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.

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Indianapolis: upholding “Hoosier values”

Ludmila Vávrová | lidavavrova@gmail.com

What is it that reflects the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana the most? It is the ‘red pickup truck’. In my very first picture of Indianapolis, I captured this favourite car of the ‘typical Indian resident’. I was wondering, why is it so popular here? My American classmates explained to me that it’s like with “Hoosier values”. Indeed, this explanation did not help me at all. But then I had a chance to watch the political campaign ads of candidates running for the office of Governor of Indiana and finally figured out this mystery of Indiana’s culture. John Gregg, a Democratic candidate, explains: “To hold ‘Hoosier values’ means to respect hard work, personal responsibility and faith. These values draw the Indiana community together, from church on Sunday morning until the basketball court on Friday night”. This is the essence of the local people: Hoosiers.

My first pic from Indianapolis: a red pickup truck

Indianapolis: I would say a ‘typical American city’ where everyone has a car, historical monuments are not really historical (at least in comparison with our European standards), and people are very friendly. There is always a smile whenever you meet someone. Indianapolis brings the best of American culture. It is home to the internationally renowned Indianapolis Motor Speedway (advice for students coming for the Autumn semester – do not miss the last race, “Indy 500”, at the end of August). Indianapolis offers numerous museums. Do you love fine art? You have to visit Indianapolis Museum of Art with a great collection of European, as well as American, painters and much more. Do you want to return to your childhood? You shouldn’t miss the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – the largest children’s museum in the world. Do you want to explore the history of the Native Americans? The Eiteljorg Museum is the right place for you.

DO NOT MISS!

–          Pumpkin pie, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, real American steak;

–          Travelling to Chicago for a 10 US$ return ticket with the Greyhound bus company;

–          Every Thursday student night in bar Howl at the Moon (1 US$ beer + live music)

IUPUI

The Campus Centre with the University mascot (a Jaguar)

IUPUI is a well-known university across the United States, especially due to its School of Medicine which has one of the largest student bodies in the country. For MA Euroculture students, IUPUI offers a variety of subjects from different departments of the School of Liberal Arts. As far as I know, Euroculture students remain faithful to the departments of Political Science, Sociology, Communication Studies, and World Languages and Cultures. The university facilities are excellent! But considering the amount of money American students pay for a year at the university, it is understandable.

It takes you a few weeks to understand that American classes are far different from European ones. Here is the essence of American success: productive discussion, participation in class, and critical thinking. American students are used to expressing their opinions, so you are expected to talk a lot. If I believed that the only way to gain knowledge was via memorising facts, I was completely wrong. Graduate classes are pretty demanding; you have to work hard throughout the whole semester. In general, graduate students have a regular job while studying, which is why their classes start at 6pm at the earliest. Local students have a lot of experience to share; for every class they work 100 % and beyond. The best you can do to combat your student culture shock is to get involved, jump out of your comfort zone, and make yourself known.

However, American students do not travel much or do not travel at all (many of my classmates have never left the state of Indiana), but at the same time they are very friendly, helpful and open to international students. They seem to be very interested in talking about different cultures, do not hesitate to invite you to a Thanksgiving party, and offer to drive you anywhere you need (because they are afraid of local public urban transport).

Ludmila Vávrová, Olomouc/Indiana Correspondent

Ludmila is from the Czech Republic, and studied Economics and Management for B.Sc. and European Diplomacy for M.Sc. She studied Euroculture in Palacky University, Olomouc and the University of Strasbourg. She is currently doing a research track in Indianapolis with an interest in finding image/word arguments during the 2012 presidential election campaigns in the US and in France. Ludmila is a girl with a dream, mostly involving Czech beer.

Greetings From Sichuan: Five Things I Miss Most About Göttingen

Lili Jiang | ljiang1120@gmail.com

I am a Master’s student from Sichuan University, China, majoring in Applied Linguistics. Last year, I was lucky enough to get an Erasmus Mundus scholarship. When I got a chance to choose a host university, I chose the University of Göttingen as my host university and MA Euroculture programme as my main course.

I have to tell you that I spent an amazing 10 months in Göttingen. Now that I am back in Sichuan University, I am missing Göttingen every single day. Here are five things that I miss most about the city:

1. Inter-cultural spiritual discussion every Tuesday night

Göttingen is such a spiritual spot, I realized, as it offered me enough time and energy to be able to reflect and refresh myself every day while I was there. My German friends and I held an inter-cultural discussion every Tuesday night in order to reflect on the inter-cultural communication we experienced every day in Göttingen, and also to discuss how to advance our spiritual perception by developing ourselves and serving the local community. People from different cultural backgrounds came and we enjoyed tea or coffee together, while sharing various ideas with each other. The Tuesday night discussion is still carried on by friends who are still in Göttingen. Every now and then, I join them sitting in front of my computer using Skype from Sichuan.

2. Euroculture friends

I miss all my classmates, people from all over the world who were inspiring in their own ways. The most exciting experience among all, however, was the Euroculture Intensive Programme in Bilbao, despite the pressure from the work and presentations we had to prepare. Coming from China and having met many students from Asia in the Euroculture programme, I felt like Euroculture was collecting potential for the world by bridging the East and the West. I am truly grateful to have studied in this programme.

3. Local people in Göttingen

It’s always true that it’s the people that make the place. What I miss most are, again, the people back in Göttingen. I visited lots of locals in Göttingen when I was there, and they offered me their best gift: friendship and love. Every time I went back to Göttingen after travelling to other European cities, I felt at home.

4. The Botanical Garden

Close to the city centre, you’ll find the Botanical Garden serving Persian tea. Best tea ever! My friends and I always went there for a nice chat or for a brunch. It’s another thing I fell in love with in Göttingen. It’s a small place, but you get everything you need around you and enough time to relax.

5. German class

I miss my German classes. The language classes the university offered were very helpful. I liked my German teachers and they really encouraged me to speak the language, even though I can barely continue a proper conversation for more than 10 minutes with a German person since I’ve come back to China.

Göttingen is such a cute place in Europe especially because it holds many sweet people. It’s always peaceful, which allows you to slow down your life, to study and to work. I am extremely thankful that I spent a year in Göttingen and that I found so many good friends, not to mention my own self, through the whole journey. I am hoping to visit Göttingen again next year. Prayers and love to all my friends back in Göttingen until then.

Lili Jiang, Goettingen Correspondent

Lili is from Sichuan, China and holds a Bachelor degree in Applied Linguistics from Sichuan University. She is a guest student of the MA Euroculture Programme in the University of Göttingen and has studied in New York and at Uppsala University. Currently she is working on her Master’s thesis related to the Baha’i Faith and Chinese language in Sichuan University. She enjoys meeting people from different cultural backgrounds and believes “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”.