Europe - new opening?

Luděk Niedermayer
Monday July 9th marked the second week of the eleventh edition of this year’s Visegrad Summer School. Beginning with a lecture by Luděk Niedermayer on the suitably topical subject titled, ‘’Heading towards post-Euro economy’’ the day proved to be particularly interesting for all who attended today’s lectures. Opening his lecture by addressing the European crisis, he asked were we now ‘’on or off track’’? Setting the theme for what would be an emotive and powerful lecture into the crisis which currently dominates European life; Mr. Niedermayer addressed a number of issues that need examinations in today’s Europe. Dealing with the time frame of the crisis, he outlined how no easy solution is identifiable and the crisis will remain with us for a sustained period. However, not wishing to conduct the lecture in an overly negative fashion, he endeavoured to accentuate the positives whenever possible. Emphasising how economic growth is the core requirement to extracting ourselves from this crisis, he outlined how internal European trade needs to be strengthened if this crisis is to find an avenue to navigate through.
Explaining how policymakers were incorrect in prioritising monetary policy over growth, Mr. Niedermayer gave a range of examples illustrating their mistakes and he cleverly used charts and imagery to further explain his point. He outlined how the Euro project has to be a political project if it is to succeed and currently this is an area that deserves urgent attention. Creating an atmosphere that really engrossed the listening audience, it was highlighted how rules that were critical to the continued evolution of the European area, had been abandoned for a long time and only now were the consequences beginning to affect the populations of Europe. Giving his own unique take on the current actions or inactions of those in power, he passionately explained how fiscal austerity must be introduced in a strategic and well researched manner and currently this is not always the case. However, not to dwell solely on negative instances, it was demonstrated that the crisis today by no means resembles to crisis of 2008 and thankfully this is a source of encouragement. Nearing the end of his lecture he admonished the financial sector for their role in the current problems the societies of Europe now face and expressed a wish that Europe could come together and unite behind a coherent fiscal policy that may actually become an effective tool in this fight. Outlining possible scenarios of European evolution and separation, Mr. Niedermayer carefully took his time to fully outline the challenges that face Europe today.
Concluding by expressing his hope that this crisis may soon find resolution, he welcomed some of the work done by European leaders over the last year but stressed much more need to be done if this problem is to be truly stifled. Integration was a word he paid particular attention to during his concluding remarks and Europe will only recover if closer integration of fiscal affairs is adopted. Leaving the floor open to questions which dealt with a diverse range of topics from; Greece, to Transaction Tax to a Two-Speed Europe, Mr Niedermayer answered all questions in detail and facilitated debate on this areas and more whenever the occasion allowed. Earning a loud round of applause from a grateful audience Mr. Niedermayer thanked all in attendance for their contributions and promised to return to the VSS some time again in the future. A link to this lecture can be found here:
The second lecture of the day was given by the renowned Austrian on the engaging topic of ‘’cultural creativity in Europe’’. From the outset this topic immediately captured the imagination of all present and fortunately they were treated to a two hour discussion of a wide range of issues that was both exciting and fulfilling to all in attendance. Beginning by outlining the fact that approximately 3.6% of European GDP comes from culture, Mr. Wagner established the background for what would be a unique journey into the complexities and issues facing culture in Europe today. Speaking about the Belarus Free Theatre Mr. Wagner outlined how initially Europe had no comprehension of its existence but thankfully they came to learn of its uniqueness and have been supporters of it ever since. Recalling how the European Capital of Culture programme was once the source for much scepticism he celebrated its achievements particularly in transforming cities such as Liverpool into rich embodiments of culture in these regions. He argued passionately that programmes such as this reinvigorates cities and regions and lauded its success since its inception. Moving swiftly along he investigated the merits of art in Europe today. Arguing that arts needs space if it is to develop properly, he praised the Dutch cultural policies as a prefect example of the positive impact that art can have on a particular area. He subsequently championed the countries of central and Eastern Europe for their creativeness and success in this field.
The lectures continued along these lines for a period, however Mr. Wagner swiftly shifted focused and highlighted the need for cooperation across Europe in terms of culture and identity. He argued that for hundreds of years the primary factor that has put Europe ahead of the world is its culture and here he argues strongly that this must continue so we can continue to be regarded as the cultural haven of the world. Outlining the major shifts in European policy that began to occur with the Maastricht Treaty, he championed the idea of soft power policy in Europe citing the American example as the blueprint for Europe in this field. Further adding to this theory he welcomed the idea of nation branding and the possible evolution to smart power in the future across Europe. He questioned the participation of European in many programmes related to culture and strongly argued that more had to be done to encourage the people of Europe to fully embrace their cultural origins. Using the term cultural enlargement he stated that this is critical if Europe is to realise its goals in the future. He used the example of China aggressively exporting its culture as a pressing challenge to Europe, but positively noted that European culture is so diverse and wonderful that with the proper development it will continue to be celebrated throughout the world. Nearing his conclusion he insisted that Europe needed to drop the term cultural diplomacy and do things better! ‘’Europeans should do things in a European way’’, Mr. Wagner proclaimed. Concluding that European should do something or use some in an unexpected way he expressed his belief that European will continue to evolve culturally and it has the prestige and pedigree to continue to lead the world in this area. Mr. Wagner thanked the audience for their attention and opened the floor to questions where he initiated an engaging debate on the topics discussed during his lecture, earning a well merited round of applause Mr. Wagner was clearly delighted to have had the opportunity to share his insights on this engaging topic to so many people from all parts of Europe.
Remigiusz GawlikThe final lecture of the day was delivered by Remigiusz Gawlik on the pertinent issue of Croatia’s accession to the E.U. This lecture was one of the most interactive of the Summer School so far this year and it was delivered in a manner that brought about much discussion throughout its duration. Beginning by focusing on Croatian accession to the E.U. Mr. Gawlik quickly proceeded to outline the basic facts behind their application to join and the various factors involved in Croatia actually joining. In all it was explained that the process took 10 years to complete and on July 1st 2013 Croatia will finally become a member of the E.U. Moving swiftly along, the legal framework of the E.U. was explained with particular attention paid to the laws regarding a nation’s accession to the Union. Using videos to emphasise his points, Mr. Gawlik evoked strong responses from the audience to a series of cleverly placed questions. The legal part of the lecture was dealt with in a manner that allowed the participants to fully engage in a subject that can often be quite tedious and time consuming.
Re-focusing the lecture towards a more debate orientated theme, Mr. Gawlik surveyed the audience on which countries would they prefer to join the Union. His list included; Iceland, Serbia and Turkey. Perhaps unsurprisingly Turkey evoked a passionate debate among the audience. Mr. Gawlik quickly picked up on the controversy surrounding their candidacy and promptly divided the room into those who supported their candidacy and those who did not. What followed was arguably the most intense and stimulating debate among the participants on any matter addressed at the Summer School so far. Allowing each participant the necessary room and scope to make their points in a clear and structured manner Mr. Gawlik succeeded with his objective of making this subject one which truly had the whole audience engaged in debate. Once the debate had finished Mr. Gawlik reinforced the key points of his lecture and highlighted some interesting videos dedicated to the E.U. on the whole issue of enlargement. Leaving the lecture with a song from an American rock group, Mr. Gawlik thanked the audience and was promptly greeted by a warm round of applause.
A link to the lecture can be found here: