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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
Report on the EU in Focus Workshops
Laura Valenza, NYU Florence student
La Pietra Dialogues
May 2, 2014

History of the EU - Ariane Landuyt, University of Siena - February 11, 6:00 p.m.

La Pietra Dialogues’ series EU in Focus began on February 11th with “The History of the EU,” a lecture by Ariane Landuyt, a professor of History at the University of Siena. Behind the professor, a map shifted through the decades showing the growth of the European Union. To her right, a painting of people peacefully congregating at Classical ruins on an optimistically sunny day seemed complementary to her lecture on coming together to re-build the past while also progressing into the future.

Landuyt focused on the development of the EU since World War II and the key factors aiding in the creation of the union, including economics, the prevention of war, and reconstruction. She emphasized that despite the problems the EU has faced over the decades, it ultimately is a positive creation. On the subject of economics and specifically the European Coal and Steel Community, Landuyt explained that “everyone was glad to cooperate because it was something useful for all.” But union via economics also allowed each nation to remain sovereign—a point that she emphasized as essential to Europeans. After World War II, each country was “something you could never reconstruct,” said Landuyt; the war had ravaged Europe, and national identity felt like a relic of the past. After the devastation of war, hope was needed. A union seemed to be a way to strengthen war-torn countries and allow them the opportunity to rebuild and re-create. “Create” is the operative word. As Landuyt concluded, “Europe is an invention.” While there is the desire to preserve individual cultures, to bring back the glory of times past, the European Union is also an experiment in collectively preserving individuality— an idea that resonated beyond the historical context into the present day. Observing the EU’s journey to unify different states and deal with the problems of cultural differences may prove to be a useful model for a globalizing society.

Institutional Framework and Decision Making - Nicolò Conti, Unitelma Sapienza University of Rome and New York University Florence - February 13, 6:00 p.m.

On February 13th, students gathered for the EU in Focus series’ second dialogue “Institutional Framework and Decision-Making” given by Nicolò Conti, a professor of political science at NYU.

The European Union is a governmental body that embraces transparency, noted Professor Conti, as he clarified the inner-workings of the EU for students by encouraging questions and dialogue throughout his lecture. He made comparisons between branches of the American government and those of the EU, but he also stressed that the EU is a “unique experiment [meant] to bring different states together.”

This uniqueness is what makes the EU challenging and interesting. As Conti highlighted, the EU brings together individual sovereignties, each with its various cultures and languages. While diversity adds to the uniqueness of the EU, it is also problematic since so much is “lost in translation,” as Conti said explaining the web of translators present in the EU seat in Brussels. Every language must be translated to French, German, or English.

Ultimately, while the workings of the EU may be transparent, Conti concluded that its “direction is not clear.” What precisely the EU is remains unclear as well. One of the key questions of the lecture was whether the EU is a democracy or an empire. This question felt particularly relevant in light of Ariane Landuyt’s lecture the previous week in which she spoke about the democratic values of the EU, which requires all member states to be democracies. But another question remains: if all the member states are democracies, does that automatically make the union between them democratic as well?

Economy of the EU - Pompeo Della Posta, University of Pisa - February 19, 5:30 p.m.

For LPD’s third dialogue in its EU in Focus series, Pompeo della Posta, Professor of Economics at the University of Pisa, explained to students how the European economic crisis may have more to do with politics than economics. “Years are important,” said della Posta as he highlighted the economic and political relationship between the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which gave birth to the euro, and the reunification of Germany in 1989.

Professor della Posta painted a scene from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s 1929 film Un Chien Andalou that illustrates the historical and cultural weight carried by Europe. Years are important, and it seemed apt to use a film made in the year of a devastating economic crash. He further explained, using a striking comparison in order to highlight the cultural fractures that make it difficult to create economic policy under the EU’s Rule of Unanimity: the size of the city of Beijing is the same as Belgium, and Belgium wants to split in two.

Della Posta posited that perhaps the cause of the EU’s financial crisis is “self-validating”—a psychological trick in which the economy fails because people think it will fail. He cited Mario Draghi’s July 2012 speech that halted immediately the progression of the crisis. Draghi emphasized the “political capital that is being invested in the euro.” Della Posta read Draghi’s words almost theatrically, reminding us of the power of words and grabbing the audience’s attention in a way that made it possible to believe that a speech alone could “calm the situation and stabiliz[e] Europe.”

EU Parliamentary Elections 2014: European (Dis)Integration? International Conference - April 29, 2014 (11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.)

The European Union is in a crucial moment of its history, in both political and economic terms. It has been facing one of the largest economic crises since World War II and a rise in Euroscepticism across the continent. Some European citizens and political leaders have increasingly expressed doubts about the future of the Union. A series of measures over the last few years have attempted to make the European Union more democratic, accountable and responsive to its citizens. Have they been sufficient to close the ‘democratic deficit’ and bring the EU closer to its citizens? This conference will explore the current political dynamics in the EU in the lead up to the May 25 parliamentary elections and will reflect on how the outcome of the elections is likely to impact the future of Europe.

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