Image from a beautifully harrowing piece ‘Late Night’ by Blitz Theatre company that is playing at the Barbican as part of the LIFT these days.
I wrote the following text as a guest blog for Camden People’s Theatre ‘Being European festival’ that is due to happen this coming Saturday 18 June. Do join us for a day of performances and debates about the Britain EU referendum and what it means to be European today. Book tickets and find more info
In February 2013, to mark the first gathering of a group of theatre and performance academics, who met at the University of Winchester to form the Inside/Outside Europe Research Network, I published the first entry on the network’s blog. The title was ‘The promise of Europe’ and it featured the front page of a Greek newspaper on 1st January 1993, welcoming the transition from European Economic Community to European Union as the Maastricht Treaty was implemented across European member-states. I remember that time as I was growing up in the South of Europe; a time of promise and expectations as the idea of European citizenship, guaranteed by the Treaty, was celebrated and places like Brussels and Strasburg sounded to the ears of my teenage self as promise lands. As the places where people met and debated and decided on the future of the people of Europe, deciding for the future of all of us regardless of nationality or social class. The idea of a united Europe as safeguard of the people’s interests as well as my feelings of loyalty to this idea were crafted around this time.
Twenty-three years later, I am wondering what happened to that promise and my feelings of Europeanness. The EU’s Eurobarometer has been reporting on a considerable lack of knowledge of rights among European citizens (apparently, according to the autumn 2015, only one quarter of the 1,000 Europeans interviewed is aware of fundamental rights they have as EU members). At the same time, a steady rise of Eurosceptic attitudes across EU citizens over the past few years has been reported. The opening paragraph of a policy memo produced by the European Council of Foreign Relations shortly after 2012, reads: ‘It was once seen as a British disease. But Euroscepticism has now spread across the continent like a virus. As data from Eurobarometer shows, trust in the European project has fallen even faster than growth rates. Since the beginning of the euro crisis, trust in the European Union has fallen from +10 to -22 percent in France, from +20 to -29 percent in Germany, from +30 to -22 percent in Italy, from +42 to -52 percent in Spain, from +50 to +6 percent in Poland, and from -13 to -49 percent in the United Kingdom.’
In the three years that have gone by since the formation of the Inside/Outside Europe network, the crisis in Europe has not dissipated. This crisis is not only financial – although the neoliberal cycles of debt and guilt did lead to the paradigmatic punishment of Greece, its leftist, willful government and its people (notably in summer 2015 and to this very day). This is a crisis of ‘European solidarity’, as the UNHCR High Commissioner described the EU leaders failure to come up with a meaningful strategy of engaging with the migration crisis. Today, European citizens suffer from a crisis of faith and belief in the promise that was once put forward; and why shouldn’t they? Europe’s democratic deficit and the labyrinthine system of administration of the Union; the deteriorating quality of life for many (the unemployed, the precarious, the ‘refugees of the interior’); the EU’s ambiguous role in particular historical moments [most recently, with the outsourcing of the management of the migration crisis, through a controversial deal with Turkey]: all are very good reasons for questioning the values and the role of the EU.
This crisis of faith is highlighted in the debates unfolding in Britain today; however, this debate is focusing on the wrong questions, on xenophobic and divisive arguments about immigration and sovereignty. This debate emerges around politics of fear and panic, not a conversation about what matters, what may be at stake and for whom? Indeed, as the 2015 Greek referendum experience taught me, referenda instigate the most intense but toxic emotions among citizens. Are they really expressions of democratic will? Can you really answer all questions with a yes or no? And what about these questions that are answered with a maybe or with other modes of thinking? For example the question ‘Do you feel European?’ I still feel European – but I feel European among many other things. And the Europe we live in now is not the Europe that I was promised and I would like to work for and live in. The question for me is not the one posed by the referendum; but a different question that can open up the conversation in new terms. ‘What does Europe mean for you today?’
But then again, I am an EU citizen living and working in Britain. And I don’t have the right to vote. See you in the theatre, then.
Co-convener Inside/Outside Europe
16 June 2016