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The pressing issues facing Europe

09/22/15 - BOSTON, MA. - Valentine Moghadam moderates a panel on Europe in Crisis in Renaissance Park 909 on Sept. 22, 2015. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Hours after the European Union on Tuesday voted—despite strong objections from four countries—to distribute 120,000 asylum-seekers among its member states, a panel of faculty experts at Northeastern University discussed the migrant crisis as well as other pressing issues facing Europe.

In her remarks, Mai’a K. Davis Cross, an assistant professor of political science and international affairs, emphasized that EU decisions like those on the refugee crisis must take into account the viewpoints of 28 sovereign states. “It is going to look like muddling through,” she explained. “But that’s how Europe works. It has to ensure there is a democratic process and discussion.”

Cross also touched on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which she described as the most serious conflict in Europe since the civil wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and its impact on the European Union. In some ways, she said, the conflict has enabled the EU’s power by sparking discussions of boosting defense spending and increasing trust between EU members. One way the conflict has also constrained the EU’s power, she said, is due to “sloppy” diplomacy early on in response to the crisis.

Looking ahead, Cross said if Russian incursions make their way into EU member states, “it could really lead to some serious escalation and a shift in the way the EU engages in foreign policy.”

The panel discussion featured five faculty members, including Cross, in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities with expertise spanning international affairs, politics, history, and sociology. Valentine M. Moghadam, director of the International Affairs Program and professor of sociology and anthropology, moderated the panel discussion, which was presented by Northeastern’s Center for International Affairs and World Cultures and the International Affairs Program.

About 75 students, faculty, and staff listened as Northeastern faculty experts discussed the various crises facing Europe. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

About 75 students, faculty, and staff listened as Northeastern faculty experts discussed the various crises facing Europe. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

‘The latest chapter in a very long story’ of conflict

Tony Jones, associate professor of sociology and international affairs, has primarily focused his research on the Soviet Union and Russia, but in recent years has expanded his focus to include Europe and the Mediterranean region. During the Q&A portion of the event, he said that Russia’s moves under President Vladimir Putin over the past decade point to a strategy aimed at reestablishing Russia as a major international military force.

Speaking about the current migrant crisis, Jones said it is “the latest chapter in a very long story” of conflict in the Mediterranean region that has been ongoing for more than 2,000 years.

To understand what’s happening today, you must go back into the distant past in order to understand this,”
—Jones told the some 75 students, faculty, and staff in attendance in the Renaissance Park building.

 ‘Crisis of anti-Semitism’

Natalie Bormann, an associate teaching professor of political science, focused her remarks on what she views as rising extremism in Europe and anti-Semitism. She pointed to shootings in Copenhagen and terror attacks in Paris this year as evidence of anti-Semitic feelings that exist, and she argued that this “crisis of anti-Semitism” affects the current refugee situation. She showed imagery that she says prevents a genuine European culture of hospitality, pointing to a member of the Greek Parliament posting on Facebook comparing his nation’s suffering under austerity measures imposed by its European creditors to the plight of Jews killed in Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. She also noted comparisons being made in the news and images comparing the suffering and fleeing of Jews to that of migrants today.

“By speaking about the refugee crisis in these ways,” she said, “Europe produces a particular reality of collective sensibilities that prevents making political choices based on a genuine ethics, or ethos, of hospitality.”

The Greek debt crisis: ‘No political coordination or fiscal coordination’

During the panel discussion, the conversation shifted to other areas of Europe—namely, Greece and the United Kingdom. Ioannis Livanis, a lecturer in political science and international affairs, focused his remarks on the Greek debt crisis, noting that neither the EU nor Greece is more to blame than the other. Rather, he pointed to structural issues that exist within the Eurozone—the group of EU nations using the euro currency.

“The compromise here locked us all into this crazy thing, and someone also threw away the key, in the sense that there was no political coordination or fiscal coordination,” he said.

The U.K.’s impending referendum on EU membership

Amid the other crises facing Europe, Cross noted one issue that “has not been sharply on everyone’s radar” is an upcoming referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the EU. In May, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party won the majority in the House of Commons, after which he reiterated the party’s manifesto to hold a referendum by the end of 2017.

Tim Cresswell, a professor of history and international affairs who focused his remarks on this topic, said the latest polls seem to indicate that the U.K. would remain in the EU, noting that Cameron has expressed an interest in renegotiating terms of Britain’s membership. Cresswell added that other factors such as the refugee crisis and the UKIP, the UK Independence Party, bear watching.

During her remarks, Cross commented on all these issues as a whole, noting that the EU “has been said to be in crisis” since its founding, but has always persisted. She said it’s important to consider, when thinking about issues such as the current migrant crisis, whether Europe itself is in crisis, or if it is dealing with a crisis.

“I don’t think the EU is actually in existential crisis right now, despite all of the dimensions that we’re talking about today,” she said.

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