A FLAS Fellow's Semester Abroad in Amman

Audrey Dombro, an agricultural and consumer economics student and 2019-20 FLAS fellow, reflects upon her experience studying in Jordan.

Master of Arts in European Union Studies

The European Union Center at the University of Illinois offers the only Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) program in the Western Hemisphere. Learn more here.

Reading Contagion through Boccaccio's Decameron

Dr. Eleonora Stoppino discusses the moments of social and ethical breakdown described by Boccaccio, as well as the potential for reconstruction after the plague.

Conversations on Europe

Watch the collection of online roundtable discussions on different EU issues sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh.

COVID-19 and Liberal Democracy in Hungary

Dr. Zsuzsa Gille responds to the "Enabling Act," passed by the Hungarian Parliament on March 30, 2020.

Videos of Previous Lectures

Missed an EUC-hosted lecture? Our blog's video tag has archived previous EUC-sponsored lectures.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Appeal of Pan-European Elections for European Parliament

In his recent talk at the University of Illinois, Maciej Pisarski, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Poland, provided an overview of the Polish vision of the European Union and its future. Among the several intriguing and innovative ideas for reforming and improving the EU proposed by the speaker, one in particular stood out for its potential benefit and ease of implementation. The EU has long been struggling with the challenge of fomenting a European demos, as national identities remain more important and influential than any shared European identity. One suggestion Mr. Pisarski offered for remedying this problem is electing some members of the European Parliament (EP) from pan-European party lists. I would like to go one step further and suggest that the EP should be constituted entirely of pan-European parties elected by EU citizens at-large.

The current system under which the EP operates is flawed on several levels. First of all, MEPs are elected on national, rather than European, party lists. Research shows that voters see EP contests as second-order elections and therefore often use them to “send a message” to national political parties. It appears that the few EU citizens who do vote in these elections (turnout has steadily declined since the 1970’s) have national politics on their mind. This is clearly problematic since MEPs are supposed to solve European—not national—problems. Once MEPs are elected, they form working coalitions with ideologically like-minded candidates from other member states. These groups are not true political parties—they lack cohesion, platform clarity and party discipline. This makes accountability in the EP difficult, as it is not clear to whom MEPs answer, and who should receive credit or criticism for decisions made in the EP. This lack of transparency only adds to the mistrust of, and apathy towards, the EP and the EU.

Now let us imagine an EP with a pan-European party system. In such a system, a handful of pan-European parties of various ideological positions would compete on European issues in order to obtain seats in the EP. This will encourage voters to focus on, and become better educated about, EU issues. It will also help to get voters away from thinking about themselves in national identity terms, and push them toward thinking of themselves as Europeans. Once the composition of the EP is determined, it would function very much like a national legislature. The largest party (or coalition of parties) would form a government, and there would be an opposition. Voters will be better able to discern who is to blame or to credit for EP decision-making, and will be able to punish and reward political parties in the subsequent election based on their performance.

Having pan-European EP elections would strengthen the European demos and improve accountability. It would empower voters and encourage them to be informed and responsible EU citizens. I see no reason why the EU should not experiment with this idea.

Dan Koev is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science and an EU Center FLAS fellow. His research interests have a regional focus in Europe and include ethnic politics, Euroskepticism and human rights. He is currently working on his dissertation, which deals with ethnic political mobilization in Europe.


Friday, December 23, 2011

“Edukating” the Rich about Inequalities

by Anna DeVries

Wednesday, November 30 marked the EUC’s 4th and final film showing this semester. With the presentation of The Edukators, U of I’s European Union studies community ended this semester’ film sequence with a motion picture whose core themes are remarkably similar to the themes and events that are plaguing the actual European Union. Deeply rooted in the trends of political and social inequality, fiscal injustices, revolution, and rebellion, The Edukators is a film that does more than comment on the inherently strong bonds of friendship; it presents the (intended) youthful viewer with a somewhat realistic portrayal of the ever-growing divide between the overwhelmingly wealthy, and those struggling to simply survive.

[Spoiler alert: the following paragraphs reveal key plot elements of The Edukators] Hans Weingartner’s 2004 film depicts the lives of three lower-middle class, seemingly insignificant, young adults, Jule, Peter, and Jan. Aware of their surroundings, of the extreme wealth that surrounds the extreme poverty in Berlin, Peter and Jan take it upon themselves to “educate” the fortunate masses. By breaking into the homes of the wealthy, rearranging their furniture, and leaving a note that says something along the lines of “you’re too rich” or “your days of plenty are over”, these two Edukators breech more than just the security provided by expensive alarm systems. As stated in the film, the rich expect to be envied, to be robbed, or to be ripped off, and therefore they take certain precautions to avoid this fate; but they do not expect to be watched. By taking nothing from the homes of the affluent, the Edukators instill a fear into these prosperous individuals, a fear that they are unsafe, even in their homes—for what can you give someone who doesn’t want the multitude of material possessions you own?

The Edukators’ brilliant plan goes awry, however, when Jan and Jule take personal matters into their own hands and break into the home of a wealthy businessman to whom Jule owes €94,000. As the two scour the home for a lost cell phone, the businessman, Hardenberg, walks in on their operation. Panic-stricken and overwhelmed with emotion, Jule knocks him out, and in a whirlwind of questionable decisions, the Edukators add “kidnapping” to their list of revolutionary activities.

Surprisingly enough, over the course of the rest of the picture, the three revolutionaries befriend their hostage. They learn that he himself was once a rebellious activist until his life called for a better paying job. Hardenberg then forgives Jule of her debts, and the Edukators set him free. Until the last moments of the film, the viewer believes that people can change their behaviors, and that Hardenberg will go on to donate some of his money to the less fortunate; but that delusion is quickly squashed when it is revealed that Hardenberg called the police to arrest his kidnappers.

While the lives and struggles of the three protagonists are fictional, the reality they represent is very real in the European community today. With the economic crisis of 2009 followed by the global recession, even the citizens of the strongest economy in the world, the EU, are affected. Although there are overwhelmingly wealthy individuals such as Hardenberg, the majority of EU citizens struggle to pay their bills and debts, and to support their modest lifestyles. This circumstance, coupled with the fictitious but ultimately reasonably realistic struggles of the Edukators, allows the viewer to contemplate the impacts of economic inequality on society. What does it mean that a large majority of the general public are breaking their backs to pay off debts while the few fortunate are reaping the benefits? Is it an institutional problem or a social problem? Perhaps when we can answer these queries we can begin to bridge the ever-growing divide between the wealthy and the impoverished. If The Edukators is true in asserting that people cannot change, then is it the responsibility of political and economic institutions to adjust to societal needs? And most importantly, in a culture where the voices of the wealthy are heard over the majority, do we need a small (or large) scale revolution in order to make societal needs noticed?  

Anna DeVries is a senior at the University of Illinois studying both Global Studies with a concentration in governance and diplomacy as well as German. Having grown up in the suburbs of Krakow, Poland, she focuses her studies to concentrate directly on this area of Europe. Anna has studied abroad 3 times, twice in Vienna, Austria, and once in Istanbul, Turkey; and aside from globe trotting, her academic interests also include studying: the linguistic relationships between European citizens, institutional practices within the EU, and the societal acceptance/rejection of migrant groups within the European community. 


A Reflection on “The Polish Presidency of the EU: What it Means for Europe and Transatlantic Affairs”

Consulate General of the Republic of Poland standing with REEEC & EUC staff and faculty
Note: This article originally appeared on the blog of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center.

Maciej Pisarski, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Republic of Poland, gave a presentation on Poland’s place and future in the European Union. The presentation, titled “The Polish Presidency of the EU: What it Means for Europe and Transatlantic Affairs,” was given Friday at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. In the presentation, Pisarski highlighted the challenges facing Poland with its continuing integration into the European Union. Before explaining Poland’s exact role as President of the European Union, Pisarski gave a quick historical timeline of Poland’s economy and political situation before and after communism:

Late 1940’s – Communist party consolidates power in war-torn Poland
1951 – European Coal and Steel community formed
1957 – Treaty of Rome, establishes European Economic Community
1958 – Riots in Poznan, Hungarian Uprising
1968 – Invasion of Czechoslovakia, suppression of student movements in Poland
1981 – First Mediterranean enlargement, Solidarity movement in Poland. Martial law, economic meltdown, massive foreign debt.
1987 – Single European Act
1989 – Communism ends in Poland
1993 – Treaty of Maastricht establishes European Union
2004 – Poland becomes full member of the European Union

This timeline briefly describes how Poland eventually shook off the yoke of communism and transformed itself into the economic powerhouse it is today. This successful transition gave Poland much legitimacy and led to its warm welcome as the current European Union President.

Maciej Pisarski poses for a group photo with EUC & REEEC students and faculty
Poland has taken a particularly defensive approach to stabilizing the EU’s economy. They are active in designing stability measures to curtail the economic meltdown of other EU members. In order for Poland to effectively meld its economy with the EU’s, they must eventually adopt the Euro. Avoiding a detailed explanation of why Poland has abstained from the Euro Zone, Pisarski simply remarked, “We will adopt the Euro when the time is right.” However, as countries like Italy and Greece continually sink into debilitating debt, one has to wonder whether Poland sharing a currency with them is a wise decision. The Polish zloty is serving its purpose and keeping Poland’s economy secure from the uncertain future of the Euro. Keeping the zloty seems to be in Poland’s best economic interest considering its GDP grew by over 30% between 2004 and 2010 under the zloty. Pertaining to other EU economies, Poland seeks to lessen the amount of bureaucratic red tape hurting small businesses and increase female and youth employment.

Poland’s presidency of the EU consists of leading the EU parliament in day-to-day operations involving drafting and voting on legislation, as well as resolving economic and security-related matters. In addition to its regular duties as president, Pisarski explains that integration with Poland’s European members is crucial for future growth and stability. This makes integration a top-priority for Poland as it directs a region of the world which prides itself on travel and business friendly borders. European security is also a top priority for Poland. Since its induction into the European Union in 2004, Poland’s eastern border with Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia has become increasingly well defended. This defense has led some former Eastern Bloc countries to refer to Poland as the “Great Fortress of Europe,” characterizing it as more of a bulwark than an actual country. In a way, this characterization is not too far off.

Poland’s Presidency of the European Union has put it in a very unique and new position. A country that technically did not exist 100 years prior is now leading one of the largest unions of nation-states in history. Poland has taken the role of European Union leader and continues to strive for betterment domestically and in the European sphere.

Mat Jasieniecki currently serves as REEEC office assistant. An Iraqi war veteran, Mat is now pursuing his BA at the University of Illinois majoring in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia studies. He plans on furthering his study of the polish language by attending an oversees language program in Poland during the summer 2012 term.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Croatia’s Hard-Fought European Moment

by Richelle Bernazzoli

Ne hvala (No thanks).” Photo taken by Maximilian Geise October 15, 2011 at Zagreb’s “Occupy” protest on Ban Josip Jelačić Square

2011 has been a big year for Croatia—the small, Adriatic country that has, in the course of twenty years, transitioned from a constituent socialist republic in the former Yugoslavia to a free market democracy, NATO member, and candidate for the European Union. Along the way, the country was devastated by the wars of Yugoslav succession, which occurred from 1991 to 1995 and were followed by a lengthy and difficult process of reconstruction, reconciliation, and prosecution of crimes committed during the hostilities. On December 9th, 2011, however, the Republic of Croatia took a decisive step in a new direction by signing a treaty to become the 28th member of the European Union in 2013. This was only five days after dramatic parliamentary elections decisively ousted the center-right Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ (which has been dogged by corruption investigations), in favor of the progressive coalition Kukuriku (“cock-a-doodle-doo”) led by the Social Democratic Party.

But if it sounds like twenty years is a relatively short amount of time for these processes of transition, conflict, recovery, and accession to bring Croatia to the EU’s doorstep, try telling that to someone here. You would likely be informed in no uncertain terms that this moment should actually have arrived several years ago—perhaps in 2004, when Slovenia entered the Union, and surely by 2007, when Romania and Bulgaria officially became members. A common theme that arises in my interviews with Croatian citizens is that of “deserving.” Croatia, many of my interlocutors tell me, “deserves” EU membership after decades of struggle and suffering. In this narrative, the Homeland War (as the Croatian war of the 1990s is commonly called amongst Croats) is the latest in a succession of perils faced by the Croatian nation in defense of European civilization—dating all the way back to when Croatia’s Vojna Krajina or ‘military frontier’ was the buffer between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.

But it is not only a rightist or nationalist contingent invoking the idea of Croatia as the ‘ramparts of Western Christianity’ that views recent history in this way. One of the progressive NGOs whom I have engaged in my project—a peace studies center focusing on non-discrimination and non-violence education—recently produced a volume of human security recommendations for the European Union based on Croatia’s war and post-war recovery experience. In other words, the same difficult aspects of Croatia’s history have been spun and deployed in various ways and by various interests in the European integration process.

While all of this points to broad support for EU membership across the political spectrum and among various contingents within Croatian society, this does not mean that the entry date is approaching uncontested. The recent elections and “Occupy” movement have brought significant anti-EU demonstration to the fore, as the photograph above demonstrates. The continuing news from Brussels, of course, is not comforting in an economy which has been extremely slow to pull out of the recession and which has posted double-digit unemployment numbers for several years. A number of outspoken critics of European integration assert that entry into the EU will exacerbate Croatia’s economic and financial woes. Yet most of my study participants seem resigned: for Croatia, they say, “nema alternativa (there is no alternative)” to a European future. To join the club may bring trouble—but the consequences would be far worse if we remain out in the cold.

As the January 22 referendum on EU membership approaches, the dialogue in Croatian society is sharpening. Many television channels continue to broadcast pro-EU commercials, and politicians continue to impress upon the public the imperative of a positive referendum. In more nuanced tones, the prominent NGO GONG is calling for Croatian society to view the referendum not as a “necessary evil,” as they claim the political elite has presented it, but rather a crucial opportunity for open and honest dialogue about society’s needs and interests. We will soon hear the public’s verdict on EU membership. Regardless of the result, my colleagues and friends here in Zagreb are sure of one thing: Croatia’s multi-faceted transition will continue well beyond any concrete date of entry into “the club.”

Richelle Bernazzoli is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a 2011- 2012 Fulbright fellow with the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. Her research investigates the links between security, identity, the state, and civil society in Croatia’s Euro-Atlantic integration process. She has previously held Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships for Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian from the European Union Center (EUC) and has worked as a graduate assistant for the EUC as well as for the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security.


The Farm Subsidies Are “Too Damn High”

The current agricultural policies of the European Union are a vast improvement over the failed initiatives of the 70’s and 80’s. In the 90’s the EU wisely began to move away from meddling with market prices and consequently began to chip away at the mountains of butter and lakes of milk which had come to characterize its agricultural policy. In the 2000’s the EU took further positive steps by replacing price supports with direct payments, and later introducing decoupled single farm payments. These reforms have been instrumental in minimizing the harm done by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). However, while the mechanism of the subsidies has improved, the sheer size of the subsidies remains far too great for an organization that claims to stand for free trade principles. In recent years, annual CAP expenditures have hovered around €50 billion (more than five times the amount spent by the US) and constitute around 50% of the EU budget. A typical European farm receives €15,000 a year in direct payments. How can the EU justify such excessive subsidies while claiming to stand for trade liberalization in international trade negotiations?

What would Jimmy McMillan say about EU farm subsidies? They’re “too damn high!”

The most obvious and commonly cited argument in favor of European agricultural subsidies is that they are necessary to protect Europe’s farming sector from global competition. The problem with this claim is that there are many successful farms in Europe, which—due to their high degree of mechanization and capital-intensive production methods—are perfectly capable of fending off competition from the developing world without the help of subsidies. The farms that are really propped up by CAP are the ones which are least mechanized, least capital-intensive and least efficient. In these cases, all that subsidies accomplish is to reward and perpetuate inefficiency, while punishing more competitive farmers in the developing world. These generous subsidies further tarnish the EU’s image and undermine its credibility in international trade negotiations, ultimately hurting European consumers and producers alike.

In recent years, some have argued for the need to support European agriculture on grounds of its “multifunctionality.” The argument is that a robust agricultural sector offers a number of positive externalities—it provides environmental stewardship, slows social change and preserves cultural identities. However, there is little evidence that European farms are playing a significant role in environmental stewardship. Further, it is difficult to see why the EU would want to slow social change or preserve the cultural identities of its member states. In fact, just the opposite ought to be the case—if the EU wants to promote a common European identity, then it ought to support the transition to a more urban and cosmopolitan European society. Whichever way one looks at it, excessive EU agricultural subsidies benefit neither Europeans, nor the EU.

Dan Koev is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science and an EU Center FLAS fellow. His research interests have a regional focus in Europe and include ethnic politics, Euroskepticism and human rights. He is currently working on his dissertation, which deals with ethnic political mobilization in Europe.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Millions of Problems

This past fall, the European Union Center screened four award-winning films from Europe commemorating a decade of the euro currency. Ireland’s Millions, Denmark’s The Boss of It All, Spain’s Mondays in the Sun and Germany’s The Edukators each told stories of vastly different people, cultures and circumstances, but one element remained constant: money changes everything… but not always for the better. With 2012 ushering in the 10-year anniversary of the euro banknotes and coins, Europeans and others alike may feel somewhat ambivalent about celebrating the occasion.

Greece’s “enormous, unsustainable government budget deficits” have long-since reached the tipping point, as Prime Minister George Papandreou struggled to right the wrongs of years of questionable bookwork by previous governments.1 Ultimately, Greece’s debt crisis cost him his job, forcing him to resign in November.

Ireland’s property bubble burst around the time of the U.S.’s, bringing down financial institutions along with the creditworthiness of the State, who too hastily guaranteed the liabilities of those institutions.

Portugal’s long-tepid economy lacked the structural forms necessary to promote growth and a more export-focused economy.

“And so it goes,” Kurt Vonnegut once observed. The consumer credit binge beginning in 2002 turned out to be too much for the PIGS nations to handle, who now look to the EU “core”—especially Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy—to determine how to proceed. The future of the eurozone, once the hope-filled symbol of prosperity and European integration, remains uncertain. Will there be a “two-tiered Europe”? Should there be? 

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy

It is difficult to measure the effects of the euro in generating the current problem. On one end, scholars have found that in cases similar to Europe’s debt crisis, it cannot be argued that over-ambitious credit escalation has been tied to a new currency or federal bank (the U.S., for example).2 Additional factors besides the euro must have been at play. Other scholars debate whether “intense economic integration”—such as that experienced over the last decade in the EU via the advents of the Single Market and euro currency—undermines states’ abilities to weather market competition.3 Once eurozone members cede degrees of sovereignty and control of monetary policy to institutions such as the European Commission and European Central Bank (ECB), who is truly at fault?4 The picture becomes more complex.

Damian (left) and older brother Anthony count their Millions

With Millions (2004), Danny Boyle almost predicts the rise and fall of the euro. It is somewhat ironic, one notes, as the bag of Sterling falls on young Damian’s cardboard fortress the week before the UK is (fictionally) set to trade in the Pound for the euro. Damian quickly learns to doubt the “life-giving” power of money as he observes its perpetual misuse by his older brother and father. Few days but many ethically-questionable investments later, Damian decides to burn the rest of the cash, concluding that with new money comes new problems.

Could this also be the story of the euro?

1 Eichengreen, Barry. 2011. “The Euro’s Never-Ending Crisis”. Current History 91 – 96 (Mar. 2011).

2 Eichengreen, (ibid)

3 Egan, Michelle (2010) “Political Economy” in M. Egan, N. Nugent and W.E. Paterson (eds.) Research
Agendas in EU Studies: Stalking the Elephant. New York: Palgrave, pp. 216-255.

4 Neal, Larry (2007) “Chapter 1: Old Europe, New Europe: The Role of the European Union” in The Economics of Europe and the European Union, Cambridge: at the University Press, pp. 3-21.

Adam Heinz is a second year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies program at the University of Illinois. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Illinois in 2010. He has studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. In 2010-2011 Adam received a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship to study Portuguese. He also was a 2009-2010 Illinois General Assembly General Scholarship recipient. Currently, Adam is working as a Graduate Assistant for the European Union Center. His research interests include the linguistic-economic relationship at the border of Spain and Portugal as a result of EU initiatives. Besides an interest in travel and languages, Adam spends his free time reading, camping and writing music.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Left, Right, Left: The Unsteady Political Allegiances of Migrants in Western Europe

In his talk “Breaking up the Family? Migrants, Homophobia and the Political Left in Europe” at the University of Illinois on October 25, Patrick Ireland discussed the shifting political allegiances of migrant populations in several European countries. In Western Europe, migrants of non-European origin have traditionally supported left-of-center political parties. However, recent trends have seen center-right parties making considerable gains in migrant support. To attract migrants, the center-right has made the case for itself as a defender of traditional cultural values, contrasting itself with the socially progressive center-left. The uneasiness of migrants with modern European secular values (particularly the acceptance of homosexuality and protection of gay rights) has prompted them to increasingly throw their support behind the political right.

Despite these trends, most migrants still see leftist parties as the defenders of their interests. As migrants tend to belong to the lower socio-economic strata of society, their economic interests are naturally better served by the left. Further, to borrow terminology from noted political scientist Ronald Inglehart, these migrants belong to societies with materialist (as opposed to post-materialist) values, and are thus likely to place greater importance on economic (rather than social) issues. Finally, the European center-left has traditionally been more supportive of immigration than the center-right, and some latent xenophobic sentiments still linger in many parties of the right. Although migrants no longer monolithically support the left, it is unlikely that their allegiances will migrate en masse to the right.

If migrant populations are not truly at home either on the right or on the left, one question naturally follows: why don’t more West European migrant groups organize politically by forming their own parties to represent their interests? Such parties could combine leftist economic policies, social conservatism and migrant-friendliness into a single platform that would strongly appeal to migrant voters. Ethnic minority parties have already enjoyed considerable success in Eastern Europe. Parties representing the Hungarian minorities of Romania and Slovakia and the Turkish minority of Bulgaria have not only enjoyed steady electoral success, but have also participated in several coalition governments. Perhaps this would be the best avenue for migrants in Western Europe to engage their political system and to defend their interests.

Dan Koev is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science and an EU Center FLAS fellow. His research interests have a regional focus in Europe and include ethnic politics, Euroskepticism and human rights. He is currently working on his dissertation, which deals with ethnic political mobilization in Europe.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

“The ELP + Me”: Self-Utilization of the European Language Portfolio


Throughout the past few decades, the European Union has been credited with formulating and implementing successful language learning projects. M + 2, or the EU initiative to promote acquisition of two non-native languages in addition to an individual’s mother tongue, explicitly supports language learning in the European Union. The ultimate goal is to improve language learning and show support for national, regional, and minority languages in member states (see Hugo Baetens Beardsmore, “Language Promotion by European Supra-national Institutions,” in Ofelia García, Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

The European Union supports several supplemental projects to ensure the success of M + 2. One instrument is the European Language Portfolio (ELP). According to the Council of Europe, the ELP is a document to record language learning progress, competencies, and accomplishments. Language learners are its sole users; it is thought of by the Council of Europe as a “passport” of language experience, a personal biography, or a dossier. The ELP was designed to “support the development of learner autonomy, plurilingualism, and intercultural awareness and competence.” Although the ELP can be used by a variety of ages, case studies tend to focus on its use in teaching non-native languages to EU youth.

Popular critiques of the ELP stem from conceptions of its usefulness outside of the classroom. Scholars are apprehensive of its purpose because it does not guarantee high-quality outcomes. In other words, there is not a clear link between its use and success in a professional environment, and a personal record of language aptitude could have little value outside of an institutional setting (Beardsmore, 2011). For the ease of the hiring process, job recruiters may not request to view an individuals’ ELP and instead prefer a more concise list on a resume or CV (see David Little, “The European Language Portfolio: Structure, Origins, Implementation, and Challenges,” Language Teaching 35, no. 3 (2002): 182-189). Other critics have pointed out that the instrument relies on self-assessment. Although individual assessment is based on universal criteria provided by the European Union, there is a possibility of a bias in self-reporting individual accomplishments or overestimations of actual competencies (Beardsmore, 2011).

Despite the negative evaluations of the European Language Portfolio (ELP), the educational tool is still key in implementing the European Union’s M + 2 initiative. Critics are failing to view the ELP as an individual tool for self-achievement and fulfillment. Although most employers may not ask to see an applicant’s ELP, it is still considered a valuable instrument for putting language learning competencies into perspective. According to a longitudinal study of language learners across 15 EU member states, 68% of learners using the ELP felt that it was a beneficial tool and use of their time. Learners also considered the self-assessment aspect of the ELP an innovative approach and felt motivated by assessing their own language ability. If the goal of the M + 2 initiative is to promote non-native language acquisition, then the ELP has proven helpful in achieving this goal by empowering learners to recognize their language learning potential.

Despite some negative assessment of the usefulness of the ELP, the tool can only help, not inhibit, those who take advantage of it.

Allyce Husband is a first-year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies program at the University of Illinois. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Psychology from the University of Illinois in 2011. As an undergraduate, Allyce studied abroad in Florence, Italy. She was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for 2011-2012 to continue studying Italian as a graduate student. She plans to research immigration issues in the European Union.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Guardian of Unity: Poland’s EU Presidency

Reflecting on the state of Poland today, I find myself thinking back to the country's Communist past. Having been forced during the Cold War to spend several decades on a very different path than their Western European counterparts, Poland and the other Eastern European nations missed out on European (and Trans-Atlantic) integration for nearly half a century. This pent-up desire to “get back to the West,” as Deputy Chief of Mission Maciej Pisarski put it, only became realizable with the fall of Communism. This return has been far from easy, but having joined NATO in 1997 and the EU in 2004, Poland has certainly had great success in overcoming the legacy of totalitarianism.

So it is surely a point of pride that since July 1st, Poland has held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This position does not carry with it much direct policy-making powers—it's not even remotely near a “presidency” in the sense of the US presidency—but it does give Poland the ability to set the EU's agenda. Perhaps even more important though is the symbolism of the position—that Poland, after several centuries divided amongst its neighbors, a brief interwar interlude of independence that was soon demolished by invasions and re-invasions by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and then the aforementioned period of Soviet-backed totalitarianism—is now not only a secure and important member of the EU, but also, at least symbolically, the Union's leader.

I think this sense of wanting to firmly secure for Poland the place in the West it had for so long been denied explains at least to some degree its policymakers' aversion towards the prospect of any sort of permanent divisions within the European Union. The idea of a “two-speed Europe” has repeatedly been floated in response to the euro-crisis, with the aim of those countries using the euro moving further in the direction of a deeper union-within-the-union. But while it is natural that eurozone members will coordinate more closely on some matters, Deputy Chief of Mission Pisarski noted that Poland doesn't want to be left out of the decision-making process. This is especially the case because Poland is obliged to eventually adopt the euro itself. As Poland's European Affairs Minister, Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, argued a few months ago, “It is logical that countries who have a destiny to join the Euro meet.”

But I believe the opposition to a two-speed Europe goes deeper than these policy concerns. Having at long last regained their freedom and secured an equal footing with their Western European neighbors, I imagine that many Poles, and other Eastern Europeans, are quite reluctant to see the reemergence of any sort of dividing lines. Thus, as crucial decisions about the future of the euro are made over the next weeks, I fully expect Poland will finish the remainder of its Council Presidency continuing to act, as Deputy Chief of Mission Pisarski put it, as a “guardian of unity” within an EU in turmoil.

Michael Slana is a political science graduate student in the Civic Leadership Program at the University of Illinois. He completed his bachelor’s degree with a major in political science and a minor in history. During his freshman, sophomore, and junior years he interned for Champaign County State Senator Michael Frerichs, with responsibilities including constituent service and correspondence. In spring 2009 Michael studied in Austria as a participant in the Vienna Diplomatic Program, where he developed a strong interest in European and Transatlantic politics. During his junior year Michael began contributing to research on the impact of natural disasters on societal stability through a class at the Cline Center, and has continued this work first as an hourly research employee and later as part of a graduate assistantship. To fulfill his Civic Leadership Program residency requirement, Michael completed an internship in spring 2011 with the US State Department’s Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.


Monday, December 12, 2011

"Dragon Tattoo": A Minute with Nordic Culture Expert Anna Stenport

Anna Stenport, an EUC Program Board and affiliated faculty member, discusses the American film adaptation of the popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series from Sweden. The full interview is posted below, or is available here

Editor’s note: Turning a book into a movie means making a film that satisfies not only the readers who already know the plot nuances, but also the popcorn crowd, who go to the movies expecting to be entertained. These two hurdles are especially high for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” based on Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s worldwide bestseller. The movie opens Dec. 21. Professor Anna Westerstahl Stenport directs the Scandinavian studies program at the University of Illinois, and teaches courses in media, cinema and theater. Her current research includes contemporary media culture in the Nordic region. Stenport was interviewed by News Bureau arts and humanities editor Dusty Rhodes.

Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy has sold more than 27 million copies worldwide. What makes it so popular?

First, it’s a captivating page-turner! It combines a traditional locked-room murder mystery with a corporate thriller and foregrounds a Swedish setting, which is both interesting and exotic to many in the world. Second, Lisbeth Salander is a compelling protagonist whose competing personality traits readers seem to identify with. She is strong and vulnerable, victim and perpetrator, smart and challenged, ruthless and passive. As many readers attest, both male and female, they want to be her. Third, the books interlace the private with the public. They investigate trust and betrayal in families and between sexual partners and expose the underside of a rich, democratic welfare state, revealing its shortcomings.

How do you think it ranks as literature? For example, how commonly are Larsson’s novels taught as college curriculum?

Crime writing is one of the most popular literary genres in the world. Yes, it is often formulaic and pulpy; on the other hand, it is an accessible literary form where critical issues on social and gender equality, human rights, and political corruption, for example, can be directly addressed and reach large readerships. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has been a staple of book clubs around the world – it is probably one of the most readily available sources of information about 21st century Sweden today. This novel and others by Scandinavian crime writers such as Henning Mankell and Jo Nesboe are often taught in crime-writing college classes and are used in a Scandinavian studies curriculum for critical analyses of contemporary Swedish society.

It’s usually a dicey problem to make a film from a beloved book. What have you heard about how American director David Fincher’s interpretation will compare to the novel, and to the Swedish film?

Fincher chose to spend a total of 14 weeks shooting in Sweden, even though it is expensive to film there. I think he wants to convey an authentic sense of location and maintain the socio-cultural specificity of the novel. The Hollywood version of the film seems to accent the distinctiveness of the Swedish landscape. Sequences remind me of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s dedication to the play of light and darkness characteristic of a northern location. Bergman’s films from the 1950s and ‘60s also helped present the allure of Swedish (sexual) sin to the world. Trailers I have seen present two different stories – one a murder mystery where the relationship between Daniel Craig’s and Mara Rooney’s characters is foregrounded; another a dark and mysterious suspense film with the tag-line “the feel-bad movie of Christmas.” In combination with possible Bergman influences, I think it will be interesting.

How do Swedes feel about an American director taking on a story so grounded in Sweden?

Swedes generally and the Swedish media in particular seem enthusiastic. I believe people are happy to know the film is shot extensively in Sweden. The film industry is global in so many ways these days, and Swedish actors and directors work extensively in Hollywood and elsewhere around the world. The sense of film as a national product, or as representative of one national culture, is diminishing. Fincher’s adaptation of the book and the design of the U.S. film is a further testament to those changes.

For Americans who may not have read any of the books, or seen the Swedish films, what do you hope this movie will show them?

Sweden is known as one of the richest, safest, least corrupt, and most democratic and equitable of all countries in the world. Yet, in the novel “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” the state fails those who need its protection most – Salander included. Similarly, in this novel, none of the many atrocious crimes committed against women – trafficking, forced prostitution, and murder – are ever brought to trial. Instead crimes are hushed up to protect corporations big and small, including a supposedly radical journal critical of the system. And this in a country that regularly lands a top spot on global gender equality lists and prides itself on impartiality in the mass media! I hope Fincher’s film preserves some of this critical edge and this irony.

Editor’s note: To contact Anna Westerstahl Stenport,
call 217-721-5697; email aws@illinois.edu.


Cell Phones and Online Shopping Sites: Barriers to the European Union’s Single Market?

The European Union’s vision of a single market has evolved significantly since the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. The single market was “completed” in 1993 with the establishment of the four freedoms granted to all EU citizens: the free movement of goods, services, people, and money. Although the European Union has come a long way in the past 54 years, modern technology continues to challenge the effectiveness of single market initiatives.

In the European Union, there are many barriers to online transactions that occur across borders as well as steep roaming costs for cellular phone users who use their phone outside of their resident member states. While these barriers may seem trivial compared to issues like the Euro crisis, they can be seen as counterintuitive to the idea of a single market and the four freedoms promoted by the European Union.     

Poland, the member state currently holding the council’s rotating presidency, has made it a priority to “deepen the single market and complete its formation so that its growth and potential can be fully tapped into.” Specifically, the European Union’s Programme of the Polish Presidency of the Council of the European Union states that the Polish presidency will strive to hasten the development of the digital services market, eliminate barriers to cross-border online transactions, and attempt to reduce the cost of roaming services. These prerogatives for growth in the EU are inextricably related to the functioning of the single market and, if not addressed, can decrease its legitimacy. For instance, one of the EU’s four freedoms is the free movement of goods in the single market area. During his lecture at the University of Illinois, the Polish Deputy Chief of Mission Maciej Pisarski explained a scenario in which he tried to order a textbook from another European Union member state, but the shipping exceeded the cost of the book. In fact, it would have been cheaper to ship the book to Australia than to the member state of Poland. How is the European Union truly a single market when 60% of online cross-border transactions fail, creating barriers to the free movement of goods?

In a similar scenario, European Union citizens often are charged high roaming fees when they use their cell phone in a different member state. Although the costs are a burden for citizens, they also can impede the free movement of people in the EU. How are men and women who travel to different member states as part of their occupation supposed to keep in touch with family at home? If the EU promotes the free movement of people, then telecommunications technology should be conducive to their mobility.

In a 2010 Eurobarometer flash survey examining transactions between businesses and consumers, approximately 6 in 10 businesses reported that problems with cross-border transactions occasionally deterred them from conducting cross-border business. In order for member states to be resilient in the face of economic crisis, it is imperative for the single market to evolve with technology and ensure that the four freedoms are not obstructed. With the Polish presidency placing some emphasis on goals for telecommunications and digital commerce, the EU’s single market will have a chance to remain a model for future similar initiatives.

Allyce Husband is a first-year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies program at the University of Illinois. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Psychology from the University of Illinois in 2011. As an undergraduate, Allyce studied abroad in Florence, Italy. She was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for 2011-2012 to continue studying Italian as a graduate student. She plans to research immigration issues in the European Union.


Protesting Economic Inequalities: The Edukators and Occupy Wall Street

Last week the European Union Center wrapped up their Fall 2011 film series by showing The Edukators, the fourth film in the series this semester. All four movies—Millions, The Boss of It All, Mondays in the Sun and The Edukators—portrayed money as part of the plot, since 2011 marks the first decade of the Euro being in circulation. The Edukators, a 2004 German-Austrian film directed by Hans Weingartner, delves into the lives of three young radicals and their creative way of striking out against economic injustice. Their plan is not to reach the masses, but rather to instill fear and insecurity into the lives of wealthy individuals, with the hope of teaching their targets the lesson of the futility of wealth. The Edukators, as they call themselves, break into the homes of the rich, re-arrange the furniture ornately, and leave the finishing touch of a note with the warning “Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei,” which can be translated into English as “Your Days of Plenty are Numbered” or literally, “The Fat Years are Over.” It is important that The Edukators do not steal anything; rather, they just re-arrange and introduce fear into the safe sanctuary of one’s home.

The opening scene to The Edukators, in which the audience gets a first glance into the political pranks of The Edukators that really “hit home” for some individuals.

The Edukators not only carry out their political pranks to resist economic inequality, but also for the adrenaline that comes with the risk-taking. As the movie progresses, The Edukators are faced with the unpredicted dilemma of kidnapping one of the owners of the homes they break into to keep him from turning them in. It is clear that The Edukators mean no harm when they are unsure of how to “act as kidnappers.” Instead, they engage in conversations with the kidnapped businessman and learn about how he ended up so wealthy, but of course not without stating that his amount of wealth is unnecessary, and that he should do good with it like give to the poor.

Intriguingly enough, this past year the United States saw the emergence of a group of protesters who could be viewed as a spin-off of The Edukators. September 2011 marked the initiation of protests that would quickly turn into the nationwide revolution known as Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Unlike the three protagonists from the film who targeted individuals to create change, the Occupy Wall Street protestors have gone mainstream in hopes that letting thousands hear their message will be the solution to fix many of the inequalities they are protesting against. OWS may have started in New York, but it quickly spread nationwide. In fact, the location of Wall Street for the protests was chosen because of the success that the symbolic location of Tahrir Square had on the 2011 Egyptian Revolutions. OWS may seem like a problem of the 99% in America, but these same problems of financial inequality span the globe, and will only continue to spread if financial crises continue to dominate the news. These protests are seen as a new form of radicalism, but in some ways it is history repeating itself. In fact, The Edukators was based off of the Radicalism that swept through Berlin in the 1960s and just put into a present day context. The correct approach or solution to an issue is always being debated, but when looking at The Edukators and OWS, is there one specific detail that is key to their success? Until the very last minutes of the film, the audience believes that the The Edukators were able to have an impact on the businessman’s life and that maybe individual targets are the key to revolution, but the last note left by The Edukators, ”Some People Never Change,” states otherwise.
A message from a Wall Street Occupier – worn proudly instead of left anonymously like The Edukators

Throughout 2011, there have been protests across the globe for change in government and change in financial policy, some with similar underlying themes, some successful, some not. What does change though, is the implementation of historically successful approaches. Maybe The Edukators were treating their resistance more as political pranks, but maybe with it they have also introduced new revolutionary ideas to the future educators of the world. In any case, the wealthiest 1% of America is probably grateful that OWS protestors have remained street side instead of taking the strategy of The Edukators and making it personal.

Natalie Cartwright is a first-year MA student in European Union Studies and an EU Center Graduate Assistant. She received her Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Studies at UIUC in May 2011. Her interests include migration flows, environmental sustainability, Italian and Turkish. 


Friday, December 9, 2011

Harmonizing Electric Vehicle Standards in the EU and US

by Michael Slana

Attending Professor Torsten H. Fransson's lecture on Implementing Clean Energy Goals in the EU, I was reminded of a public workshop I observed last spring while working in Brussels. The workshop was hosted by the US Department of Energy's Advisor on eVehicle Technologies, Keith Hardy, and his EU counterparts, and attended by a number of industry leaders. They discussed US-EU technical cooperation on electric vehicles and continuing efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to meet the climate, clean energy and oil dependency challenge through the use of innovative technologies.

The below video interview of Keith Hardy, hosted by the State Department's US-European Media Hub, explains some of the main talking points of the eVehicle workshop:

I found this workshop very interesting, particularly since I was not aware beforehand of any substantial US-EU cooperation in the area of electric vehicles. Those present emphasized that US-EU agreement on regulations and standards in general makes life much easier for manufacturers on both ends of the Atlantic, and in the electric vehicle context in particular this concurrence has the added bonus of speeding the development and adoption of electric vehicle technology in America and Europe. As Bloomberg quoted EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht as saying last June on this topic, agreement on joint rules will help the world's two largest economies “avoid moving into different directions and risk creating new market barriers.”

Another interesting point, emphasized at the conference and in reports on the subject, is that officials in both the US and EU agree on the benefits of sharing technology when it doesn’t adversely impact market competition. For instance, Mr. Hardy showed at the conference a standardized “smart meter” developed jointly in the US and EU that can be used in electric vehicles in all markets. This collaborative development would help accelerate the adoption and proliferation of electric vehicles, which in turn helps realize the general goal of both the US and EU to reduce dependence on petroleum.

Fortunately, the message I took from the workshop is that we don't really need to worry about harmonizing electric vehicle standards between the US and EU, given the degree of close cooperation that has already taken place. However, there was concern at the lack of agreement between the US and EU on one hand, and certain other countries (most importantly China) on the other. Part of this disconnect comes from the fact that while the government is the sole body behind creating standards in China, in the US and EU standards are followed voluntarily, and companies, rather than governments, take the lead in developing them (because, after all, it makes more sense to leave the development of industry standards to the experts, the manufacturers).

Overall, I feel that efforts to harmonize electric vehicle standards between the US and EU serve as a great example of the importance of the transatlantic relationship beyond the more commonly referenced policy areas, such as trade and security relations. And it is a collaboration that may well have a major impact on Americans and Europeans in speeding the adoption of electric vehicles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Michael Slana is a political science graduate student in the Civic Leadership Program at the University of Illinois. He completed his bachelor’s degree with a major in political science and a minor in history. During his freshman, sophomore, and junior years he interned for Champaign County State Senator Michael Frerichs, with responsibilities including constituent service and correspondence. In spring 2009 Michael studied in Austria as a participant in the Vienna Diplomatic Program, where he developed a strong interest in European and Transatlantic politics. During his junior year Michael began contributing to research on the impact of natural disasters on societal stability through a class at the Cline Center, and has continued this work first as an hourly research employee and later as part of a graduate assistantship. To fulfill his Civic Leadership Program residency requirement, Michael completed an internship in spring 2011 with the US State Department’s Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.


The Importance of M+2 in the EU and Beyond

by Alexandra Lively

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” - Charlemagne

On November 4, Zsuzsanna Fagyal, a Professor in French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke on “Implementing M+2: Multilingual Education in the EU.” In a union comprised of 27 member states, 3 candidate states, 501 million people, 23 official state languages, over 175 nationalities, and a nearly fully connected land-based transportation network, it is very hard to accept an argument that would refute the importance of multilingualism. Multilingualism provides benefits politically, professionally, and personally.

For languages in the EU, French holds a very important position as it is frequently used in the European Court of Justice and is a working language in the European Commission. However, French is just one of 23 official languages and as Fagyal mentioned, the co-existence of different language communities in one geographical area should be continually recognized. The EU’s stance on multilingualism is that it is “a value for intercultural dialogue, social cohesion and prosperity.” 

However, this can prove difficult with so many languages. This was recently joked about on the television show Saturday Night Live where the unanimous vote of 17 countries was commented on:

I can't even get three friends to agree on a restaurant. Now imagine if we each spoke a different language and our grandparents killed each other in World War II… Belgium has two languages and it's the size of a Midwestern college campus.

To watch the full video, see below or click here: A Closer Look at Europe

One should not look at the comments on language as a deterrent to multilingualism, but rather a challenge to work toward more effective integration of multilingualism in all aspects of European culture. Also, the integration of multilingualism must expand beyond just the 23 official EU languages.

On a personal level, research shows there are many benefits associated with learning new languages. These can include more efficient thinking and problem solving, learning more rapidly, being more efficient communicators, dealing better with distractions, developing a greater vocabulary, having better memory and spatial ability, in addition to enhancing many other cognitive functions. This does not even touch on the social and employment advantages that would be offered to individuals who are multilingual. There is also the benefit of appreciating other cultures and being able to interact more when visiting other countries.

The benefits of multilingualism expand beyond merely knowing how to ask where the bathroom is or to order off of a menu. Multilingualism has the opportunity to enhance intercultural dialogue and social cohesion, to create a valuing of other languages, to overcome language barriers, and to enhance competitiveness and employability. These benefits need to be constantly reiterated in the classroom and beyond so that the necessity of multilingualism does not lose its significance in the local and global context.

Alexandra Lively is a first-year MA student in European Union Studies and an EU Center FLAS fellow. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Advertising at UIUC, with a double minor in Business and Communications. She graduated with High Honors and as an Edmund J. James Scholar. Her research interests include telecommunications, consumerism and trade within the EU. 


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Laughter through Tears? Germance, Greek Yogurt, and Euro Crisis Humor

by Reneé Gordon Holley

Germance – “When two people stay together for their kids” (Seth Meyers, on the television sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live)

Greece faces defaulting on its loans and being kicked out of the Eurozone. Her prime minister, George Papandreou, resigned in November as a last ditch effort to encourage the Greek government to agree to the EU and IMF austerity measures, preventing the imminent collapse of one of Europe’s most troubled economies. To make matters worse, Italy received further financial scrutiny as national bond rates rose to over seven percent. To help calm the political and economic uproar over Italy’s books, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed to step down.

Amid the constant deluge of bad news flowing from Europe, some have placed a lighter spin on EU matters. World markets have been fluctuating for weeks, as bail-out talks, led by France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, have only added to the fiscal uncertainty while many nations attempt to escape a nearly-three year long recession. Concurrently, however, fans of late night comedy and witty radio talk shows have been rolling in their seats.

Below is just a sample of the hilarity ensuing from Europe’s recent fiscal misfortunes:

As a musicologist, I enjoy any musical connection made between my field and the European Union. Those moments when the two align are often examples of supreme musical ingenuity. Well, maybe not supreme musical ingenuity, but they are often good for a laugh or two. Take NPR’s recent “Planet Money” report as an example; NPR writers have condensed France and Germany’s “centuries-old love story,” plus the creation of the European Union and recent debt crisis, into a catchy, seven-minute long “three-penny opera” song. Listen here for the news story that features this musical interpretation of the Germany-France romance (Germance). You can also listen to just the song here.

Comedy Central has also given decent air time to the European debt crisis over the past several weeks. Take Stephen Colbert’s summarization of the European crisis, including the proposed fiscal strategy of asking China to invest in Europe. At the end of the segment, if you aren’t convinced that investing in Europe is a good idea, perhaps the German Directorate General of Finance, the Honorable Hans Beinholtz, will persuade you to take on Europe’s debt, or at the very least to take Greece off of Europe’s hands.

The Colbert Report

It would seem unfair if Comedy Central and NPR were left to have all the fun at Europe’s expense. On the November 6th airing of Saturday Night Live, Seth Meyers presented Europe’s troubles during the “Weekend Update” news report. After pointing out Greece’s economic flaws, which are closely linked to the soluble economies of Greek yogurt and doctors’ office paintings, Meyers romanticizes about the Sarkozy – Merkel partnership in figuring out this European crisis. As Meyers said, “I don’t know if it’s going to work out, but I like that they’re trying.”

How have you heard the European crisis spun in popular culture? Leave your comments, as we follow the most epic “Germance” of the 21st century.

Reneé Holley is a PhD Candidate in Musicology and an EU Center Graduate Assistant. She is working on a dissertation that addresses the influence of EU cultural policies on contemporary German musical life.


The Optimism in Poland’s EU Presidency

On December 2, 2011, the Polish Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Maciej Pisarski gave a lecture entitled “Implications of the Polish Presidency of the EU for Europe and Transatlantic Affairs.” Mr. Pisarski explored the political, economic and social objectives pursued by the current Presidency of the Council of the European Union, at the tail end of Poland’s 6 month term.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk meeting with President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy

His lecture focused on the three priorities of the Polish Presidency: “European Integration as a Source of Growth,” “Secure Europe,” and “Europe Benefiting from Openness.” Objectives for economic and financial integration, energy, security and defense policies, and interaction with non-EU nations were all covered. 

The optimism conveyed by Mr. Pisarski was refreshing, explicitly fueled by Poland’s desire “to get back to the West,” an aspiration vindicated first by the nation’s 2004 EU accession, now by the symbolic and emotional values tied to its current leadership role. The state—crushed on both sides through two World Wars—is positioned to influence the agenda of both Germany and Russia, something unimaginable only fifty years ago. Indeed, the geographical position of Poland is beneficial in more ways than one, expediting EU goals for border nations such as Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

However, one could also argue that the optimism in Mr. Pisarski’s remarks and the “Strategic framework” laid out by the current Polish Presidency are also somewhat over-ambitious. The framework contains several examples of rhetoric—“Europe has overcome the shock wave of the crisis,” or “Experience shows that in the face of crises, Europe can act effectively”—in which the optimism obscures the darker side of the sub-continent’s present struggle and recent history. The former comment overlooks the fact that “the shockwave of the crisis” is only the beginning of the problems facing the world’s economies and financial markets. To put it a different way:  Pearl Harbor may be over, but the War has just begun.   

In a similar fashion, the latter comment takes into account the EU’s positive role in dealing with this year’s uprisings in the Middle East, but forgets the divisions created by the war in Iraq, as well as the disastrous break-up of Yugoslavia…not to mention WWI and II. Can Europe really “act effectively” when facing real crises? More to the point, can it act coherently? History may tell us quite a different story.

However, we should also not overlook the notion that the EU and its Member States are not incapable, nor inactive. Most notably, Germany and France are doing all they can to plug the holes in a sinking ship and reverse its course, calling for tightened budgets, lowered deficits, tougher austerity measures and readier sanctions for sluggish eurozone members. 

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy discuss the EU’s reaction to the eurozone debt crisis
So, while Mr. Pisarski’s speech may have been somewhat overly optimistic, I certainly preferred that to the “glass half-empty” agenda frequently pursued by the media. Yes, Europeans (and the rest of the world) may still have a long road ahead in terms of mending a broken economic system. But just like the post-WWII establishment of the EU, positive, encouraging leadership will be essential to give fresh vision and energy to the European Project.

Adam Heinz is a second year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies program at the University of Illinois. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Illinois in 2010. He has studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. In 2010-2011 Adam received a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship to study Portuguese. He also was a 2009-2010 Illinois General Assembly General Scholarship recipient. Currently, Adam is working as a Graduate Assistant for the European Union Center. His research interests include the linguistic-economic relationship at the border of Spain and Portugal as a result of EU initiatives. Besides an interest in travel and languages, Adam spends his free time reading, camping and writing music.


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