by Michelle Asbill
Recently, the European Union Center (EUC) had the honor of hosting Dr. Miriam Cooke, who gave an interesting lecture entitled “Mediterranean Networks: Connecting People, Ideas and Cultures Across Time”.1 Using several case studies of key historical events and figures from the Mediterranean area, Dr. Cooke sketched out some of the different networks, thus illustrating the diversity found in this area of the world. In her lecture, Dr. Cooke attributed this diversity to be at least partially a result of the movement of people, who collectively represent a wide variety of ethnicities, languages, histories, and religions.
While these different streams and networks of people have yielded great cultural benefits, they also can be interpreted as a threat to the maintenance of internal security and stability. Although Dr. Cooke’s lecture did not specifically touch on the European Union (EU) (as a specific entity), it is clear that the “fluid” nature of this area continues to the present day and has often proven to be quite a challenge for EU policy-makers. For example, on March 7, 2013, Germany announced that it would not vote in favor of allowing Bulgaria and Romania to enter the Schengen Zone.
In its announcement, Germany stated its concern that organized crime has not been adequately addressed, and therefore neither country deserves to enter at this time. It is likely that citizens from both countries would share in this opinion, in that clearly, there is a still a ways to go in fighting organized crime. The recent protests in Bulgaria provide an excellent example of the citizens’ frustration towards their government, which includes rampant corruption.2
However, at the supranational level, how should (or can) the EU reconcile the resistance of member states (typically located in Western Europe) to open their borders, as well as their minds, to the emigration of people from Eastern European member states. In February, the United Kingdom (UK) announced that it fears a high volume of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania and the resulting repercussions on its economic and social systems.3 Yet, while the UK has been voicing its concern, in Germany, a court recently ruled that a Bulgarian woman, who had not received legal permission to work in Germany, could still receive social welfare (“social benefits”) from the German government.4 This court ruling will likely have numerous implications, if anything due to the fact that in 2011, 43% of the almost one million migrants who entered Germany were from some of the more recent EU member states (such as Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria).5
One of the strengths of the EU is its diversity. The fusion and mixing of different cultures can lead to new discoveries and overall create a culturally rich environment. Yet, at the same time, it is challenging to find ways of balancing this with the desire of member states to have control over the integrity of their borders. However, ideally, the EU will continue to develop and experiment with different policies and programs aimed at valuing culture and respecting people.
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.
1For more information on this event, please see: http://illinois.edu/calendar/detail/1889?eventId=26642105&calMin=201303&cal=20130304&skinId=6850 and for more information on Dr. Cooke, please see: http://asianmideast.duke.edu/people?Gurl=%2Faas%2FAMES&Uil=mcw&subpage=profile
2For more information on the protests, please see: http://euobserver.com/economic/119128
3For more information, please see: http://euobserver.com/tickers/119047
4For more information, please see: http://euobserver.com/social/118899
Image source: "Mediterranean Sea," Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mediterranian_Sea_16.61811E_38.99124N.jpg