Could flash mobs beat the EU’s no demos blues?

Are they looking up to make the EU more democratic? In 2010 an outbreak of flash-mob dancing outside the European Parliament brought the entire EU to its knees as it struggled to cope with a rare example of an emotionally connected celebration of  Europe day and European identity. 

We had an interesting class but a bit depressing because there was wide agreement that the EU was not North Korea but was not especially democratic either-it suffers from a bad case of weak input and weak output legitimacy in particular.

Nobody was willing in the class to fight or die for the Common Fisheries Policy (what a surprise that!).

Nobody was as excited by forthcoming European Parliamentary elections as they are by the next US Presidential election….even the next Presidential election in France seems more interesting, vital and watchable…compared to voting for our MEPs….in 2014

The institutional set up is poor-we get to vote for MEPs but they only indirectly police the Commission. Actually they do it quite well: check out this grilling of a Bulgarian candidate for the EU Commission got (she dropped out later): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZcZLvGaZ5Y&feature=relmfu

Most Europeans don’t understand our MEPs even do that.

We vote for national parties and politicians who then morph into decision-makers at the EU level and we’ve little awareness of that. We blame the EU when its often national politicians inside the Council of Ministers who are as responsible for policy failures such that we discussed in the context of the fisheries policy. Or its impossible to assign blame as a voter-the Commission, the Parliament, the European Council?

Nobody cares much about the availability of the benefits of EU wide free trade since 1957 (German beer in the shops). We take such benefits the EU provides more or less for granted.

In contrast, we probably accentuate the negative about the EU-and there are negatives. For example, Irish people are very angry about the Eurozone mess, and the fact that the bail-out has unquestionably compromised Irish sovereignty. Germans probably worry that they will be left with the bill for Greek and other states living beyond their means. Greeks worry whether their hospitals and schools will still be left open when the debt collectors and austerity-mongers are finished with them. Some are worrying if they have just enough money for food.

But the big democratic problem we discussed was identity. If there was a deep and genuine common European identity (a WE-NESS) then we’d be happy to develop majoritarian institutional solutions, such as direct voting for an EU executive (to replace the Commission) or EU wide referendums even. We’d be happy, or at least tolerate more, bailing each other out, to have a (money) transfer union as it were. Most Americans don’t resent the idea of a Federal government helping some states and citizens with money in a time of economic or social crisis. But that is because they’re all Americans.

But we mostly lack that strong emotional sense of Europeaness… or do we?

Could we grow it?

Could we ramp it up in a way that would be genuine and not some type of fake identity that was manufactured and sold as official propaganda?

And why bother…would it be needed and even desirable?

Would it undermine national identities? (or make them stronger?)

Do we ever feel  genuinely European and celebrate our European-ness?…..at Golf maybe when we beat the Americans? (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AXIY04c-kc&feature=related, but note many of the flags are NATIONAL European flags)……….

Or say on Europe Day (May 9th)…..do we have a big party and celebrate…like national days…..like we celebrate national identity in Ireland (St. Patrick’s day). see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8v88t3FEqZQ…..which is (a) a massive boozing session and (b) increasingly a celebration of how multi-cultural Ireland has become………which I think is much more colorful than it used to be back in 1964: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30x5Y69apvo&feature=relmfu

In France they go in for tradition, uniforms, horses, etc., to celebrate the grandeur that is and was France. They have Bastille Day (check out Sarkozy trying to do a Napoleon routine at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPF1JOtSE5c).

Do you think Sarkozy was hugged enough as a child?

In fact much more impressive is the way ordinary French people will celebrate with food and wine-in 2000 they organized a mass countrywide Picnic: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/832943.stm

….. or they really go in for big national military parades in Russia or China as well  and take them very very seriously….to express a certain something about their common identity… you can see the Russians let their hair down at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCDz3t-qtZk and those wild Chinese strut their stuff at..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vA4T1wfJLE&feature=related….

(hint: in both China and Russia’s case the core message may be: Don’t ever ever ever mess with us).

If that is a feeling of semi-fascist national identity I don’t really think we need that sort of common European identity…

And neither Russia or China are either very democratic or in any way so. Maybe identity is not so central to democracy after all? 

If that is true, then the no demos theory loses some of its purchase: you can still democratize a polity which does not enjoy strong shared national identity. 

Ask the Belgians! Yes, the results are underwhelming and messy, but whatever you want to say about Belgium, you cannot say its undemocratic.

India manages to run a very iffy democracy of 35 different states and territories using a dozen nationally accepted languages and an electorate of over 700 million many of whom are illiterate. Admittedly there were and are some huge unifying factors: Hinduism is the largest religion; the English colonized and unified the entire sub-continent around a common administrative system and language; and they have a united party system.

Europe by way of contrast is mostly either Christian (or secular) with like India an important Muslim minority: the administrative systems and languages are plural. The big difference is there is no common party system. Most of all the European party system are very national-we don’t have transnational parties running in national or even European parliamentary elections (despite efforts by some EP Parliamentary groups to have common manifestos, campaigns and some shared organization). This is despite the fact that in most EU states there are very similar party types…..with some exceptions (Ireland’s parties may be a bit different).

So how does the EU celebrate Europe day and what does this say about a weak European identity?

Check out Europe Day 2009 and just see the EU’s military might (not)………http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gn8SQHkIQhc

Its reassuringly crap isn’t it? (or is it so reassuring?)

Do we all know and like singing the EU’s official anthem…or is it supposed to have one….?

The answer is I guess NO and NO and NO again.

( check out this rather imperial version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VelRNIpjF6I&feature=related

but also have a look at this which seems more apt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnT7pT6zCcA)

The official title of the music is ‘Ode to Joy’….but where is the joy in the EU celebrating its achievements? 

That music by Beethoven is universal, uplifting and the lyrics by Schiller, unapologetically utopian, idealist, progressive. Everything the EU should be, given Europe’s history. Look here to see British actor Gary Oldman get into the true spirit of the ‘Ode to joy’ from the movie ‘Immortal beloved’:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJGESRc3XfY

Or listen to English left-wing folk-protest singer Billy Bragg sing his acoustic version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lL0Tmq_qJXg

The music was and is saying we can transcend the horrors of life. Its not necessarily even about Europe.

So whatever a European identity is……. its pretty thin on the ground…its not much about military parades…..its far too cerebral rather than emotional.………for example here is an official Europe-day broadcast from the EU’s equivalent of Hilary Clinton: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8iQ9pNlJO4&feature=related

Its excruciating. What she says is actually okay. But….the emotional connection ?

And here is the real deal herself speaking to the European Parliament: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B62igfNu-T0

The contrast in leadership, emotional empathy, and communication skill is striking.

But maybe all is not lost…maybe from the ground up …Europeans can express a sort of common identity….at times …..maybe we can celebrate a type of Europe we might be proud of….

What would that look like?

Outside the European Parliament in 2010 some young Europeans decided to show the mostly boring and stuffy MEPs (there are maybe a few cool MEPs)….. how to make a common European identity for Europe day,  but one that was about as far away from a military parade as you can get……. in a pretty weird, but fun way…..they managed to express a democratic Europe of the people…….

See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiu22ar_Exs&feature=related

(Admittedly the guy with the purple pullover at 1.06 probably needs to be discouraged…there is a parade in Moscow……)

Rumors that this flash mob dance was the most authentic expression of emotion at the European Parliament ever, can be denied….but only just.

You can find out a bit more about who organized this event from the ground up here: http://bruxelles.cafebabel.com/en/post/2010/05/10/Festival-of-Europe-Flash-Mob. That organization is a small example of what for now are tentative attempts to reform the EU from the bottom up…….I think its part of a trend that will grow.

And the point? 

Dunno. Maybe just let it happen organically from the ground up. Through You Tube or whatever replaces it…..make it happen through celebrating what European’s value and love most…their culture, their lifestyle, their languages, music, food………diversity…..their weirdness.

European identity needs to find a way to be emotionally relevant to Europeans and it needs a way to celebrate a Europeaness which matches the universalist progressive mood of the Ode to Joy.

Do all that and get the plumber in to fix the democratic blockages we mentioned in class.

And more flash mobs with dancing, smiling, brilliant young Europeans.

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2 thoughts on “Could flash mobs beat the EU’s no demos blues?”

    1. Which referendum…the first ..or the second if we vote No….? 🙂

      Actually I don’t have as big a problem with the idea of re-running a referendum if there are some changes in the question (we’ve had two on Divorce, and several on Abortion-in each cases there were important tweaks in the question). We’ve had I think 8 referendums on Europe.

      My worry is the whole thing will be boiled down to crude slogans: if we don’t vote yes-we’re out, or we get no more bailouts. Or if we get a deal on our debt repayments that we should all vote yes, or if we don’t, then no. The actual substance of the latest Treaty is about as clear as mud. It might not actually mean much if the Commission implement its rules flexibly. On the other hand it could well make the budget cuts of the last two budgets look like warming up exercises and full strength flavour austerity would become a semi-permanent feature of Irish budgets for the next decade and beyond (Austerity-Lite will be there anyhow). Are they actually trying to provoke a mass exodus from the country or something?

      Is the light at the end of the tunnel a way out, or a train coming to run you down?

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