UCL’s European Institute was our host earlier this week, with a screening of The Great European Disaster Movie followed by a heated debate with lots of heartfelt contributions from the audience.
I joined a very international panel which included the film’s exec producer (and Wake Up Foundation chair) Bill Emmott, Prof Jan Kubik, director of the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies and Prof Antonios Tzanakopoulos (Public International Law, Oxford University).
The discussion was moderated by the journalist and commentator Miranda Green who warmed up the audience with an initial poll by show of hands. The vast majority of those present declared that they felt ‘European’ and that the EU project was worth saving. And although nearly half of the room declared themselves optimistic about the future of Europe the discussion that followed revealed high levels of anxiety and pessimism, particularly relating to the EU Referendum in the UK.
Speaking of the initial impulse to make the documentary Bill Emmott said he and director Annalisa Piras had been feeling for some time that Europe was headed towards a big crisis and were worried about the sense of complacency they saw in EU leaders and EU citizens alike. “The prevailing wisdom was that Europe would somehow muddle through,” Emmott said, “because it is what it always does. But what if the approaching crisis was too big, went too far, what if the whole thing were about to implode?”
Prof Tzanakopoulos, a strong critic of the handling of the debt crisis, clashed with Prof Kubik who maintained that Europe’s legacy of peace trumps more recent mistakes.
“We are asking if Europe is worth saving but which Europe?” asked Prof Tzanakopoulos, who is from Greece. “The bankers’ union is not worth saving but the union of solidarity is.”
Prof Kubik, who is Polish, argued in response that the past 70 years has been the longest period without a major war in Europe for hundreds of years. “It is such an enormous achievement that almost everything else is secondary,” he said, adding that members of his immediate family had been killed by both German and Soviet armies.
A sense of deep unease about bank bailouts putting money in the wrong hands and about the demise and unravelling of social Europe, was clearly echoed from the audience, as was the need to make the emotional case for Europe and European values in the coming referendum.
We were left with a final question about the film and our campaign: would they really able to engage with audiences all over Europe? We believe they can and they will and have many events on our calendar to prove it. The sense of crisis has never been stronger, nor has the need to debate what kind of Europe we want, before it is too late.
Our host, the UCL European Institute, is UCL’s hub for research on Europe and the EU across all disciplines. Under their Britain and Europe project they run a series of events as well as a blog providing information, analysis, and comment on questions of EU membership and EU reform. See here for more info.
From time to time we'll share exclusive interview clips (including never-seen-before footage), the most incisive blog posts and the most interesting dispatches from our event organisers as they take the europe debate to the furthest, biggest, smallest, weirdest, most unusual places around europe and beyond.