European Values, Citizenship & Belonging
What do we talk about when we talk about European values?
In the last decade, European values have become a central element of the political debate in the EU. They are regularly invoked by European Union representatives as they take a stand against, for instance, the hollowing out of the rule of law in Poland and Hungary or during negotiations about the Brexit. Apart from the rule of law, European values in this context also mean democracy, the market economy, human rights, solidarity and human dignity – some of which are actually (binding) principles of the European Union. Crucially, those who are perceived as threatening European values in these discourses see themselves as their only real defenders. Rightwing and populist parties in particular have regularly invoked an arguably different set of European values in the last few years, and especially so in the run up to the recent European elections.
If anything, the debate shows how contested and fragile the notion of European values is. It raises a multitude of questions: Do Europeans across the continent even share particular values? Can we even think of European values without the European Union? Do we, by using this concept, not evoke a Huntingtonian clash of civilisations?
This lecture series wants to dig deeper and examine the meaning and significance of contemporary debates about European values and link them more specifically to experiences of belonging, citizenship and collective memory. Since values are essentially teleological, they refer to a sense of purpose, of what we should aspire, and as such, they are also intimately connected to discourses of identity and memory.
In the first edition of the lecture series in early 2020, we explore how discourses on European values function within the EU, the tensions between notions of Homeland and Europe, and the roots of European values in the experiences of the Second World War. In the second half of 2020 another series will zoom in on minorities and European values.
The role of European values in EU governance
This was the first of a series of three lectures on the topic of ‘European values, citizenship and belonging’ that UCSIA organizes in collaboration with the Chair of European Values of the University of Antwerp, which is funded by the Baillet Latour Foundation. The session was attended by about fifty people, half of them students at various universities. The guest speakers were François Foret, Professor of Political Science at the Institute for European Studies at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Director of Cevipol (Centre d’étude de la vie politique) and Katlijn Malfliet, prof.em. of the research institute LINES (Leuven International and European Studies) at KU Leuven and an expert on Russian and Eastern European political institutions and law.
The project responds to the mission of UCSIA, as explained by its director, Stijn Latré, in his introduction.
UCSIA continues the Jesuit heritage at the university of Antwerp. One of the ways of doing this was in creating a Jesuit network of universities and social centers, called SCRIBANI. The purpose of this network is to reflect on the social construction of Europe today. That is why UCSIA is still concerned, within its thematic line ‘Europe & Solidarity’, with very concrete social issues, such as food banks.
But theoretical reflection on normative concepts, such as ‘solidarity’ or ‘European values’, is as important. In that respect, UCSIA is happy to work together with professor Heleen Touquet, holder of the Chair of European Values, in the development of a series of lectures on European values.
In philosophical circles, it is often alleged that the specificity of Europe is based on three pillars: Greek philosophy, Christian tradition and Enlightenment values such as freedom, equality and fraternity. From these three traditions stems a common tradition of self-reflection, of self-criticism. The lecture series on European values is a good example of this practice.
UCSIA has another important initiative which combines the key elements of Greek, Christian and Enlightenment tradition: the summer school ‘European humanism in the making’ which it coordinates for the European Federation of Catholic Universities. Students from across Europe can attend a weeklong programme to reflect on Europe and its values in the Italian town of Gubbio.
The three traditions mentioned are often complementary, but can also be at odds with each other, showcasing normative divides within Europe, as in the Lautsi-case. Mrs. Lautsi denounced the Italian state for hanging crucifixes in public schools. In 2006 the European Court of Human Rights first decided in favour of neutrality. But then ten member states of the Council of Europe contested the ruling of the court. In 2011, the Grand Chamber declared that Italy did not violate the Convention, with 15 voices against 2. Political pressure came mainly from orthodox and post-communist countries from Eastern Europe. So here we have conflicting values: autonomy of the individual in conflict with the right of nation-states to manifest their cultural identity publicly. This case is an example of the complexity surrounding European values.
François Foret presented the ValEUR project ‘Governing values, governing through values, governed by values? The European Union as a risk polity’. It investigates the role of values as a political, not an normative, subject.
How are values used in the European political context? There is a shift in discourse from European identity to European values. Why and who defines the agenda? Not one actor and no abstract entity as the state. But first we need to define values. In the research project they are approached as collective mental and cultural representations which are politically enshrined in law, embodied in institutions and instrumentalized in discourses on power relations. Rather than a clash between differing values, there is a competition between political and societal actors and the media, for specific values; human dignity, rule of law and democracy being the most commonly used. These values are very open and vague and if they are not kept under control, this may lead to a backlash, as Orban illustrates when he appropriates these values, claiming that his country embodies the real Christian European spirit against western European corruption of the said values. The value game is unpredictable and is used as gate keeper between self and other, unity and deviance, market and law, public and private spheres.
Why should we bother about European values? They are being used in name of something else, to legitimize the EU. Since the seventies two competing narratives have been predominant: the narrative of nation building (emphasizing a common past and destiny) and the narrative of legitimation through output (in terms of peace, prosperity and the common good). Since 2000 the narrative of European values, combining elements of both preceding values, has come to the fore. It is based on a common culture (rooted in normative foundations) and market oriented (promoting economic cooperation and materialistic consumption). Foret focuses on this development in his forthcoming book. He is also involved in a comparative research project with Airo Hino of the Waseda University in Tokyo. It revisits the value discourse in a different context. If Europe promotes its Christian democracy, can we find a similar discours in the Asian context? Such a comparison might help us to understand the singularity of the European project.
Katlijn Malfliet took on the challenge of a comparative approach, from her field of expertise, Russian, Central- and Eastern European politics. She is worried about the European project which takes the shape of a Greek drama. We were building Europe and then the fall of the wall introduced a turn in the plot, followed by the enlargement to Central- and Eastern Europe. Did we talk about common values before this? No, we professed the religion of ‘the rule of law’. It was the tool by excellence for integration, based on the belief that economic cooperation would suffice to guarantee sustainable peace. We exported our legal rules and institutional model to transform other countries coming from a completely different context. We reintroduced the Washington consensus, which once worked for us to build peace after World War II, after the fall of Russia. The Kremlin has been very effective over the past two decades in undermining the positive achievements of the European construction, as in the case of the rights of minorities and the support it lends to Assad, pushing Syrian refugees towards Europe. Russia will become normative for Europe as the core country in Asia. Military clashes are not realistic, but the antagonism takes the form of disinformation and cyberwar.
Central and Eastern European countries felt threatened in their hard gained newly established sovereignty. For them it was as if they moved from governance by Moscow to governance by Brussels. Russia still had offered social protection which Europe did not with its neoliberal directives. They were forced to subscribe to the ‘acquis communautaire’ without negotiation. This induced a feeling of humiliation, acerbated by the absence of a social and cultural European dimension. They reacted by strengthening their national cohesion. Ivan Krastev calls it a ‘Frankenstein story’ with Orban and his Polish, Czech and Slovakian counterparts selectively picking and choosing elements from the European acquis as a basis for building systems of illiberal democracy. They develop their own idea of European values. We are caught between a democratic deficit and a deficit of values. This is due to the fact that Western Europe lost the balance between political and civil rights, on the one hand, and economic and social rights, on the other. We have to revisit the values that lay the basis for European cooperation. This lecture series should contribute to that urgent and fundamental reflection.
The role of nationalism in European community building
Due to the global Corona crisis, our keynote speaker Cynthia Miller-Idriss will not be able to travel to Europe. We will try to reschedule her lecture to later on this year. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Keynote lecture by Cynthia Miller-Idriss
During a recent city-wide debate on a new ethics and diversity curriculum for Berlin schools, a local politician criticized the prevailing approach to inclusive curricula, which is typically presented in instrumental terms, as something that will either help ethnic-majority children better navigate diverse future career environments or will help immigrant children better integrate into European society. What if instead, he suggested, we simply approached diversity education with one question in mind: What would it take to ensure that everyone feels at home in the country where they live?
This lecture uses this question as a starting point, arguing that attempts to achieve that goal require looking deeply at a number of assumptions in any given society. Who gets to claim membership in, or ownership of, imagined and real territories? Why do national spaces and places engender such defensive and racialized protectionism from so many people? Can homelands—or the spaces and places that foster them—help us better understand the rise of the far right and its move from the fringes to the mainstream? Addressing these questions forces us to look more carefully at the importance of territory and geography and its intersections with identity, a sense of belonging, and the appeal of calls to defend, guard, or fight back against incursions and invasions. It requires analyzing the deeply emotional roots of ideas and ideals related to national homelands, regional heartlands, and a range of racialized geographies that rely on metaphors like motherland and fatherland or roots and soil to evoke natural ties and organic connections to specific local and national places. In closing, the lecture turns to possible ways forward and whether it is possible to shift national narratives in ways that are not only more inclusive, but are also oriented in key ways toward the question of what it would take, in the end, for everyone to feel at home in the country in which they live.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss is Professor of Education and Sociology at the American University in Washington, DC, where she teaches courses on culture, identity, extremism, education, research methods, and globalization. Her research is focused on the cultural dimensions of far right youth extremism and school-based responses to rising hate. She is the author of ‘The Extreme Gone Mainstream: Commercialization and Far Right Youth Culture in Germany’ (Princeton University Press, 2018); ‘Blood and Culture: Youth, Right-Wing Extremism, and National Belonging in Contemporary German’y (Duke University Press, 2009). She is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis on the Radical Right (CARR) and an active member of the American Sociological Association, the Council for European Studies, the Comparative and International Education Society and the German Studies Association. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology and a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Michigan.
Response by Noel Clycq, Research professor in the domain of Governance of learning in an era of globalization, department of Training and Education Sciences, University of Antwerp.
In his research Noel Clycq focuses, among other things, on the socialization role of public education systems. This role has become more prominent again in times of increasing diversity and continuing (educational) inequalities. It turns out that Flemish education (similar to several other systems in Europe) seems unable to socialize children from diverse backgrounds into a shared and inclusive (sub)national narrative and identity. For some policy makers a strengthening of and more explicit focus on Flemish identity, culture and history is the best way to foster cohesion and inclusion. However, when looking at the experiences of young people, the way forward might also be found through other collective identities, perceived by them as more inclusive.
University of Antwerp – Hof van Liere – conference room F. de Tassis
University of Antwerp - Hof van Liere
To reach conference room de Tassis, enter the buildings of the city campus through the main entrance in the Prinsstraat 13. Then cross the small inner court. In the passage to the inner garden, enter the door on your left and climb the stairs. You will find the conference room on the second floor. People who have difficulty walking, can take the elevator. In the passage to the garden, you take the door on your right. The elevator is situated a bit further down the corridor on your right.
The role of war recollection in European integration
Keynote lecture by Peter Verovšek
The development of the European Union as a community-based project of integration outside the constitutional architecture of the nation-state is the most significant innovation in twentieth century political organisation. Despite its many achievements, events at the start of the twenty-first century – including the political, economic, and financial crisis of the Eurozone, as well as the Brexit and the rise of populism – pose an existential threat to the EU. VerovŠek’s book, Memory and the Future of Europe, addresses the crisis of the EU by treating integration as a response to the rupture created by the continent’s experience of total war. It traces Europe’s existing pathologies to the project’s loss of its moral foundations in the collective remembrance of total war. As the generations with personal memories of the two world wars pass away, economic gain has become the EU’s sole raison d’être. If it is to survive its future challenges, the EU will have to create a new historical imaginary that relies not only on the lessons of the past, but also builds on Europe’s ability to protect its citizens by serving as a counterweight against the forces of globalisation.
Peter J. Verovšek is Lecturer (tenured Assistant Professor) in Politics and International Relations at the University of Sheffield. He studied Government and German as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. He then conducted research on the continuing effects of the memories of World War II in the politics of the former Yugoslavia as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar (2006-07), before receiving his MA (2008), MPhil (2010) and PhD (2013) in Political Science from Yale University. He is a critical social and political theorist interested in the interconnection between democracy, capitalism and the nation-state. His work to date has focused on how socially mediated collective memories serve as resources for political innovation in the aftermath of broad historical ruptures. His forthcoming book, ‘Memory and the Future of Europe: Rupture and Integration in the Wake of Total War’ (Manchester University Press 2020), examines the role that the collective memories of the two World Wars have played in the development of the European Union.
Herman Van Goethem is a historian and a jurist. Since 1 October 2016, he is rector of the University of Antwerp. He teaches and publishes mainly in the area of the Political History of Belgium. His present research focuses on the governmental and administrative collaboration and the persecution of Jews in Antwerp during World War II.
From 2008 till 2016 he was curator of Kazerne Dossin – Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights. He is a member of the Board of Governors of UNIA, the Belgian Centre for Equal Opportunities.