Talking about Europe is not always a popular subject. Across nations, borders, ages and citizens, there are different ideas and opinions about it. However, to me, that’s what makes the discussion interesting.
To me and apparently for about 100 other European students: I am currently in Utrecht at a five day congress from the Forum for European Journalism Students, where we’re discussing the topic ‘Imagine Europe’. Going beyond European politics and economics, we debate on culture, society, identity and solidarity.
It is also questioned if reporting and writing about the continent is something that could and should change, if we can restore some optimism about Europe through journalism and if there is a European identity. About the question where Europe starts and where it stops, in political terms, but also when it comes to borders. There are many questions being asked here, some answered, some not. Here are some of my notes and scribbles of the first two days.
El País: commitment to Europe
El País is a newspaper coming from Spain, where the Euro-crisis hit hard, and therefore European identity and solidarity might be far from being real. One of the editors of the leading Spanish newspaper El País informed us that Europe might have changed, its issues too, but journalism remains the same. Europe is a commitment, and therefore the paper started a ‘Europe supplement’ together with 5 other leading European papers. These kinds of initiatives might not change the world or EU decision-making, but journalism has the responsibility to report and describe the honest reality, in this case that of Europe.
Power balancing and Wagner
Moving through the first few lectures, we go from political business to music. Starting with states, power balancing and sovereignty, we once more learn about the mess of this collective union that is the EU. ‘’Europe is not a UFO, Europe is a UPO: an Unidentified Political Object’’. Since the congress is about the Europe beyond politics, our next lecture takes us through European culture by the musical tones of Verdi and Wagner, and their meaning to European culture. How often do you hear classical music at a journalism seminar?
Where does Europe end? Two Dutch guys went on a trip through Europe to find ‘its borders’. On the Western side, it’s quite clear, but on the other side of Europe is sometimes more difficult, specially because it is not only defined geographically. Going around the continent, this was confirmed by its citizens. Borders of Europe are continuously changing, and dependent on who you ask and which definition you put on Europe, like a fun fact on their story showed us: they visited the ‘center of Europe’ in Lithuania. Different measures have led to more than ten claims of European ‘centers’.
Wanted: European leader
Imagine a newspaper ad saying “Wanted: European leader”. According to our speaker, this is what the EU now lacks and needs. One strong leader, with big moral authority, to unite us all. However, as it looks now, there is no one applying for the job.
Is there a European identity? That is not something you can answer, and it might even be the wrong question to ask. European identity might not be something that is or isn’t. The EU identity is a narrative, its meaning is different for everyone. Again, Europe can be defined geographically, but also historically and culturally and so on. Within the Eurovision Song Contest, even Morocco once contested and Azerbaijan is competing. Europe can be seen as a place, history, concept and subjectivity. The EU started as an economic collaboration. Talk about culture and identity only came up around the 70s. And the discussion has not ended since. So we need new narratives; to compare or reproduce national narratives to create a European one will not work. However, this new narrative is not here yet.
There you have it, a variety of information, probably leading to more questions instead of giving you answers. Maybe this blur of notes can give you some seed to think about Europe, EU beyond politics and markets, European identity and what it is all means. Europe is a mentality, an ideal. Start imagining.