, are geeks who are often underqualified and overpaid. This brings up the question of whether these stereotypes are true and what life in Brussels is really like. One of the best, most recent and more original attempts of answering these questions and providing a ‘view behind the scenes’ is the web mini-series “Eurobubble”, which was initiated by a group of young European professionals and originally started out as a blog.

“Eurobubble? For young Eurocrats and EU-affairs professionals, life takes place in a city within a city…”

The title “Eurobubble” refers to something which many people who have lived or are still living in Brussels can clearly identify with without the need for explanation. For young Eurocrats and EU-affairs professionals, life takes place in a sort of ‘city within a city’, which is limited to contact amongst themselves. It rarely involves local Belgians, and from the outside is seen as a picture difficult to define and even harder to understand – something which equates to a “bubble”.

At first glance, the web mini-series simply portrays the lives of  young Eurocrats in Brussels from an ironic perspective and shows all kinds of daily experiences, including job hunting, attending meetings and conferences, finding love, and going out in the evenings. The story is told from the perspective of one young graduate, it begins from the moment he moves to Brussels searching for a new job. His role is played by the main producer and screen writer of the series, Yacine Kouhen. The audience is never told the protagonist’s name; instead, he is simply called  “the Policy Officer” after his job title.

“There is a certain peculiar life style and rituals that make life in the Eurobubble worth living…”

At second glance, however, what becomes apparent is the fact that there is a certain peculiar life style and ‘rituals’ that make life in the “Eurobubble” worth living, helping to establish a common feeling of belonging. Most young professionals who come to Brussels have a common interest in working in an international environment, and getting to know people from all over the world. Many of them speak more than one foreign language and, as shown in one of the “Eurobubble” episodes, have spent at least one semester as an Erasmus student abroad. Yet it is not only their common past experiences and education which help them to integrate more easily into this ‘city within a city’. They also share the feeling of being foreigners in Brussels who are disconnected from the rest of the city and ‘normal’ Belgians (those born Belgian); and the mini-series truly exceeds  in capturing this particular mood.

Furthermore, most of the young Eurocrats start out as trainees in one of the EU institutions, or as interns for one of the many NGOs and lobby organisations which have established themselves around the institutions. “Stagiaires” (the French word for interns), as these interns and trainees are commonly called in Brussels, often have to make ends meet with a low or non-existent salary in a city where the living expenses are amongst the highest in Europe and the rents are often (and sadly) somewhat disconnected to what people can actually pay. A recent outcry against unfair internship conditions took the form of a number of demonstrations under the name of “sandwich protests”. These protests were organised by Brussels interns this past July and unveiled the fact that, for their lunch, many interns are forced to gather free sandwiches from conferences and events due to their insufficient or non-existent salaries.

What is indeed left for these young “Eurobubblers” is a great number of activities, the most important of all being “pluxing”. “Pluxing” involves a weekly meeting of stagiaires and young professionals for happy hour on Thursdays at bars in the Place du Luxembourg PLUX, right behind the European Parliament. According to ”Eurobubble”’, “pluxing” is not only about getting to know new people, flirting, and asking for phone numbers, but also about networking.

“Because of networking, one is never more than three degrees separated from a potential new employer…”

At the same time, of course, what makes life in Brussels worth living is the possibility of starting a well-paid career and finally leaving the ‘stagiaire life’ behind. Many young professionals dream of meeting someone through the many opportunities of networking, be it at a conference or at PLUX, and  finally making their way into one of the EU institutions or  NGOs. “Eurobubble” even states that because of networking, one is never more than three degrees separated from a potential new employer or an important personality who could help with getting a well-paid job.

Susanne_Pluxing2

“However, there are exceptions to this rule…”

Having already completed two internships in Brussels, I can agree that “Eurobubble” provides a good, entertaining, and funny overview about what daily life in Brussels as a young professional or stagiaire is like, and how it resembles a life in ‘a city within a city’. However, one also has to take into account that there are exceptions to this rule. A sense of belonging to a certain place can happen through various other experiences one connects with that place. These are usually more personal and might be less related to the general shared experiences of “Eurobubblers”. An individual might, for example, connect their sense of belonging to certain favourite spots they have discovered in the city, such as cafés or bars, sights or museums, or simply the flat they are living in. Moreover, they might even go so far as to leave the “bubble” and get to know locals from “outside the bubble”. In this sense, one can argue that it is possible to work in Brussels as a European professional but connect to what is happening outside of the “Eurobubble”.

After the release of the last episode of the web-series last month, the producers of “Eurobubble” published a call for contributions and stories on their website and Facebook page in order to create a more fleshed-out series next year with the help of a collective writing team. That said, it will be interesting to see what “Eurobubble” still has in store, considering that stories can come both from personal life and serious politics.

Link to the website: http://euro-bubble.tumblr.com.

susanneSusanne Wander, Contributing Writer

Susanne Wander is from Germany, where she completed a BA in European Studies at the University of Passau with majors in Political Science and English studies as well as a semester abroad in Wales and an internship in the European Parliament in Brussels. She studied Euroculture at the University of Groningen (the Netherlands) and the University of Göttingen (Germany) and completed an internship with the NGO European New Towns and Pilot Cities Platform (ENTP) Brussels. Her interests include European identity and politics, especially in the context of transatlantic relations. She loves travelling and living abroad but is also deeply rooted in her German home region of Franconia. This is also why she is convinced that it is possible to combine regional and national identities under a shared European identity.

The Museum of European Cultures: A Must-Visit for New MA Euroculture students

The Museum of European Cultures emerged in 1999 from the Museum of Folklore and the European section of the Museum of Ethnology. The collection counts around 250,000 objects. Its small exhibition can be seen as an introduction to European cultures for new MA Euroculture students or as a revision for “Euroculturalists”.

Bianca main

Bianca Rubino│biancarubino@gmail.com

Does European identity exist? The question has come up thousands of times during the MA Euroculture Program, but maybe only a few people know that there is a museum dedicated to it. I am not talking about the Parlamentarium, the Visitors’ Centre of the European Parliament inaugurated in Brussels which presents different exhibitions on two topics, EU institutions and EU integration, but about the Museum of European Cultures in Berlin. The latter is an ethnographic museum, which is part of the Dahlem Museums, and thus of the National Museums in Berlin. The Museum of European Cultures emerged in 1999 from the Museum of Folklore and the European section of the Museum of Ethnology. The collection counts around 250,000 objects. Its small exhibition can be seen as an introduction to European cultures for new MA Euroculture students or as a revision for “Euroculturalists”.

The itinerary of the permanent collection “Culture Contacts. Living in Europe” indeed explores the cultural contactsand cultural diversity from the nineteenth century until today. A Venetian gondola from 1910 symbolically leads the way. It represents trade, migration, travel, and cultural identity. The exhibition begins with the theme of “migration”. The Earth is described with the words of the German historian Karl Schlögel as a “planet of nomads”. A big plastic Doner Kebab, dish introduced in the 1970s by a former Turkish “Guestworker”, is taken as symbol of cultural contacts through food. Borders: What do they stand for? What is their meaning?

“The Earth is described as a planet of nomads and a big plastic Doner Kebab is taken as symbol of cultural contacts through food…”

Another section is dedicated to cultural localisation and folklore. Typical textiles from Spain, Czech Republic and Greece are exhibited. But also music such as the traditional songs from Sardinia can be heard. Besides the “Gondola” another means of transportation – the beautiful hand decorated “Carretto Siciliano” – a Sicilian cart, stands there. Furthermore, funny cartoons show the stereotypes of all the different nationalities in Europe. The exhibition also warns about the phenomena of populism and conflicts.

On the wall the photographs of the German artist Sabine Von Bassewitz, part of her collection “Unisono”, show the gatherings of different kinds of people with the same passion, standpoint or affiliation, thus exploring the meaning of community. Communities are in fact the kernel for cultural production and cultural interaction. A similar exhibition on communities could be found at the Museum of Cultures of Basel, Switzerland. Another artist, the Berlin fashion designer Stephan Hann, investigates the issue of transnationalism. He presents a particular dress named “Europakleid”, which is made of pictures, maps, textiles, and items of different origins in Europe.

“Communities are in fact the kernel for cultural production and cultural interaction…”

The Museum of European Cultures also dedicates a section to religion, in particular focusing on Christianity and Islam. It exhibits Nativity scenes from Poland, France, Italy, and Germany along with votive paintings, but also Ramadan calendars. The interactions between Muslims and Christians are highlighted. The last room is dedicated to the huge mechanical Nativity scene from the Erzgebirge.

Through a scientific lens the permanent exhibition presents different items and topics, and prepares the table for discussion. On 2nd August was the inauguration of the temporary exhibition “I’m not Afraid of Anything”, which comprises ofone hundred portraits of European youths from Portugal, Moldova, Romania, Italy, Iceland, Germany and the United Kingdom, accompanied by interviews that were realised by Edgar Zippel. What are their dreams? What are their fears? Are they the same as yours?

“You might find inspiration for your IP paper, Master’s Thesis or a topic for an interesting talk with friends…”

If you are a Euroculturalist, you probably won’t remain astonished by the exhibition but it is still worth it. Do as I did: go there with another MA Euroculture colleague or maybe a friend outside of the Euroculture-bubble;maybe you will find inspiration for your IP paper, Master Thesis or just for an interesting talk that you could lead with a friend who does not know anything about it. The museum poses questions. So what is your opinion about European identity?

Bianca 1

Museum of European Cultures

Student price 4 Euro

U-Bahn U3 (Dahlem-Dorf), Berlin

BiancaBianca RubinoExhibition Editor

Bianca is Italian with Swiss roots. She studied BA Humanities for the study of Culture in Modena, Italy, and went on Erasmus to Malmö, Sweden. She studied in the University of Groningen and the University of Strasbourg as part of her MA Euroculture Programme. She did an internship at Interarts, based in Barcelona, Spain, in the field of cultural project management and cultural policy. Currently, she is participating in European Voluntary Service (EVS) Programme in Romania. Her interests are anthropology, sociology, artistic and cultural life and institutions, cultural management and policy, and many more. She has the smallest feet a girl ever had.

Belarus: Past, Present and Future centre of Europe

Nadezhda_Belarus in her 20s again

Nadezhda Fomenok │nadezhda@fomenok.net

I land in the centre of Europe. A small airport welcomes me back home.

When I think of my country, I always picture a charming lady. She has an entangled past to share with travellers.

Long ago Belarus used to be part of a huge powerful country, which comprised of Poland, Belarus and Lithuania. The state was the second one in the world that adopted a Constitution in 1791, and  was recognised as a cultural and military centre of Europe for many centuries. A huge part of that culture remained forgotten and silent for a long time, but now it is slowly waking up from the period of integration with the other 14 soviet states, which affected several generations of the state’s culture.

A small shuttle brings me to the closest metro station. Just a while ago, all the station names were dubbed in English to make it more convenient for travellers. The other two main languages you will find are Russian and Belarusian. They both are equivalent, according to our Constitution, but people are using Russian more these days.  When parents have the option to choose education for their children in one of the languages, Russian becomes more prevalent due to the Customs Union and the economic relations between Russia and Belarus.

“Belarusian definitely shares more roots with the western languages than Russian.”

Belarusian, in fact, is markedly different from Russian. I remember one time when I stayed in Warsaw, to my surprise after several days I started to understand the language and could say simple sentences like “No, I am not getting off the bus now”. Compare the words “paper” in English and “papera” in Belarusian with “bumaga” in Russian. Belarusian definitely shares more roots with the western languages, and proper Belarusian speech is very hard to comprehend for Russian speakers.

I get off  the metro in the middle of Minsk, at its only ancient part – Nemiga. The Second World War destroyed the city and it was all rebuilt from scratch in 1944, modelled in line with the best Soviet architectural traditions. My great-grandfather used to tell me that when standing on one edge of the city he could see quite far – there were no roads or high buildings to block the view at all. Walking along the Svislach River, I look at the row of ancient remains of Troitskoye Predmestye (Trinity Suburb), where the families of famous Belarusian writers like Kupala and Bogdanovich once lived; these days the sight attracts brides and girls who crave for a new Facebook profile picture.

“The Second World War is a huge part of the history of the country…”

The Second World War is a huge part of the history of the country. From 1941 – to 1944 the country was occupied and people kept fighting as they could: in cities and in forests. There are many remarkable monuments from that period. Visit Brest Fortress, for instance, where you can read the words written by a dying soldier “I’m dying but I won’t surrender. Farewell, Motherland. 20.VII.41” , which really makes the blood in your veins freeze.  Another breath-taking place is Khatyn, which until 1943 was a typical Belarusian village to the northeast of Minsk. On 22nd  March 1943 it was burnt to the ground killing  all of its inhabitants. There were many villages that, just like Khatyn, were never rebuilt after the war.

The post-war Soviet period was a very controversial and difficult time for the culture of the country. Nevertheless, even with all the Soviet drawbacks, the government managed to save the country that was destroyed by the war. Many famous factories and plants, schools and universities opened  during that period.

“The Soviet Union disappeared from the map. The predictability of life disappeared together with it.”

The state has changed a lot in the past 20 years. The Soviet Union disappeared from the map. The predictability of life disappeared together with it. Borders fell down. There were many possible ways of development for the country to choose from, a huge variety of things to do and to believe in.

As I walk along the river to my apartment, I see many people on bicycles. Belarusian people are slowly letting their identity show. There are many festivals and sport events which are held in the city, and I am very happy to be part of the huge Erasmus Mundus community of Belarus.

Two German guys ask me for directions, and I am glad to show them around. Many tourists come to the country to see the main lakes: the lake Narach, which is the largest lake in Belarus, and the Braslau Lakes,  a unique lake system that attracts fishermen from all over the country.

“Foreigners sometimes get scared of our ‘strong’ currency, but…”

From a local grocery shop, close to my apartment, a loaf of bread costs 8,000 Belarusian Roubles; 1 Euro amounts to 11,500 Roubles. Foreigners sometimes get scared of our ‘strong’ currency, yet after getting a breakfast for less than a Euro, it is funny to realise that all the Belarusians are millionaires!

I finally reach my flat and sit comfortably on the bed with my laptop. I look at the smiling faces of my European friends on Facebook. Many of them keep saying that visiting Belarus is very hard due to the strict visa policy between the European Union and Belarus. I would respond that this paperwork is possible to do if you want; and it can never keep friends apart.

“Belarus, a young country with blue lakes for eyes in her early twenties again.”

Belarus is now in a beautiful transition period from its post-Soviet state: a young country with blue lakes for eyes in her early twenties again, looking for her identity and trying all of the new opportunities she has ahead. So if you are open to breaking stereotypes, you want to see some very atypical architecture and to explore a new culture – you are more than welcome to Belarus. We will meet you, show you around, and definitely have the craziest nights after eventful days.

Nadezhda profileNadezhda Fomenok, Contributing Writer

Nadezhda is a senior year private international law student, living in Minsk, Belarus. From 2011 to 2012, she studied in Bilbao as an Erasmus Mundus exchange student. This experience helped her develop new interests, among which are the culture of the European Union in the view of integration and how Belarus could be a part this process. Nadezhda dreams of successfully graduating from her course in 2014 and finding her own way in the big world. In her spare time she reads Paulo Coelho and sketches her greatest ideas.

Establishing a trans-national political sphere – the work of European-level political foundations

How can European-level democracy work in reality? How should it relate to the established national political spheres and identities in Europe? How can a European political sphere be established?

As a Euroculturer, you will have certainly come across these and other questions on the legitimacy of the European integration process. The following article presents how European-level political foundations concretely work with these issues – and how you can perhaps contribute to their projects as an intern.

GEF EU training for young Green activists © Juan García López
GEF EU training for young Green activists
© Juan García López

Daan Hovens │ daanhovens@gmail.com

Political foundations exist on both the national and the European level. They are organisations that are allied to, but independent from, political parties. The size, functioning and societal impact of political foundations varies widely, but their core tasks are usually based around political education, in the broadest sense of the word. This includes, for example, organising seminars, conferences and public discussions, as well as disseminating publications, launching websites and running social media accounts. With some political foundations, tasks can even go as far as political consultation, international development cooperation, and distributing education and research scholarships.

“The core of political foundations’ tasks are usually based around political education, in the broadest sense of the word.”

Political foundations are almost entirely financed by public money, which should make it possible for them to work quite independently and based on the political ideology they identify with. Due to this independence, political foundations can help to insure that a variety of ideological perspectives is represented in the public sphere, and that citizens’ political education is not dominated by only one single ideology. Since political foundations also contribute in engaging citizens in general, some people view these foundations – at least in theory – as crucial elements in the establishment of a democratic political culture.

Why European-level political foundations?

Yet, in different national contexts, citizens and authorities have different ideas about the added value of political foundations. As these foundations are mostly financed with public money, their size differs widely across countries. Perhaps not surprisingly due to its 20th century history, Germany stands out as a country where political foundations are strongly subsidised by the state and therefore relatively powerful.

Concerning European-level political foundations, the European Parliament has financed such foundations since 2008. The motivation behind this seems obvious as the European political sphere is still weak while European-level decision-making has become ever more meaningful for the daily lives of EU citizens. The main goal of European political foundations can be defined, in other words, as to bridge the often experienced ‘gap’ between the EU and its citizens.

“The main goal of European political foundations is to bridge the ‘gap’ between the EU and its citizens.”

Naturally, Eurosceptics could put this in a different perspective: questioning the assumed ‘general interest’ of establishing European-level political foundations, and criticising the legitimacy of European-level foundations having an impact on the national political sphere. On the other hand, Eurosceptics can also make use of the right to establish European political foundations in order to spread their own ideological perspectives. This has already been done in the shape of, for example, “New Direction, the Foundation for European Reform”.

How much should ‘Europe’ spend on European-level political foundations?

Still, legitimating the use of public money – and more importantly, how much public money – to subsidise political foundations can be a sensitive issue in current European debates. In reality, although the budget of European political foundations has gradually increased since 2008, this financing is still limited to a maximum of about 4 million euro – the amount received by the political foundation allied to the largest political group in the European Parliament (the centre-right European People’s Party)[1]. This is more than the money that, for example, the Dutch authorities spend on their national political foundations[2], but it is only a fraction of the annual subsidies received by the German centre-right Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is more than 100 million euro[3].

“Although the budget of European political foundations has gradually increased since 2008, this financing is still limited to a maximum of about 4 million euro.”

An advantage of the limited budgets is that they encourage European foundations to cooperate with national foundations, which could bring the political discussions on both levels closer together. A disadvantage, on the other hand, is that due to the strongly differing national circumstances, national foundations from states that spend much money on these foundations (such as, as mentioned above, Germany) might hold a rather powerful position within the European networks this way, as the possibility of carrying out certain projects could become financially depending on their willingness to cooperate.

“Another criticism comes from the fact that the current system may help, in other words, to conserve the existing power division.”

Another criticism towards the financing system of political foundations comes from the fact that the amount of public money that a foundation receives depends on the size of the foundation’s affiliated political party in the European Parliament. This means that the current system benefits the spread of ideological perspectives of parties that are already well-represented in the Parliament, whereas it is more difficult for new and smaller parties to present their ideological perspectives in the public sphere. The current system may help, in other words, to conserve the existing power division. Yet, it seems difficult to come up with a financing system that appears fairer, as the current situation can at least be legitimated by the outcome of supposedly free and open democratic elections.

What concrete projects do European political foundations work on?

“Let’s have a look at some of the projects carried out by these foundations to tackle the questions…”

Another way to tackle the question of the legitimacy of spending public money on European-level political foundations is to have a look at the concrete projects carried out by these foundations. I will name three examples of projects here that I have contributed to myself as an intern for the Green European Foundation (GEF) in 2012.

GEF publications © GEF
GEF publications © GEF

First of all, GEF runs a website called the “Campaign Handbook”, on which it gathers campaign experiences of (mainly) European Greens and NGO actors. Together with some theoretical information on how to set up an effective campaign, this serves to inspire and help anyone who is interested in becoming politically active – especially in those countries where Green issues do not play a prominent role on the political agenda.

Secondly, GEF organises an annual seminar, the so-called “Toolkit for the European Green activist”, which brings together young Green activists from all over Europe for three days of workshops, discussions, interactive classes and guided tours in Brussels. The idea behind this is to make young activists with different national and regional backgrounds more aware of the functioning of European-level decision making, as well as their own opportunity of engaging in this decision-making process. Within this context, the annual seminar can also serve as a potential for young Green activists to set up a European network.

© GEF
GEF expert seminar © GEF

Lastly, GEF regularly organises expert seminars, for example a seminar on “Populism in Central and Eastern Europe”. Since populist parties have become quite prominent in several European countries in recent years, it can be useful for Green actors throughout Europe to exchange opinions on whether one can speak of this recent populism as a truly ‘European’ (or perhaps rather ‘Western European’ and ‘Central/Eastern European’?) phenomenon, and to exchange experiences on how to deal with the political challenges that Green parties face when dealing with populism. With these goals in mind, the seminar is mainly aimed at an academic audience, as well as certain people involved in Green politics. After the seminar, a publication reflecting the input and conclusions from the seminar discussions is made publicly available by GEF.

Interested?

If you are interested in different European-level political foundations and if you want to know more about their activities – and perhaps even look for the possibility to work as an intern there – you can find the websites of all thirteen European political foundations via the following links:

Centre Maurits Coppieters: http://www.cmc-foundation.eu/

Centre for European Studies: http://thinkingeurope.eu/

European Christian Political Foundation: http://www.ecpf.info/

European Foundation for Freedom: http://www.eurfreedom.org/

European Identities and Traditions: http://aemn.eu/

European Liberal Forum: http://www.liberalforum.eu/

Foundation for EU Democracy: http://www.europeandemocracy.org/

Foundation for European Progressive Studies: http://www.feps-europe.eu/en/

Green European Foundation: http://gef.eu/home/ (other GEF project websites, such as the mentioned Campaign Handbook and the Green European Journal, can be found via this link as well)

Institute of European Democrats: http://www.iedonline.eu/

New Direction – Foundation for European Reform: http://newdirectionfoundation.org/

Organization for European Inter-State Cooperation: http://oeiceurope.com/

Transform Europe: http://www.transform-network.org/home.html


[3] See: http://www.kas.de/upload/dokumente/jahresbericht2012/Namen_Fakten_Bilanzen.pdf

Daan profileDaan Hovens, Contributing Writer

During the first 18 years of his life, Daan practically lived on the Dutch-German border (just slightly at the Dutch side), in a village called Tegelen. Having this in mind, it may not come as a surprise that he has studied Euroculture and German. Besides that, he has a background in Scandinavian languages and cultures, which he decided to study out of his love for films, music and languages from Northern Europe. Daan’s two Euroculture Universities were – for obvious reasons – Göttingen and Uppsala, and he also did a research track at Osaka University. The internship for the Green European Foundation in Brussels was Daan’s first work experience after graduation.”