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The pressing issues facing Europe

A photo of panelists Tim Cresswell, Mai'a Cross, and Ioannis Livanis.

About 75 stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff lis­tened as North­eastern fac­ulty experts dis­cussed the var­ious crises facing Europe during a panel event sponsored by the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures and the International Affairs Program.

Hours after the Euro­pean Union on Tuesday voted—despite strong objec­tions from four countries—to dis­tribute 120,000 asylum-​​seekers among its member states, a panel of fac­ulty experts at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity dis­cussed the migrant crisis as well as other pressing issues facing Europe.

In her remarks, Mai’a K. Davis Cross, an assis­tant pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs, empha­sized that EU deci­sions like those on the refugee crisis must take into account the view­points of 28 sov­er­eign states. “It is going to look like mud­dling through,” she explained. “But that’s how Europe works. It has to ensure there is a demo­c­ratic process and discussion.”

Cross also touched on the Russia-​​Ukraine con­flict, which she described as the most serious con­flict in Europe since the civil wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and its impact on the Euro­pean Union. In some ways, she said, the con­flict has enabled the EU’s power by sparking dis­cus­sions of boosting defense spending and increasing trust between EU mem­bers. One way the con­flict has also con­strained the EU’s power, she said, is due to “sloppy” diplo­macy early on in response to the crisis.

Looking ahead, Cross said if Russian incur­sions make their way into EUmember states, “it could really lead to some serious esca­la­tion and a shift in the way the EU engages in for­eign policy.”

The panel dis­cus­sion fea­tured five fac­ulty mem­bers, including Cross, in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties with exper­tise span­ning inter­na­tional affairs, pol­i­tics, his­tory, and soci­ology. Valen­tine M. Moghadam, director of the Inter­na­tional Affairs Pro­gram and pro­fessor of soci­ology and anthro­pology, mod­er­ated the panel dis­cus­sion, which was pre­sented by Northeastern’s Center for Inter­na­tional Affairs and World Cul­tures and the Inter­na­tional Affairs Program.

‘The latest chapter in a very long story’ of conflict

Tony Jones, asso­ciate pro­fessor of soci­ology and inter­na­tional affairs, has pri­marily focused his research on the Soviet Union and Russia, but in recent years has expanded his focus to include Europe and the Mediter­ranean region. During the Q&A por­tion of the event, he said that Russia’s moves under Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin over the past decade point to a strategy aimed at reestab­lishing Russia as a major inter­na­tional mil­i­tary force.

Speaking about the cur­rent migrant crisis, Jones said it is “the latest chapter in a very long story” of con­flict in the Mediter­ranean region that has been ongoing for more than 2,000 years.

To under­stand what’s hap­pening today, you must go back into the dis­tant past in order to under­stand this,”
—Jones told the some 75 stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff in atten­dance in the Renais­sance Park building.

 ‘Crisis of anti-​​Semitism’

Natalie Bor­mann, an asso­ciate teaching pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence, focused her remarks on what she views as rising extremism in Europe and anti-​​Semitism. She pointed to shoot­ings in Copen­hagen and terror attacks in Paris this year as evi­dence of anti-​​Semitic feel­ings that exist, and she argued that this “crisis of anti-​​Semitism” affects the cur­rent refugee sit­u­a­tion. She showed imagery that she says pre­vents a gen­uine Euro­pean cul­ture of hos­pi­tality, pointing to a member of the Greek Par­lia­ment posting on Face­book com­paring his nation’s suf­fering under aus­terity mea­sures imposed by its Euro­pean cred­i­tors to the plight of Jews killed in Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. She also noted com­par­isons being made in the news and images com­paring the suf­fering and fleeing of Jews to that of migrants today.

By speaking about the refugee crisis in these ways,” she said, “Europe pro­duces a par­tic­ular reality of col­lec­tive sen­si­bil­i­ties that pre­vents making polit­ical choices based on a gen­uine ethics, or ethos, of hospitality.”

The Greek debt crisis: ‘No polit­ical coor­di­na­tion or fiscal coordination’

During the panel dis­cus­sion, the con­ver­sa­tion shifted to other areas of Europe—namely, Greece and the United Kingdom. Ioannis Livanis, a lec­turer in polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs, focused his remarks on the Greek debt crisis, noting that nei­ther the EU nor Greece is more to blame than the other. Rather, he pointed to struc­tural issues that exist within the Eurozone—the group of EU nations using the euro currency.

The com­pro­mise here locked us all into this crazy thing, and someone also threw away the key, in the sense that there was no polit­ical coor­di­na­tion or fiscal coor­di­na­tion,” he said.

The U.K.’s impending ref­er­endum on EU membership

Amid the other crises facing Europe, Cross noted one issue that “has not been sharply on everyone’s radar” is an upcoming ref­er­endum on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the EU. In May, Prime Min­ister David Cameron’s Con­ser­v­a­tive Party won the majority in the House of Com­mons, after which he reit­er­ated the party’s man­i­festo to hold a ref­er­endum by the end of 2017.

Tim Cress­well, a pro­fessor of his­tory and inter­na­tional affairs who focused his remarks on this topic, said the latest polls seem to indi­cate that the U.K. would remain in the EU, noting that Cameron has expressed an interest in rene­go­ti­ating terms of Britain’s mem­ber­ship. Cress­well added that other fac­tors such as the refugee crisis and the UKIP, the UK Inde­pen­dence Party, bear watching.

During her remarks, Cross com­mented on all these issues as a whole, noting that the EU “has been said to be in crisis” since its founding, but has always per­sisted. She said it’s impor­tant to con­sider, when thinking about issues such as the cur­rent migrant crisis, whether Europe itself is in crisis, or if it is dealing with a crisis.

I don’t think the EU is actu­ally in exis­ten­tial crisis right now, despite all of the dimen­sions that we’re talking about today,” she said.

-By Greg St. Martin

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