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An evening debate on Collective Memory was successfully organised by EUNIC in Brussels, the Goethe-Institut and the Instituto Camões. It took place on 20 January 2012 and was the fourth and last of a series of evening talks.
A final conference will be organised in autumn 2012 in order to follow up on the questions raised at the Getting Smaller events.
The debate was opened and moderated by Margarida Gouveia Fernandes, Cultural Counsellor at the Embassy of Portugal in Brussels, who introduced the two experts Prof. Ulrich Menzel, Managing Director of the Institute of Social Sciences at the Technical University of Braunschweig, and António Vitorino, former European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs.
Ulrich Menzel started his talk about the development of a common national identity and the legacy of culture in the case of Germany with the basic question whether the event title referring to shrinking states was correct or not. In relative terms, he explained, a lot of former European powers like Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, Prussia or Sweden either do not exist anymore or their territory, wealth and influence has decreased significantly. Germany, too, has experienced a collapse in history already twice, namely in the years 1918/1919 and 1944/1945. Since then, several cultural transformations have taken place and up until now, Germany has been considered a “big nation” in terms of German quality, German soccer, German automobiles or German tourism, but this leading role has been played in the economic, not in the political sector.While social equity or European democracy can be seen as a great success of the European integration process, an outsider might ask if there is a common security policy or joint foreign policy. As Henry Kissinger put it in his famous question “What is Europe’s phone number?”, Europe is still viewed as a continent composed of cooperating countries rather than a single block of 27 member states. Even in times of the financial crisis, separations exist between Euro and non-Euro countries, hard and soft currency and different interest rates which raises the question about the existence of a common European interest. Nowadays, the Union is shrinking in cultural terms, mainly due to the influence of overwhelming American mass production, but its influence is not declining in regard to technological, economic and environmental issues.Concerning the view on Europe in Germany, Ulrich Menzel argued that “European Union” is an ambivalent term. On the one hand, Brussels stands for bureaucracy, the Parliament, debating everything and deciding nothing and other negative associations; on the other hand, Germans are kind of proud to be able to help financially weak countries like Greece or Portugal as they have the feeling that Germany is “number one” in Europe and is gaining also political influence. Therefore, Professor Menzel was not entirely sure whether the term “shrinking identities” can be applied to Germany as suppressed aspects of a common identity seem to come back.
António Vitorino, himself a Portuguese, started his speech by openly stating that Portuguese are diminishing themselves and consider Portugal a small country. For about 500 years, from the 15th century to the late 20th century, Portugal was a major European colonial power and had significant economic, political and military influence. But only when Portugal became smaller and had lost almost all of its colonies, the country moved from authoritarian rule to parliamentary democracy in the 1970s. António Vitorino raised the question whether the Portuguese tried to find a compensation after the loss of “grandeur” and he explained that there was at least the necessity to find a new narrative for the nation. According to him and many of his countrymen and –women, Portugal has come back to its own natural size in Europe and the EU-integration can be seen as a natural follow-up to its destiny. The key factor for the joining of the EU apart from economic reasons was to constitute the new democracy and to support the stabilisation of the pluralistic political system. António Vitorino emphasised that the Portuguese had a very positive view on the enlargement of the European Union and generally do not share the feeling of a shrinking, but rather that of a growing Europe. However, it is important that a balance is kept between big and small member states and that Germany which used to be very sensitive to the interests of small European countries begins to draw attention again to the interests and needs of countries like Portugal. In the long term, António Vitorino does not see Europe as a directorate in future crises as the EU-institutions are too often put aside in the important process of decision-making which, however, needs to be inclusive and based on these institutions. Furthermore, a mutual approach to energy policy or security politics is still missing, but it will take some time to establish a jointly accepted basis.
The evening talk was concluded by an interesting and active debate and the listeners had the opportunity to ask questions and share their own opinions. Both speakers repeated their key points and agreed on the importance of Great Britain’s close involvement in the EU.
Added: 23 January 2012