Common Session Autumn 2015:
Borders and the European Solidarity Project
2-4 December 2015
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Link to programme: Printversie Common Sessions Rotterdam
The autumn Common Session of 2015 will be organised from 2 to 4 December (with a welcome reception on the 1st and excursions on the 5th) at the Erasmus University Rotterdam on the theme Borders and the European Solidarity Project.
The aim of this common session is to reflect on the question where the borders of Europe currently lie, both in a literal and in a metaphorical sense. Politicians often talk about the ‘European values’, but what are these values and how ‘valuable’ are they in day-to-day politics? Let us try to make these big questions a bit more concrete.
The unification of Europe, with the European Union (EU) as its most manifest embodiment, has its origins in the aftermath of World War II. Economic collaboration was thought to be the best guarantee for an enduring security on the old continent. The Rhineland economic model, with its strong Welfare State and negotiated labour relations between employers and trade unions, symbolised this ‘European Dream’.
Despite their colonial history, Europeans also saw themselves as the protagonists of democratic values and human rights. With this in mind, the scope of the EU was broadened, with the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, from an economic union to a political body, that was to establish a common European policy on security and justice and home affairs. Hence a ‘Fortress Europe’ was created: ‘internal borders’ within the so-called Schengen Zone were dismantled, but at the same time the ‘external borders’ of the EU were securitised.
With these political aims, and after the fall in 1989 of the ‘Iron Curtain’ between the authoritarian communist East and the socio-liberal capitalist West, the EU became a far more intensive form of corporation, that consisted moreover of countries with very different economic traditions and political histories.
With the securitisation of Europe and the neo-liberal take-over of the 1990s, a new internal conflict was created, that has in the 2000s led to increasing discontent about the EU: both in the founding member-states as well as in the new member-states.
This discontent knows both a Left-wing and a Rightwing line of argumentation. On the one hand, there is the criticism that the EU has become a mere vehicle of a neo-liberal reconstruction of the continent – with the dismantling of the Welfare State and the trade unions as key-examples – whereas on the other hand there is the tendency that, because the EU has become a hotchpotch of countries that have very little in common, we should protect the different nation-states again against foreign influences and indeed against the influx of foreigners.
These two lines of argumentation also lie at the heart of two pivotal challenges the EU is facing today: (1) the so-called ‘Free Trade Agreement’ (TTIP) with the USA and (2) the refugee problem that predominantly finds its origins in wars and conflicts in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is said to be the final deathblow of any remains of the European solidarity project and it is said to jeopardise the democratic legislatory process, by allowing multinational corporations to challenge just any environmental or labour regulation that can possibly endanger their business. It is also in the light of this neo-liberal takeover, that we have to understand the argument (of Greece’s ex Finance Minister Γιάνης Βαρουφάκης) that the ‘Troika’ of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund is actually a criminal organisation, because it humiliates its poorer member-states. The counter-argument of East European countries that they don’t feel obliged to support those – still richer – South European countries who have been squandering during the 2000s, sheds again a different light on the limits of the European solidarity project.
And here is the pivot of the upcoming common session on the borders of Europe: following an economic rationale, a majority of politicians want to put the EU borders wide open for foreign businesses, but these same politicians want to close the EU borders if it concerns refugees.
On the refugee issue, the European solidarity project is also under siege. First, there is the moral and practical question of how far ‘solidarity’ with people from other countries can actually go, particularly if we want to maintain a Welfare State. Second, there is the political question of how solidary EU member-states are with each other. Partly due to a rather strong neo-nationalist electorate in most countries, the EU cannot even come to an agreement on an equal and fair distribution of refugees amongst the member-states – thereby basically leaving the responsibility to protect the EU borders mainly to Greece and Italy.
This very complex, paradoxical and challenging relation of us Europeans to our borders and our values will hopefully result in an interesting autumn 2015 common session.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION (UPDATE 12/10/2015)
Last week, we have asked all members of staff to invite students and PhD-candidates to come with paper proposals. The sooner we receive the paper-proposals, the easier it is for us to draw up the programme, but in order to coordinate things a bit, we prefer that your own members of staff will determine who can present from your university.
Please have another look at the general theme of the upcoming common session in Rotterdam, Borders and the European Solidarity Project, that we have already uploaded some time ago.
Attached you will find some suggestions for ho(s)tels in Rotterdam – in various price-categories – and transportation suggestions to Rotterdam and to the Woudestein Campus of the Erasmus University where the common session will take place.
A campus-map (we will have the common session in the buildings C (Theil) and G) , how to get there and other useful maps can be found at: http://www.eur.nl/english/guide/maps/mapcampuswoudestein
There are plenty of places to eat the campus. You can find them on the map, marked with an orange dot: http://www.eur.nl/english/campus_facilities/food_drink/locations/ In the direct surroundings of the campus, you can only find some upmarket restaurants. For more affordable eating facilities, Blaak and the adjacent Oude Haven (15 minutes by tram) are probably the best option.
And, may we say, the city of Rotterdam itself will surely also contribute to having a perfect time: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/the-netherlands/rotterdam/travel-tips-and-articles/five-reasons-to-visit-rotterdam
We’ll keep you posted about the welcome drinks at Tuesday the 1st of December, the evening programme, the dinner – and dance-party on Friday the 4th and possible excursions.
Further questions can be addressed to Laura Heijnen: firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking forward to receiving you all soon in Rotterdam,
Laura Heijnen, Robby Roks & René van Swaaningen