Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds The EU and other European institutions play an important role in funding and structuring cultural programmes and projects across Europe as we have seen with the capitals of culture programme. Criticism is often voiced against this instrumentalist use of culture as an elitist waste of money, ineffective bureaucratic means to force the creation of something– European cultural identity– that would otherwise not exist. In her book Becoming Europeans, Monica Sassatelli timely reminds us– European institutions might have appropriated the terms and the symbols of Europe, but they are not the single author of the narratives in which it stands as a key element of self-understanding, or identity. So what happens there on the ground, where the programmes and policies turn into lived experience and practise?
Skip to 1 minute and 4 seconds One interesting project to look at might be Erasmus, the educational programme of the EU already more than 25-years-old. Millions of young people, about a quarter of a million each year by now, have been able to experience living and studying abroad in a different European city than their own hometown. This experience allows young people not only to party and drink with taxpayers’ money as some criticism goes but to create personal ties and relationships with people outside of their own national cultural frame of reference and to learn and experience the challenges of surviving and adapting in a new cultural context. Another fascinating project of cultural Europeanisation is one called– Made in Europe– by the Dutch author Pieter Steinz.
Skip to 1 minute and 56 seconds In this book, Steinz argues that there is something like a shared culture of literature and art, which transcends the narrow boundaries of the nation. This shared culture not only refers to the art museums containing works of the same artists but also, for example, dance parties that take place across Europe or the Pan-european popularity of IKEA’s Billy bookshelves, which Steinz interprets as the budget variant of Swedish design, similar to what H&M, another Pan-European name, is for fashion.
Skip to 2 minutes and 32 seconds But perhaps the most famous form of cultural Europeanisation is the Eurovision Song festival or possibly the various leagues of European football– cultural events that regularly draw large numbers of viewers across all of Europe, ensuring participation, the consumption, of a shared cultural event within and even across the boundaries of the continent. Sure, these events may be limited to certain age groups or to certain economic classes, but the fact remains that the experience of these events are truly Trans-European.
Every year, about 250,000 students are able to live in and study at a university abroad, thanks to the EU’s educational programme, Erasmus. In this video, Dr Margriet van der Waal considers this programme as one way of cultural Europeanisation.
Cultural Europeanisation is about the ways in which citizens experience ‘Europe’. An exchange abroad, funded (partially) by the EU, has become popular with students. Students make international friends and, in some cases, marry and get babies, the so-called ‘Erasmus babies’.
But there any many other ways in which Europeans partake in European cultural events. Who doesn’t wear clothes bought at H&M or Zara, for example? Whose house doesn’t have at least something from IKEA in it? Who doesn’t know of the Eurovision Song Contest?
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