Uncategorisable. That is the only word to describe this tale, in which ancient history rubs shoulders with recent events, chthonic myths, sacred and profane rites, but also with personal memories, feelings, impressions and poetry. Somewhere between a travel diary and the story of a return to a country of birth, “Border” plunges the reader little by little into the equally turbulent history and daily life of a region of boundaries, those between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. A cross-border region marked by a clash between East and West, trafficking of all kinds and population movements. The doorway to Europe and a wall that is supposed to protect it from what is considered to be excessive immigration. It is a space for observation and encounters, where the last vestiges of an ancient culture about which we still know very little subsist: the Thracians.
Kapka Kassabova takes us on a journey through the region, trying almost imperceptibly to pick up the thread of her own story. The author, who now lives in the Highlands of Scotland, is of Bulgarian origin. Born in Sofia in 1973, the childhood memories are of the final years of the Socialist system. After the Iron Curtain came down, she and her parents emigrated to New Zealand and then settled in Scotland in 2005, before leaving it for a voyage of rediscovery of her country of birth, which had since become a member of the European Union. The author writes in English, but “Border”, which was published in 2017, has just been translated into French under the title: “Lisière”.
Like a huge fresco bringing to life numerous candid shots of characters, the book inspires the reader with the desired travel, without ever ceasing in its examinations of human nature. Olivier Jehin
Kapka Kassabova. Border – A Journey to the Edge of Europe. Granta. ISBN: 978-17-837-8320-5. 379 pages. €14,99
Kapka Kassabova. Lisière. Translated from English by Morgane Saysana. Editions Marchialy. ISBN: 979-10-95582-50-2. 485 pages. €22,00
Et si on recommençait par la culture?
“What is killing Europe by a thousand cuts is its lack of soul and denial of its own identity. What could save it, by restoring it in the eyes of the people who comprise it, would first of all be the affirmation of its identity and the recognition of its cultural power, both of which are the products of a prodigious history and boundless creativity. The European Union is now aware of its own mortality. In view of its slow collapse and in the context of increasing electoral rebellion, only a strategy of sovereignty and power, putting cultural matters front and centre, can give meaning back to the European project and finally give the people of the continent a feeling that they all belong to it” (our translation throughout). These few lines sum up the political project described by Jean-Noël Tronc in this work, which was published last year in the run-up to the European elections, but which remains relevant in a Europe that disregards culture. Yet culture, which has been absent from a European integration focusing firstly on coal and steel, then on agriculture and fishing, before adopting a digital vocation that was as late to the game as it was inaccessible, has also been on starvation rations in the member states.
History is packed full of cultural manipulations and there are good reasons to distrust all forms of appropriation, exploitation and hijacking of cultural creations and intellectual trends. As the author, the president since 2012 of the French Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music (SACEM), makes clear, culture is nonetheless a vector of identity, a powerful instrument of influence and a major source of economic and social development.
What is the relative weight of culture at EU level? No fewer than 7 million jobs, or 2.5 times more than car manufacturing, five times more than the chemicals industry and seven times more than the telecommunications sector. This makes it Europe’s third-largest industry behind hotels and catering and achieving annual revenue of more than 530 billion euros. This is an economic reality that Europe has never ceased to ignore, even though it was designed as/has been reduced to nothing more than a marketplace.
In the version of the 2021-2027 multi-annual financial framework on which no agreement could be reached, the Commission proposed to give the “Creative Europe” programme €1.85 billion, but barely “€249 million were requested for 2021, i.e. 0.001% of the total budget, and inevitably spreading it too thinly; the Commission lacks the resources to back up its ambitions”, according to Tronc. Taking that as a starting point, one might well fear the worst in the context of a crisis budget announced to replace the above-mentioned version to deal with the consequences of the current pandemic, even though the cultural sector has been particularly hard hit by the closure of cinemas, theatres and museums and the cancellation of major cultural events.
Tronc, who served as adviser to the former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, former CEO of Orange and then of Canal +, has been a privileged witness to the financial meltdown of the telecommunications sector in Europe, to the insolvency of Euronews, which was brought up by Egyptian and American capital, the acquisition of audiovisual rights to sporting competitions by Qatar and the development of American hegemony in the field of digital. He also devotes a great many pages to the long battle between the defenders of authors and creators on the one hand and the giants of the Internet on the other, such as Google, seeking to cannibalise the entire European cultural heritage, with the conscious or naive complicity of the European leaders. This European naïveté is at odds with the American strategy combining protectionism with expansionism. “The idea that the intellectual property rules could explain some of Europe’s late entry to the field of digital is moreover contradicted by the American reality. The Silicon Valley giants all grew on the basis of the American market and now dominate the commercial Internet at global level. It would never have occurred to the American political classes to make it an aim to water down copyright. Protectionism and regulation are the keywords of the American internal market. Of course, this does not prevent the American administration from regularly bringing pressure to bear on the Europeans to open up their markets even wider”, Tronc stresses. And China is not going to be outdone by America for long. As the author notes, “the Chinese strategy for cultural and digital matters is overtly protectionist: China has decided to develop a semi-closed network, like an enclave alongside the global Internet, but one that represents more than a quarter of its users in numerical terms (800 million Internet users) and which it regulates closely”.
“Thirty years after the eruption of the liberal wave in the European telecommunications industry, reinforced by the wave of consumerism, we have reached this paradoxical result whereby all the efforts to weaken European monopolies have led to an American virtual monopoly in the field of Internet platforms, and an Asian one in the field of end devices and equipment”, Tronc points out, adding that in this model, it is ultimately the European citizen who subsidises the American Internet platforms.
The author makes a series of proposals to reinforce European digital sovereignty, for instance by stepping up the fight against the abuses of dominant position of the GAFA. He calls for the cultural industries to have better access to the aid earmarked for innovation, which is traditionally reserved for the technological sector and start-ups. He also suggests relaunching the European digital library initiative Europeana, retaining its non-profit public service vocation. He then proposes that €500 million be allocated to the development of a miniature voice recognition-based automatic translation tool within five years. Concerning the model initiated in 2013 by the movement France Créative, he calls for the cultural and digital sectors to be united in a single creative strategy for Europe. Tronc would also like to see the promotion of a common cultural identity and to this end, proposes to move Erasmus out of the world of universities, to promote school twinning initiatives, to reinforce the European dimension of audiovisual information programmes in Europe and to replace the current anonymous architectural structures on euro banknotes with portraits of great European artists or philosophers, to be chosen in a citizens’ referendum. (OJ)
Jean-Noël Tronc. Et si on recommençait par la culture? Plaidoyer pour la souveraineté européenne (available in French only). Seuil. ISBN: 978-2-0214-1946-7. 267 pages. €18,00
Covid-19: The European responses
On its website, the Foundation Robert Schuman is offering two converging analyses of the European responses to the current health crisis linked to the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, which was identified in China in late 2019. These works, which are fairly comprehensive in their descriptions of the various national and European responses, stress the limits of community competencies in the field of health and call for lessons to be learnt from this crisis to “prepare emergency plans for epidemiological, technological and climate emergencies, and in all areas where the stability of the Union and the integrity of its citizens might be threatened”. It also contains moderate criticisms of the ordoliberalism and attitudes displayed by certain governments that have taken unilateral measures which betray their disdain of the most basic degree of solidarity.
In reality, the reflection work on the way this crisis has been managed is only just beginning. And although lessons must be learned from what could be improved at the European “federal” level, there are a great many questions to be asked of the national and, in some cases, regional governments first and foremost. They are the ones that are responsible for the lack of foresight in terms of stores of materials and hospital capacities. They are the ones that are responsible for the absence of any sanitary response for care homes. And they are also the ones that are responsible for disorderly, often excessive, decisions made on the hoof as if to mask their lack of preparedness. They bear the full responsibility for the high death rates (+150% in the Haut-Rhin and, as of 18 April, more than 5000 deaths in Belgium, compared to fewer than 4000 in Germany) that come across as all the more shocking when they are consolidated locally, regionally and nationally.
“Europe”, the usual whipping boy, has come in for criticism and this will continue as long as it stands before the citizens in the nakedness of its scanty competences in the field of public health. The absence of coordination and solidarity between member states further worsens the picture of a cold and distant bureaucratic monster painted by Eurosceptics, nationalists and populists. Jacques Delors has rightly warned that this could be the death knell for the European Union.
There is no completely effective response to a new biological agent. For the remainder, there is no zero risk. This pandemic is a cruel reminder of this fact and a lesson in humility for all of us. (OJ)
Eric Maurice and others. Covid-19: European responses, a complete picture. Nicolas-Jean Brehon. The European Union and the Coronavirus. Both studies can be downloaded free of charge from the website of the Foundation Robert Schuman: http://www.robert-schuman.eu
Défense européenne: l’accès des pays tiers au FEDEF
In this analysis note, Federico Santopinto looks at the terms and conditions for third-country businesses to participate in the European Defence Fund (EDF), rightly stressing that the “degree of participation the EU will grant to its Anglo-Saxon allies will speak volumes about the vision it has of itself and the role it intends to play in the field of defence” (our translation throughout).
Although the way the fund is regulated is a source of deep irritation to the Americans, this is quite simply because for the first time, the Europeans have awarded themselves the means to apply terms to American businesses that strongly resemble the protectionist rules in force in the United States and because some of them are completely incompatible with the ITAR regulations. As for the British, they must at the very least agree to comply with the 2009 directive on public defence procurement. Such a commitment would not put them in the way of any risks, as the Commission has so far done nothing to enforce this text among the member states.
Santopinto also stresses the power of interpretation of the rules of eligibility given to the European Commission by article 10 of the regulation. The GRIP researcher considers that this is an asset to the EU, which could use it to settle disputes on a case-by-case basis. In the view of the weakness shown by the Commission in the defence sector to date, it can also be seen as a risk, until the contrary is proven.
Yet Santopinto rightly concludes that “a major issue in this dossier is not so much understanding what the United States or the United Kingdom want. The Americans and the British have clear ideas on the matter: they do not want the EU to become a major strategic player and they will do all that they can to prevent it from doing so. What is key to this dossier is an understanding of what the Europeans really want”. That is, if their ambition ever ran in that direction, which is by no means assured! (OJ)
Federico Santopinto. Défense européenne: l’accès des pays tiers au FEDEF. This GRIP may be downloaded from the following address: https://www.grip.org/fr/node/2938 (available in French only)
Will a European Security Council bring strategic relevance?
In this note, General Coelmont considers the pros and cons for the EU in adopting a strategic-level decision-making body if it genuinely aspires to a major role on the international stage. Having ruled out a treaty change procedure on the grounds that it would be long and uncertain, Jo Coelmont suggests that the European Council could meet in a “European Union Security Council” configuration to discuss matters of international security. Curiously, the author chose not to cross the Rubicon of qualified-majority voting, deciding instead to present the use of constructive abstention, associated with a limited option of veto (the heads of state or government could oppose an action only if it directly jeopardises national security). Even more seriously, he suggests that this Security Council, to be made up of the heads of state or government ruling unanimously, would supervise the force generation conferences and the implementation of the follow-up action until the desired end-state is reached. (OJ)
Jo Coelmont. Will a European Security Council bring strategic relevance? This Security Policy Brief No 124 may be downloaded from the website of the Egmont Institute: http://www.egmontinstitute.be