Kalypso Nicolaïdis is Professor of International Relations, University of Oxford and co-organiser, with Dimitri Nicolaidis (who teaches history at the Lycee Francais of Madrid) of the Wake Up Europe! event following the St Antony’s Oxford screening.
The 22 January St Antony’s College Oxford screening of The Great European Disaster Movie was attended, among others, by a group of High School students from the Lycee Francais of Madrid as well as High Schools from Oxford (Cherwell School and Magdalen College School).
The students were from many countries around the EU, including Spain, France, Greece and Britain. They gathered the next morning at the European study centre, St Antony’s College, Oxford to have a further discussion about the issues raised by the film.
The debating exercise lasted about four hours and was divided into two separate parts.
In part one the students engaged in a free form debate ranging from general questions (Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Europe? Is the European Union worth saving? Do you feel European?) to issues that are particularly relevant in the students’ countries of origin. For instance they compared the prospect of Catalonian and Scottish independence as well as discussing Brexit.
Those proved to be particularly controversial, with students pitched in two camps, one arguing for the freedom to secede (from either Spain or the UK) and to leave the EU, one warning of the consequences of such actions.
Overall, the students were more optimistic than the filmmakers and did not fear a dissolution of the EU. They were attuned to the danger of war brought up most vividly by some of the images in the film, which are echoed today by images from Syria and the broader Middle East.
The students generally pledged their support for and commitment to the ideal of the European Union and to the need to be united in a world that is changing fast. But they echoed the concerns of the film about democracy and the remoteness of the institutions making the rules. Some questioned the need for a single currency, others warned of the risk of a EU imperialism. Some raised the paradox of the redistributive effects of the EU budget, whereby “you see when you give and not what you get”. And while some insisted that migration and multiculturalism were a good thing others said they understood the public’s desire for more controls.
In part two, the students (many of whom are part of Model UN exercises in their respective countries) engaged in an impromptu Model European Council. They were asked to imagine that they were all newly elected, if somewhat young, European leaders meeting for the first time at the February 2016 European Council, after watching the film together the night before. The new heads of states decided to present to their peers three proposals for EU reform. The students grouped themselves as representing five countries, namely Germany, France, Greece, Spain, UK.
They discussed their proposals internally and proceeded to negotiate them together before voting in favour of their adoption. These were the proposals:
On how the EU should work: The students/leaders adopted the principle (but not the specifics) of a new “bottom up” European Council including representations from ordinary citizens as well as leaders. They called for more power for the European parliament and a European leader elected by everyone. The called for Europe to modernise by enhancing e-democracy through emails to poll people every three days, regular referenda, super-polls or binding polls. They also called for more civic education in schools and for wider internet access, including for the older generations. They also proposed to create a common forum or virtual agora devoted to constant on-going translation across and beyond Europe.
On identity and differentiation between countries: The students/leaders proposed to differentiate between those who want to integrate and those who want the status quo, making it clear that European identity is about tolerance. They voted to allow Turkey and Switzerland to join and for safeguards to stop the Union becoming just a menu of interchangeable options.
On desired policies: The students/leaders pledged to set an example by reducing Co2 radically through the use of more (clean) nuclear power and more research on nuclear fusion, through a more centralised energy market and a connected grid throughout Europe; as well as working with the UN to encourage more public transport, research and greener public space. They voted for redistributing resources more fairly through the creation of a minimal safety net for all families. They adopted the principle of economic freedom whereby each nation controls its general national economic plan. They strongly pledged to fight tax evasion through fiscal harmonisation and they sought a more fluid Euro-wide database better to manage migration rather than closing Europe’s doors.
All in all, an excellent morning's work.
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