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Wednesday, 18 July 2012 21:00

Beyond the yellow leotard

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In March, E&M wrote an open letter to the Director General for Enlargement, protesting against an official promotional video which was supposed to encourage young people to support EU enlargement. We wrote the letter together with www.die-euros.de out of a sense of embarrassment: we felt that the video underlined racial stereotypes and implied that all threats to European unity come from the outside. The DG Enlargement said (and still says) that the video was meant to communicate with young people who don't already know a lot about the EU, and who will recognise and respond to references to video games and martial arts films.

You can read the response we received from Director General for Enlargement, Stefano Sannino, here

So what should the DG Enlargement have spent its money on, instead of a glossy martial arts video? In his response, Mr Sannino invited us to give him our suggestions, saying: "tell us what you would like to know about EU enlargement and how you would like to receive the information. We will be happy to discuss your ideas together with you."

E&M Magazine is not affiliated with the European Commission, and nor is it our job to help the Commission with PR. But we asked our authors what they would have liked to see rather than the triumph of twelve identical women in yellow leotards. Here are a few of their ideas.

1. no need to bring a passport

For most of us, EU-membership does not mean the ability to defeat aggressive samurai-wielding men. It has concrete, everyday benefits, and that's what we want to hear more about. Currently, Ukrainians often have to wait hours before crossing the Polish border, for example. Why not create videos showing how easy it is to cross borders within the EU, or how consumer law helps keep trade secure and fair? A video could follow a group of young people interrailing around Europe, or going off to study in other European countries.

2. Tell us a true story

How have real young people benefited from the Common Agricultural Policy (even if they don't know it?) How have individuals been affected by consumer law or EU funding for local development? We'd like to hear some true stories. The American project StoryCorps has been collecting recordings of real life stories for years - the format is generally an interview in which people ask each other about their experiences. Why not ask a young person from a candidate country to interview someone from a member country about their everyday life, and how it has changed since their country joined the EU? Animated videos of interviews could be more fun to watch than classic head-shots.

The recent "Science: It's a Girl Thing" campaign by the Directorate General for Research and Innovation has shown that true stories work best: while the barely-relevant video of three girls dancing around in high heels created so much outrage that it had to be withdrawn, the interviews with role model scientists are a great way for young women to find out what scientists actually do all day and what a lab looks like!

3. Test our prejudices

E&M author Leire Ariz Sarasketa says, "Enlargement and a stronger union are also about breaking stereotypes. The DG Enlargement could create an online quiz with questions about candidate countries. Questions that we would all answer in the wrong way. And then show the real answers that we would learn to answer better if we were in this together. I know more about Poland since I live with Polish girls, and they are here because of Erasmus!"

4. A European west wing

Recently, Leire wrote a blog post about the need to create entertaining media materials about Europe. The post focused on the idea of a European "West Wing," but when it comes to enlargement, other formats would be possible. What about a reality show in which people from outside the EU visit different EU countries and learn about the "values" which Mr Sannino suggests all EU countries should share? Those of us who live in member countries might also learn something about what these values could mean!

At our workshop Do you speak European?, participants created a film showing the different values which can form a united Europe.

5. drop the utopian slogans

Ziemowit comes from Poland, a country which has successfully shifted from "Eastern Bloc" to EU in a couple of decades. He points out that it's important to be very careful when it comes to advertising EU enlargement to post-communist states. He says, "of course, 'propaganda' is too strong a word, nevertheless many people cannot avoid the impression of similiarities between communist and European promotion. What do I mean: unnatural, crappy, meaningless words and some utopian cliches. For example - all of us are really fascinated by the concepts of "a multicultural society", "intercultural dialogue", "mutual understanding", "unity in diversity" or my favourite, "intelligent and sustainable development". But these words have lost their initial meaning and become empty slogans. What is even worse is that in communist societies there have been dozens of such words already (e.g. peace-progess-socialism, people's voting - guarantee of security, prosperity and national power). The EU discourse has to be freed from such meaninglessness. Simple, natural language is far preferable to utopian buffoonery!"

As online media-makers, we think it would be great to see the DG Enlargement making use of social media and interactive projects, rather than static TV adverts. But most of all, we want to know more about exactly how member and candidate countries can benefit from enlargement. "The more we are, the stronger we are" - but how? When do enlargement and integration stop being long words and take on a personal meaning for us?

We'd like to make one final point in response to Mr Sannino's arguments. He told us, "You are speaking for many young Europeans when you advocate a Europe of a common mindset. You were our target audience but so were those young people, as others of all ages, who are not interested in the European Union, who consider the EU remote and bureaucratic and who oppose further integration. We wanted to reach out also to them." In fact, E&M editors and authors don't share or represent a single view of the EU or integration. Our magazine exists partly to discuss different views of these issues and come up with new ideas. But it also exists to tell transnational love stories, to delve into Berlin's erotic clubs, spend time at Dutch monasteries and laugh about American stereotypes of Europeans. In other words, although some of us are just waiting for the day when Belarus becomes a candidate country, we often do find the EU remote and out-of-touch. We need other ways to feel European - and we search for them in every corner of Europe's cultural, social, sexual and professional landscape.

Last modified on Thursday, 19 July 2012 09:07

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