Watershed moments

By: Caterina di Fazio

Agora Europe is a permanent and itinerant agora providing opportunities for public debate on the future of Europe and fostering an active and plural participation of citizens. It seeks to open a European political space, created plurally by means of political participation. For this space to exist, it must be opened by a plurality in movement; for there to be a European political space, European citizens must all contribute to establish it.

Members of EA discussing at their annual assemblies new strategies for the year. Photo by Frieder Unselt

Representative political space is created plurally throughout political participation by means of the representative system, and is thus defined as representative democracy. The political space can only be established by a plurality. Without plurality there is neither space nor politics. Yet a plural institution of the European political space clearly does not come about through the sole expedient of the representative system. Instead, it is set up when a more or less extensive group of people gathers in a space actively and plurally participating in a direct and immediate way to the claim of some political values ​​or public goods, to a critique that transcends itself and moves towards the horizon of a new proposal, towards the formulation of a new political project. There is a sense in which today’s problem, both in political theory and practice, consists in understanding how, within the system of representative democracy, it is possible to introduce moments of active and direct participation, of what we define as direct democracy.

A second problem is to define a new political project, as European and transnational as possible. ​​Bernie Sanders and Yanis Varoufakis’ idea of a Progressive International to oppose a Nationalist International is only one of the many plural voices echoing in the world for the institution of a political Europe and a political space of solidarity. However, the formulation of a new political project cannot neglect the issue regarding the existence and use of a space of ​​plurality. Without a space, whether institutional or public, academic or municipal, in which to gather and exchange views, to protest and put forward proposals, no political project can take shape. Without a political space there cannot be a new political project. It is only plural movements, or political movements, that create, de facto, the political space. A movement that, at the level of political existence, works in three different and complementary directions: setting a distance, protesting or resisting, and participating.

Such externalization of borders is evidently accompanied, or even motivated, by the abandonment of political and human (not just humanitarian) responsibility.

The third problem and definitely the most urgent of all, is also relative to space, more specifically, to what we define as the European political space. The broadness and urgency of this problem are due to its two-dimensionality: on the one hand, it is a matter of understanding whether we can actually speak of a European political space, whether such a space actually exists, and, if not, how it can be instituted. On the other hand, it is also true that, in the absence of such definition, we’re tempted to resort to the traditional model of the nation-state to describe Europe and its space, but this also means clashing with the evidence of a paradoxical process: to maintain freedom of movement within the Schengen area, Europe has begun a very risky process, that of externalizing its borders. The agreement with Turkey, the rejection of the boats to Libya are nothing but an attempt to push the outer borders outside of the European space itself. Such externalization of borders is evidently accompanied, or even motivated, by the abandonment of political and human (not just humanitarian) responsibility. This is favored, as mentioned, by the impossibility of situating national and European borders in the Mediterranean Sea. The externalization of borders, on the one hand, and the indeterminacy of where to locate borders in the liquid space of the Mediterranean on the other, contribute to maintaining freedom of movement in the Schengen area. But at what price? At the price of a devaluation, every day more significant, of the basic principle of politics itself, that of responsibility.

The definition of the European political space can be achieved in two different ways: this firstly means talking not only about the future of Europe, but about the political dimension of the continent. It is a matter of understanding whether the process of constitution of the European Union was also political, or whether the political dimension has been forgotten or omitted. In short, it is a question of understanding whether there is indeed a European political space. Secondly, the challenge is to create this space. Now, the establishment of such space can only come from citizens. The institution of a political space entails a coordinated and plural, participatory action of citizenship.

Often the academic institutions in which we tend to work are perceived as closed institutions belonging to a patronizing élite.

Representative democracy, as said at the beginning, is often not enough. Or at least this is the perception of citizens themselves. At a European level, this is felt even more strongly: the European elections, the MEPs, the European institutions themselves, are too often the furthest thing a European citizen can imagine. In the representative system, and therefore in both next European and political elections, the vote of every citizen counts. It is our task to create a space where citizens, so Italians, French, English, Portuguese… also feel they are European. This space should be that of the city or municipality itself. Often the academic institutions in which we tend to work are perceived as closed institutions belonging to a patronizing élite. The élite of intellectuals, when it comes to young people, who are far from being an élite, is, in the best case, that of a large group of precarious workers. Democracy by definition is against élites. If the constitution of a European political space cannot rest only on the elections and on the institution of political representation, it is after all necessary that its complementary antagonist, the direct, active and plural participation, is really such, that it to say, is not only open to but addressed to all citizens.


Our upcoming Agora events include Prague on November 28th, Rome on December 10th, Paris on January 31st, EUI in Fiesole on February 8th, which will also be the occasion to write what with former MEP Rui Tavares we have defined as Charta 2020, a manifesto on European integration that enumerates 20 public goods, or “objects of political desire”, essential to reshaping any future European political space. You can also participate in this project by making a donation here.

Caterina di Fazio

PhD, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University & Founder of Agora Europe

cd2890@columbia.edu

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