Reflecting on the EU enlargement
Posted to nettime, May 3, 2004,
under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial
Historic events are odd things, mostly disappointing. They feel either
like empty routines of calendarial arbitrariness (200 years French
Revolution, the millennium) or utterly imposed (9/11, war in Iraq).
Either way, they usually render one passive, through boredom or
powerlessness. History, it seems, is always made by others. The EU
enlargement, somehow, doesn't really fit this pattern, eventhough it
had plenty of both in it.
Yet, it is also, or perhaps primarily, an unfinished event, one whose
actual meaning goes far beyond the "overcoming the divisions of the
cold war" or any other of the standard themes trotted out by
celebratory speakers on market squares across the continent. Its
meaning, really, will only slowly emerge, through the accumulation of
everyday practice. The EU, after all, famously lacks a vision.
How could such a practice look like from the point-of-view of open
media cultures? To think about this, kuda.org,
together with v2, issued
an invitation to gather in Novi Sad, Serbia for a transeuropean picnic
on the weekend of the enlargement .
Of course, being in Serbia, one cannot help but be reminded that this
great process of unification is also a process of creating new
boundaries, of establishing new visa regimes, border controls and
barriers to mobilities (which my spell checker insists to render as
'nobilities'). Yet, bringing together a hundred people from some 20
countries between the Netherland and Georgia on a shoe-string budget
and have them picnic on the porch of Tito's hunting cabin in the midst
of a pristine national park, one felt equally that new possibilities
were opening up, in the cracks of the major narrative.
This, as became more clear to me during the discussions, has to do with
the particular character of this thing, the EU, that is growing before
our eyes. Most importantly, the EU is not a state. It doesn't raise
taxes, doesn't have a military or a police force, doesn't create laws
(only directives to be made into laws at the national level), or issue
passports. It doesn't even have a sports team. Yet, it is also
not a meaningless exercise of an out-of-control bureaucracy issuing
'symbols' and creating well-intentioned but freefloating 'discourses'.
Rather, the best way to think of the EU, it seems to me, is as a
gigantic coordination mechanism. It has a relatively small hub
('Brussels'), trying to get others nodes in a network -- some bigger,
others smaller than itself -- to behave in a way that things can flow
between them more easily. The enlargement just added a lot of nodes to
this network. The coordinating hub's main function is to issue pointers
that help to direct these massive material and immaterial flows.
The strange thing about these pointers is their consistency. They are
hard and soft at the same time. By directing flows, they create new
pools of opportunities, while draining others off their resources. For
example, many educational institutions in Europe are going through
painfull restructuring processes at the moment, not just because of
funding problems, but because of attempts to reorient themselves
according to EU pointers ('Bologna reform') hoping to then profit from
the new opportunities created by the flows of people, projects and
money being pumped through a somewhat more standardized European
educational landscape. Of course, no institution is forced to do that
-- that's the soft part. However, not doing it will amount to a
self-marginalization virtually nobody is willing to accept -- that's
the hard part.
The EU, then, is a myriad of such circulation systems whose main power
rests on its ability to include or exclude nodes. The main difference
between inside and outside of a network is that opportunities are
created exclusively inside the network (through the circulation of
flows of all kinds) whereas outside, marginality is structurally
re-enforced all the time (by being bypassed).
The important thing is that the EU is not one but a myriad of
circulation systems. Many overlap and reinforce one another -- the
enlargement is also a process of accelerating such consolidation -- but
the degree of overlap is much smaller than in a traditional nation
state (say, the US). And this, it seems to me, is where independent
cultural practices come in. They can contribute that this consolidation
of the patterns of inclusion / exclusion do not become absolute. They
can extend the networks to include nodes other than the officially
sanctioned ones, thus making sure that not only opportunities flows
beyond the borders (if there is one aspect of the EU that is
state-like, then it's the Schengen Treaty), but that new opportunities
are created precisely because the cultural micro-networks are different
from the official ones.
This is not an 'Anti-EU' strategy, which, as was made clear by many
picnickers, is a luxury that only those inside the EU can afford.
Rather, it's a question of creatively redirecting flows, something one
can only do if one is connected to them. The definition of what Europe
is is up for grabs, like it hasn't been in a long time. This strikes me
as the true meaning of the EU enlargement. And if this 'new Europe'
continues to include picnics in the villas of former autocrats or
plutocrats, there's definitively something to look forward to.