Politics always leave room for unexpected twists of events and incongruous stories. It was to the surprise of many that former French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, announced in 2018 he would leave every office he has in France and attempt to be elected mayor of the city of Barcelona. Such surprising news began to take a more concrete shape when on October 2nd, Manuel Valls publicly resigned at the French National Assembly in order to focus solely on his political campaign abroad. This election occurs in a turbulent context due to the actions of the Catalan independentists last year, and the designation of the mayor of Barcelona is yet another fight between those who wish to remain within the Spanish nation, and those who crave for independence.
A Former French Prime Minister in Spain?
Why would a French politician aim for an office in Barcelona? Good question, right?! Manuel Valls is not alien to the Catalan city, as he was actually born there and only became a regular French citizen at the age of 20. He was approached by the centre-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens), as this pro-European, liberal and mostly loyalist party could see in Manuel Valls a potential candidate for their programme. This new party, created in 2006, yet never “won” any major city nor any major leading figures.(1) On the other hand, Manuel Valls always advocated for a united Spain when commenting the 2017 turmoil in Barcelona, stating on French television that “Catalonia without Spain is not Catalonia”. Continue reading “Manuel Valls Hopes for Reconversion in Barcelona”→
While the hotspots of the so-called migration crisis in the EU can be found in the south-east of the continent, thousands of migrants are jumping the fences of Europe’s only territorial border with Africa in the Spanish cities Ceuta and Melilla in the north of Morocco. And the EU? They seem to stand back while the Spanish Guardia Civil violently govern the border territory without restrictions.
“Viva España, boza, boza!” Hundreds of African migrants storm the fences of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast shouting out their popular war cry. It gives them hope, it gives them power, and there is faith that God will help them in their first, second or even tenth attempt in reaching the Spanish territory. Hoping they will manage to climb the high fence, wishing that the Spanish border police do not literally kick them back to Moroccan territory. Continue reading “Fortress Europe in Africa: EU’s silence on Ceuta and Melilla”→
In 1992, forty years after the European Union was established, the Maastricht Treaty introduced the notion of a “European citizen”.
It did not go well. Not only did this new term awaken mistrust between the peoples of the EU’s different Member States, it even caused such considerable internal controversy states such as Denmark that the European Council had to release a statement in order to confirm that “citizenship of the Union is a political and legal concept which is entirely different from national citizenship (…)”. In the same year, the European Commission sought ways to create common EU symbols but faced strong resistance from the Member States. A good example of this was the Commission’s proposals to have athletes from all Member States appear as one delegation during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, a proposal which was fully roundly by governments.
Now, 1992 seems a long time ago, and surely, one would think, that after more than twenty years, with a generation already born as European citizens coming into adulthood, this term would have to be something warm and familiar, something, we cherish as much as our nationality.
But, for most, it is not.
In the European Union’s web portal, it is still stated that “EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship.” Eurosceptics keep arguing that to overcome nationality is impossible, and those who think otherwise are to be regarded as utopian fantasts. With Brexit, it feels like the utopian idea of a one strong, united Europe is slowly drifting away. More and more people from the Member States reject the idea of an ever-closer Europe, often out of fear that their state might lose its sovereignty under the pressure of common policies. On this note, one might even argue that it is the lack of trust and general indifference among the Europeans that is the main reason why the European Union is facing such problems now.
A survey conducted by TNS political & social at the request of the European Commission in 2015 shows that there still are people in the Member States – fortunately, not too many, and the share of them is declining – that do not even fully understand the term “European citizen” and the mystery hidden within the term . In 2015, 13 % of the respondents stated that they have never even heard the term “citizens of the European Union”, while 35 % of respondents said that they have heard about it, but do not know what it means exactly.
Maybe this is the reason why, when looking at the statistical data from 2015, over 30 % of the Europeans admit not feeling like a European citizen. In addition, 38 % of all Europeans admitted that they not only do not feel like a European citizen, they actually see themselves as exclusively a member of their nation. This, again, might be the reason why European citizens distance themselves from European affairs – this can be seen in all its “glory” when looking at the 2014 European Parliamentary election where only 42.6% of all people holding European citizenship voted. 42.6%! Not only it is that the lowest turnout since the first European elections in 1979, it also makes one think – what happened?
It is not like the idea is not being promoted. There are different levels of Erasmus programme available to encourage exploring other Member States, there are European days, information centres in every country, videos, information campaigns and the homepage run by the European Commission – europa.eu– can be accessed in every single official EU language. But somehow, the notion does not reach its target. It seems that on the way from Brussels to our homes, the information gets lost and never really reaches us, the citizens of the European Union.
So what does it mean to be a European citizen?
Let’s put it in an everyday perspective.
To be a European citizen means that you can finish your dinner with your Spanish family, and carry on your night with drinking a nice, cold bottle of German beer, maybe snacking on some French macaroons while watching Downton Abbey and texting with your best friend from Bulgaria. It means that you can say “Hello” in at least five languages, and your “bad” words collection is enormous thanks to your friends from Italy, Estonia and Greece.
Being a European citizen means you can spontaneously buy some low cost airplane tickets and have a nice weekend whether up in the snowy mountains, deep into mysterious forests or sunbathing in the sunny beaches, regardless whether you are from Latvia, Portugal or Slovenia.
On a more serious note, it means that you can make your voice heard by a petition, or a letter, or even by becoming a candidate for Parliamentary elections and you have the fundamental right not to be discriminated whether by race, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation. It means that, as long as you stay within the borders of the Union, you are never “illegal” and you can work and live abroad, and are always protected by the diplomatic and consular authorities in another twenty-seven countries, excluding your homeland. Being a European Citizen means that under certain conditions, if you feel that the national court of your homeland has ruled unfairly, you can bring the country to Court of Justice and fight for your truth.
To have the fortune to be a European citizen means that you have the rare opportunity to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the world in new ways again and again, and yet – stay true to your own nationality.
That is what being a European citizen means. Simple as that.
Elizabete Marija Skrastinais new to The Euroculturer. Keep up with her latest stories by following The Euroculturer on Facebook or by subscribing to our newsletter.
The term ‘Portuguese Brexit’ has been popping up in Portuguese media as of late. While this is a very unlikely scenario, I think that in the context of growing Euroscepticism and growing support for right-wing populist rhetoric in the EU, this merits some attention, especially given Portugal’s generally favourable attitude towards the EU.
The idea of a Portuguese Brexit was voiced by Catarina Martins, Chairperson of the left-wing Bloco de Esquerda party in Portugal, who is campaigning for a referendum to be held on Portugal’s membership of the EU. This situation arose in response to the possibility of sanctions being applied to Portugal and Spain for “lack of effective action” in dealing with levels of “excessive deficit”, which was discussed earlier this summer.
The decision to discuss the application of sanctions came after a meeting held by Ecofin, the EU’s economic and financial affairs council, as a result of Portugal and Spain’s failure to comply with rules stating that EU member state’s budget deficits should remain within 3% of GDP (gross domestic product). Had the commission decided to apply sanctions, these would consist of a fine that could go up to 0.2% of the country’s GDP, and would be the first case of sanctions being applied to a Eurozone country.
Feelings of outrage and injustice were sparked in Portugal and Spain as a result. In the case of Portugal, its deficit stood at 8.6% of GDP in 2010 and was reduced to just over 3% by 2015. This was the result of horrendous salary cuts and reforms which have characterized an economically precarious situation for Portuguese citizens in the past few years. António Costa, Portuguese prime-minister, argued that imposing sanctions on a country that is implementing demanding measures in order to reduce deficit is unjust and unreasonable, highlighting the unfavourable social and economic European context in which this situation took place. In a period of weak economic growth, perhaps asphyxiating that growth through sanctions is not the wisest move.
Furthermore, Portugal and Spain were by no means the first, nor the worst, member states to breach the 3% deficit rule. Fingers were pointed at France, with 11 violations, as well as Italy, and even Germany for surpassing this figure. The debate then turns to the EU’s (in)ability to challenge larger member states. As one Portuguese politician argues, it is inequality that is killing the EU. All this is not to say that the EU shouldn’t take its role of ‘refereeing’ countries that fail to keep within the established deficit seriously, but that discussions and punishments not be dished out arbitrarily, and not throw weaker member states under the bus.
In the end, the commission decided not to go forward with the application of sanctions against the two countries, recognizing the immense sacrifice that has been made by the Iberian people in order to improve their countries economic situation. Both member states are now tasked with coming up with measures to ensure the deficit will be within the 3% limit by 2017, a process which is currently being tackled in Portugal. The situation is a little more difficult across the border in Spain, in the midst of the political gridlock taking place there, due to the fact that the provisional government is not able to make any kind of binding budgetary proposals, thereby assigning this task a more challenging nature.
While sanctions were not applied, bitterness towards the EU for its supposed unfair treatment remains. Situations like these only serve to increase criticism of an EU that is far removed from the lives and interests of European citizens, and will do little to remedy the issue of the perceived democratic deficit in EU politics. Perhaps the commission would do well to pay less attention to the well payed economists of the Eurogroup and instead find a way of decreasing the space between the EU and the ordinary European, . Unless it does this the EU risks fuelling a domino-effect of campaigns for referenda on EU membership in the aftermath of Brexit, jeopardizing the entire European project in a period of great turbulence.
(Ever wonder how difficult it is to bring students from all over the world together in a single program spread over many universities and countries? Albert Meijer, coordinator with the Erasmus Mundus Euroculture program, gives some practical advice in ‘The Back Office”)
Every 15 September, Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain. The Mexican War of Independence broke out on 15 September 1810, after 300 years of colonial rule by Spain, and ended in 1821. Mexico’s Independence Day commemorates the blending of two cultures: Mexican and Hispanic.
The call to revolution that spurred Mexicans to fight the Spanish Empire in 1810 is known as El Grito, the Spanish word for scream, and is commemorated with jubilation by all Mexicans every 15 September. On this day, they honour the heroes that gave them back their homeland after 300 years of colonisation by the Spanish Empire. Mexico celebrates its independence, and Mexicans “scream” that they are proud of their roots and the cultural mix that characterises their society. The only exception for this celebration was in 1847, when Mexico was occupied by American troops. After the Mexican–American War, Mexico lost about one-third of its territory, including nearly all of present-day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.
“On 15 September, Mexicans honour the heroes of independence…”
The annual holiday is a non-religious celebration that brings Mexican society together. There is a festive atmosphere on the streets, with mariachis singing on every square, with people dancing and partying. The air is filled with the lovely smell of tortillas. On 15 September at 11:00 p.m., everyone screams together the call for independence made by Miguel Hidalgo, the priest that started the War of Independence by mobilising the Creole society. This shout is repeated by the Mexican President, who is currently Enrique Peña Nieto, representative of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The following call is screamed on the zocalo – the main square of Mexico City – at the same time by every governor in the 31 departments that form the country:
“Hurrah, hurrah, and hurrah…”
“Hurrah for the Independence; Hurrah for the heroes that gave us our homeland; Hurrah for Hidalgo; Hurrah for Morelos; Hurrah for Allende; Hurrah for the Independence; Hurrah for Mexico, Hurrah for Mexico, Hurrah for Mexico”.
The day Mexicans were born on the world political map
Ambassador Arturo Gonzalez, the director of the third country mobility programme of Erasmus Mundus Euroculture at the National University Autonoma of Mexico (UNAM), explained: “On this day we celebrate the achievement of independence for our country. 15 September 1810 represents the day Mexicans were born on the world political map. I am proud of Mexicans’ ability to maintain the unity of our country in search of our own philosophy, a complex issue due to the enormous diversity of Mexican society. There is no doubt our society has influences from other nations. Parts of this heritage are positive, other aspects are more negative”. The ambassador also highlighted the fact that Mexico has not had a military government since 1940.
“The annual holiday is no longer a celebration of independence, but of Mexican identity…”
Jose, a taxi driver in Mexico City, suggested that the annual holiday is no longer a celebration of independence, but of Mexican identity: “We Mexicans pay too much attention to gringos’ way of life. Yes! We like to follow gringos’ trends and how they speak (gringo is a word which refers to Americans), but on 15 September there is an exception. On that day, all Mexicans are proud of their roots, and we celebrate Mexican identity all together through our food, music, leg-pulls, and a shared feeling of happiness and hospitality.” In fact, the greatest experience that the MA Euroculture programme has given me is to get to know how incredibly kind and caring Mexicans are in general, always trying to help the foreigner.
Spain, the stepmother
“So the Spaniards are gone…but who are the Mexicans today?”
Independence from Spain gave birth to a new society, and a new identity. The Creole identity is a mixture of European blood and that of the indigenous Indians. The Mexican War of Independence was inspired by the French Revolution. Nevertheless, it was a holy revolution with the aim of breaking apart from the foreigners after centuries of occupation. ‘But who are the Mexicans today?’ is the question posed by Hernan Taboada, professor of history in the Euroculture programme at UNAM. “Before the independence, they themselves were called Spaniards. But after that, the Motherland – Spain – became the ‘stepmother’, a monster that had oppressed Latin America for three centuries of tyranny. From now on, they will call themselves Americans. In my opinion, they are still waiting to find their own name”.
Time for the Mexican Moment: The Enrichment of the Country
The future of Mexico is debated. “What path should be followed by the country to achieve more social equality?” asks Tabohada. Should it be the North American model, or should Mexico focus instead on the experience of the European Union? In order to give an answer, Tabohada quotes the Latin American author and educator Simon Rodriguez: “We have to invent or we err. Has the Spirit of the Revolution died?” Tabohada asserts that “it certainly has, due to the petroleum industry and the education system that are both moving away from the nationalism that has ruled the state for years.”
“We have to invent or we err. Has the Spirit of the Revolution died?”
We are living the so-called “Mexican Moment”, as it has been dubbed in the New York Times. Experts foresee great development for the country in the short term. Nevertheless, Mexican youth question whether they are going to live to see improvement, as progress fails to influence the economic standards of the lower classes, where the minimum wage is 64.76 MXN per day (3.7 EUR), according to the International Business Times. The country feels proud of its ability to become competitive as an exporter of services and producer of technology. It is a key issue for the economy of the country not to be too dependent on its oil and raw materials. Sadly, this growth doesn’t accompany the enrichment of the country as a whole due to the lack of equal redistribution of the money, with 50 million Mexicans living in poverty, according to the latest report by the official National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy.
“Mexicans have reasons to be proud but the persistent poverty is a sad reality…”
For more picture, click the first picture and click ‘next’
Maria de las Cuevas, journalist, studied at the University of Deusto and the University of Strasbourg and is currently doing a research track at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). She is grateful for the amazing program at the UNAM, which focuses on Mexican revolutions that closely accompanies the history of Spain, her homeland, and how European Liberal movements influenced on the fight for the independence of Latin America. She enjoys traveling around the country with her husband and friends. She’s also doing an internship at Studio Phi Creative Agency in the department of Social Media. She is impressed with the friendliness and warmth of the Mexican society which she wouldn’t be able to forget for a long time.