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The aim of the Agora Europe Series on the European Political Space, already known to readers of openDemocracy, is to be a permanent and itinerant agora providing opportunities for public debate on the future of Europe, fostering an active and plural participation of citizens. Agora Europe will disembark in the UK with a double appointment: at University College London on October 29 with “Brexit and Migration” and at the University of Oxford on October 30 with “Brexit and Populism”.
These gatherings will be an occasion to talk about the future of Europe and the potential of each country to reorganize the European political space. Each speaker will talk about the European Union as a political and not merely economic union. Ensuing debate will address Brexit, migration, the history of European integration and populism. As an agora, the participation of the audience is essential. These events are therefore open to all citizens interested in discussing the future of Europe.
The events at UCL and Oxford University follow events held at the Sorbonne, the Columbia University Maison Française and the University of Bologna. The Series will continue at the European University Institute on February 8, the University of Parma on March 25 and at the University Vita-Salute San Raffaele during the spring. Agora Europe was also a guest of the European Lab forum in Delphi last month as recently mentioned on France Culture. Further collaboration will take place on the occasion of the Nuit des idées at the Maison de la Radio in Paris on January 31 and in Lyon next May.
This is an era of “Illiberal Democracy”, as Viktor Orbán himself dubbed it. It is the time of populism, of nationalist right-wing movements that nevertheless get elected through democratic processes and democratic elections. In short, it is the time of illiberal democracies. Moreover, it is a paradoxical time: a time in which it is possible to create a transnational, European anti-Europe league, but seemingly impossible to create a pro-European one.
One challenge of present times is to understand current political issues as not merely national. As Luke Cooper suggested during the first Agora Europe meeting held at the Sorbonne, even Brexit is not an English problem but a European problem. As such, together with many other issues of the present, and primarily the one of migration or the so called “refugee crisis”, a convincing solution cannot remain at the national level, the level of the nation-state, but can only be found on a broader level, the transnational level. Many issues of our times, such as migration and Brexit, must be solved on a European level.
Migration is the most urgent of all, and the issue that the Agora Europe Series focuses on the most. During our agora at Columbia, one of the speakers, instead of countering hate speech, tried deconstructing humanitarian thinking, what we could call the “welcome speech”. His aim was to do some self-critique by showing how our convictions often have flaws, and to try to fill the gaps by analysing the weakness of all different arguments in favour of refugees (humanitarian, moral, economic...). But really there is one thing that remains impermeable to any critique and that no populist or nationalist can dispute: the policies and measures taken to contain migration often break the very same laws, both national and international, upon which our political institutions are based.
A few topics that we should probably address in our current debates are therefore: the relationship – often a conflictual one – between national vs. European institutions; the importance of borders and, more precisely, the process of the externalization of EU borders; the necessity of the development of an ethics of borders, one that takes into account not only the European political space (not understood merely as a euro zone) but also the Mediterranean space in particular; the difficulty of where to locate state borders in this liquid space in which they dissolve and leave us with the subsequent problem of the indeterminacy of national responsibility; which often amounts to saying the abandonment of the very values that determine European culture, such as the one of European solidarity.
The Agora Europe Series also entails the project of writing, publishing and promoting a Charta 2020 for Europe, a manifesto on European integration that enumerates 20 public goods essential to reshaping any future European political space. This initiative was launched by former Portuguese MEP Rui Tavares during our event at Columbia University “Migration and the European Political Space: The Future is at the Borders” last September 26. The Charta 2020 project is intended to be written, ratified and signed next February 8 at the EUI in Fiesole by academics and politicians, having interacted by means of the Agora Europe Series (among these: Etienne Balibar, Rainer Baubock, Richard Bellamy, Seyla Benhabib, Pier Virgilio Dastoli, Donatella Della Porta, Massimo Fichera, Simona Forti, Darian Meacham, Niccolo Milanese, Andrea Sangiovanni, Elly Schlein, Rui Tavares, Ann Thomson, Anna Triandafyllidou, Nadia Urbinati).
Charta 2020 represents a project to bring together European and national institutions with academic institutions and seeks to contribute to reshaping the European political space.