The First EUEve Workshop, Aston University, 20 September 2016

The first EUEve workshop (UACES CRN Europe and the Everyday) took place on the 20th September at Aston University, Birmingham. The workshop offered an inter-disciplinary analysis of the everyday politics of the EU and Europeanization, and investigated how Europe is embedded in the lived experience of ordinary individuals, communities and spaces. The focus was on Europe’s contemporary dilemmas: austerity, the refugee crisis, the financial crisis, the post-Brexit referendum reaction and the ways in which these events are experienced socially and spatially. The principal aim of the CRN is to understand how political decisions and narratives take shape in daily lives of individuals and communities. Our four main questions are:

(1) What impacts do policies such as budget cuts have on individuals and communities, across different European contexts?

(2) How have recent crises such as austerity and the refugee crisis, shaped the ways in which Europe is understood and represented locally?

(3) How do marginalized communities, and non-mainstream voters such as young people, engage with and experience, the idea of Europe?

(4) How is Europe entrenched in local spaces, cities and neighborhoods, and what spatial or geographic evidence can we observe?

In the papers presented at Aston, the participants explored the extent to which the ʻEUʼ and ʻEuropeʼ are understood as overlapping or disaggregated concepts. The contributions posed these questions to diverse levels of analysis, while examining different European locations. The analyses offered a cross-European examination, but the focal points were locations affected by austerity and post-Communist and post-conflict transitions. Thus, the geographic focus of the contributions remained broad in order to map a range of lived experiences of ʻEuropeʼ at the grassroots, and to study how the idea of Europe can change and shift in moments of crisis.

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The first panel ‘Everyday politics in Contemporary Europe’ was kicked off by Graeme Hayes (Aston University) whose paper on ‘Regimes of Austerity’ suggested four different types of austerity regimes by addressing the wider crisis of representative democracy. This was followed by Gergana Dimova, who presented the results of some initial fieldwork carried out in Bulgaria, examining the double reality of the impact of European funds on Everyday life in two Bulgarian towns. Carlo Panara (Liverpool John Moores University) and Michael Varney (Hull University) presented the results of an AHRC funded project that led to the draft of a good practice guide pursuing the objective of promoting or enhancing the accountability and transparency of the Brussels-based offices in England. Finally, James Dawson (King’s College London) concluded with an examination of democratic conditionality, Europeanization and the liberal consensus in the post-Communist region.

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Following the first productive session, the workshop reconvened for the second panel, ‘Crisis and Discourse in the South-Eastern Periphery’. Elisa Randazzo (University College London) interrogated the EU’s policy towards the Western Balkans, examining how the EU’s ‘top-down’ agenda has contained conflict but has generally failed to impede the growth of informal networks of agency that work against the EU’s aims. Next, Thomas O’Brien (Cranfield University) analysed the effects of the 2013 anti-government protests in Bulgaria. This was followed by a paper by Tamara Pavasovic Trost (University of Ljubljana) and Koen Slootmaeckers (Queen Mary University London) which, through focusing on LGBT rights in Serbia, examined the impact of Europeanization as an institutional ‘and’ driver of social change. The panel concluded with a paper by Dario Čepo and Dario Nikić Čakar (University of Zagreb) who presented on the impact of Croatia’s accession to the EU on empowering its citizenry. The overall themes that emerged from the papers underlined that while from the perspective of participatory democracy, citizens in Serbia and the Western Balkans generally seem to be becoming more ‘apathetic’ and disengaged from politics, this does not hold true when examining more creative and less formal means of participation. In the latter case, it appears as if the citizens of Serbia and other Western Balkan countries are very much engage politically, in very similar ways to citizens in more established democracies.

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The first workshop of the EUEve CRN brought together a number of academics, including PhD researchers and early career academics, to discuss some of the many issues pervading the countries and continent of Europe. The papers demonstrated that the ‘lived experience’ of European citizens is an indisputable fruitful area of research and underlined how the policies and politics of the EU continue to have a significant impact on the ordinary lives of European citizens, albeit in different, and in some case diametrically opposed, ways. While many of the cases examined are considered ‘young democracies’, the jury remains out as to whether such countries will be able to weather the crises, protests and dissatisfaction towards political parties and actors that continue to plague the political arena.

The EuEve CRN will continue to be at the forefront of this research agenda and are currently preparing an edited collection to publish the papers presented at the first workshop. We look forward to continuing to develop our research agenda and are already beginning to organise our second workshop, to be held at Canterbury Christ Church University in Autumn 2017.

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