Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Different Crisis?

by Michelle Asbill

There is a good chance that a person with limited awareness and knowledge of the European Union (EU) would still be able to connect Greece with the “Euro Crisis”. While there could be several reasons for this, one very probable reason is that this issue has received a significant amount of media attention over the last few years. While the debt crisis is definitely a legitimate concern, there is another crisis which is currently not only spreading through the EU, but also shooting down healthy roots.

Recently, Professor Abdulkader Sinno reminded listeners of this crisis, namely that of discrimination.  As one of the keynote speakers for the conference entitled “Real & Imaginary Borders Across the Mediterranean”1, Professor Sinno (Indiana University) assured the audience that discrimination, especially that which is directed towards Muslims, remains very much alive and at work in the EU.2   The conference, organized by the University of Illinois’s School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics, was an effort to facilitate a dialogue on “the risks associated with crossing borders – whether national, political, psychological, or cultural – within the Mediterranean”.3

While the conference encompassed a variety of topics, Professor Sinno’s sobering keynote address was clear: being a minority in the EU is a difficult road, particularly for Middle Eastern minority groups. Dr. Sinno’s lecture could lead to a lively debate regarding EU anti-discrimination policy, however it would be much more profitable to connect it with two broader issues, that of EU identity and integration. Scholars of the EU have already highlighted the tension between member state sovereignty and integration. It is generally accepted that most EU citizens still identify primarily with their own nation, which poses a challenge for policy-makers and EU leadership interested in building a common EU citizen identity.

Yet, if the EU is struggling to reconcile its own citizens, one can only imagine the task of integrating Muslims or other immigrant groups. Jolyon Howorth notes that, “Throughout recorded history, groups of human beings have come together for two main purposes: being together and doing together. Being involves identity, doing does not…”.4 The EU has been very focused on the “doing together”, hence the extensive anti-discrimination and anti-racism policies, not to mention several committees which are either directly or indirectly addressing this issue (a notable example is the European Network Against Racism, ENAR).5

It is logical that the Euro Crisis has been on “center stage”, yet it would be interesting to know (hypothetically speaking) how much money is spent addressing the effects of discrimination, such as unemployment and criminal justice related issues. To take this one step further, it would be fascinating to compare this figure with the debt crisis figures, ideally resulting in a better picture of exactly what kind of a financial crisis the EU is facing.  Regardless, it is clear that the EU is in need of strategies, which will help its citizens enjoy “being together” and not simply “doing together”.


1For more information on this conference, please see: http://publish.illinois.edu/mediterraneanconf/

2For more information on the publications and work of Dr. Sinno, please see his website: http://www.sinno.com/

3Citation from conference website: http://publish.illinois.edu/mediterraneanconf/

4Holworth, Jolyon. (2012). “The European Union as a Model for Regional Regimes Worldwide” in The State of the Union(s): The Eurozone Crisis, Comparative Regional Integration and the EU Model, edited by Joaquin Roy. Retrieved from: http://www.as.miami.edu/eucenter/books/EU%20BOOK%202012-120601.pdf

5For more information, please see: http://www.enar-eu.org/.

"More crowds on Brick Lane," © bongo vongo, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Retrieved 2/20/13 from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/83/Mela_crowds.JPG.

Michelle Asbill is a first year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) degree program at the University of Illinois.  Her previous graduate work has been in the area of social work (MSW—U. of Wisconsin-Madison) and community development (Wheaton College).  Michelle lived in Sofia, Bulgaria for three years (2008-2011), as both an employee of a small Bulgarian non-profit organization and also as a graduate student at New Bulgarian University (degree pending defense of thesis).  Michelle has been awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for Bulgarian language study for the 2012-2013 academic year.  Her research interests include EU policies and programs related to combating trafficking and how they impact the effectiveness of non-profits working in this area, as well as Bulgarian agriculture. 


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