An Alternative Europe is Possible

Article published on March 22, 2004
community published
Article published on March 22, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The people who want to change the world don’t stop at borders and, even if the institutions appear to have come to a halt, increasing numbers of Europeans are also crossing frontiers.

Europe’s institutions are stagnating and stuttering. They don’t seem to want to lift a finger. But Europe’s citizens are increasingly coming together through for example the horrendous attacks in Madrid, which didn’t just strike through the heart of Spaniards but all Europeans. A European identity has been born through such pain.

When Carlo Guiliani was killed by Italian policemen during a demonstration against the G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001, European youth went into shock. The joyful, often carnivalesque summit tourism lost its innocence.

German organisational skills, Italian employment…

While the powerful hid behind insurmountable barriers in the ‘red zones’, the colourful crowd showed its anger at the official way of doing things. A year after shots were fired Genoa, the European Social Forum was born in Florence. Henceforth, the protest movement would leave behind the ‘anti-summit’ argument. An independent and constructive philosophy was founded for a different, anti-institutional Europe.

Cyrille, who is reading law in Paris, took part in the Florence event. There, he met activists from many European countries, and swapped stories and email addresses. A year later during the second European Social Forum in Paris, he attended the ‘anti-authority battleground’ organised by GLAD (Globalisation of Struggles and Actions of Disobedience, Globalisation des Luttes et des Actions de Désobéissanc. ‘I think we need to give our actions new life through co-operation and learning from each other. Germans, for example, are fantastic on an organisational level. Italians have a great tradition of employment and management in Social Centres’. In all these European exchanges, however, what counts is to know your own traditions and respect those of others. ‘Everyone has their own identity, their own history and their own political outlook. Over and beyond the refusal to accept the current situation, we share the desire to live in different ways’. And these temporary ‘Communities’ – such as the ‘Intergalactic Village’ – shows that Europe is on the right path to reinvent itself.

The right to form European organisations

For Keyvan, member of the French student network Animafac, it makes no sense to think purely along national lines. ‘Europe is today determined by its institutions. We have to bring it to life. We are all European. There’s no point keeping borders in your head. We are looking for people who are interested in particular projects and the search does not stop at the border.’ One of these projects is Eurocampus, five days looking at a wide range of subjects, attended by representatives of student initiatives across Europe. Beyond improving co-operation between student organisations in Europe, last summer the programme in Bordeaux included another key issue: the right to form cross-border European organisations. It is not possible today to form an organisation which is equally and simultaneously recognised in all EU Member States. The right of European citizens to come together to achieve common goals of use in the public sector always ends up under the desks of the Brussels bureaucracy. Therefore, improvised creations are the only possibility. An association will probably be created at the next Eurocampus in Italy …in France. In contrast with other countries, there it is possible for foreigners to take on the presidency of such organisations.

The House of Europe

Unfortunately, there are always crises in international co-operation: power struggles and cultural misunderstandings. For Keyvan, this is not a problem as long as you are aware of differences: ‘When people respect each other they can also fight – it’s like judo. Before and after a fight you bow and walk away in a friendly fashion.’

Europeanisation is increasingly becoming a necessity for organisations and national institutions which shouldn’t be prevented even if such a thing were possible. The German scheme, ASA, is a development policy training programme, which has sent young people to do internships of three months all over the world for more than 40 years. A collaboration with organisations from France to Estonia was recently launched. Participants of different nationalities travel in groups of two to take part in development projects. In a shrinking Europe, which young people already criss-cross thanks to InterRail, Erasmus and low-cost airlines, it seems increasingly strange to go to Africa without having learnt more about your own neighbour. ‘The participants are very interested in learning how similar problems are resolved in other countries. There is much curiosity about what happens beyond Germany’ says Albrecht Ansohn, the programme’s Director. But novelty can also be irritating. For example, a Slovak partner organisation is laying claim to its Christian character, a fact which is provoking scepticism among German participants.

Unfortunately, the House of Europe is not new or clean. Rather, it is an angular and twisted construction where there is often something surprising to discover in the next room. The discovery of this house and the people who live there has become something self-evident for the Eurogeneration. As Keyvan observes: ‘You don’t think too much about the house you live in. You just live in it’.