Is Europe sleep-walking into a disaster to rival that of the First World War? It’s not often that you hear the upcoming EU membership referendum described in such drastic terms, but that is precisely the premise of The Great European Disaster Movie, screened Monday night in Castle’s great hall by the university Italian Society.
Released in 2015, the documentary presents a worst-case scenario version of the EU’s future. Spurred on by a British exit from the union, we find le Pen President of France, Farage British Premier, Merkel axed, the euro scrapped and eventually the union disbanded altogether. This may all sound a bit far-fetched, but the film is balanced out by the modern-day interviews from across the political spectrum, addressing the strengths but also the weaknesses of the European project. So a Podemos-supporting Spanish architect will be discussing the rise of Left-wing protest parties across the Union, and a few moments later we hear from an elderly UKIP Councillor thoughtfully weighing the decline of English coastal towns.
Despite the headline-grabbing title, the film does a good job of presenting these diverse political views, of examining the social problems which have given rise to a more extremely polarised electorate in recent years, and the challenges this provides to the survival of the union. As one commentator remarks in the film, if the Dutch people dislike the incumbent government they would seek to change that government, they wouldn’t decide to disband the Netherlands. And yet criticising the EU always seems to lead directly to an exit strategy.
Why? Well it’s no secret that the EU doesn’t enjoy the kind of patriotism many feel towards their own nation state. A simple hand-raising exercise in the hall revealed that while many were pro-European, less were eager to identify themselves as ‘Europeans’.
The film was followed by a lively Q&A with director Annalisa Piras and executive producer Bill Emmott, moderated by Durham’s own Dr Christian Schweiger. According to Emmott, feeling ‘European’ might not be a realistic aim for the future of Europe, or even a desirable one. If we can agree on the fundamental benefits of the union, on free movement, on free trade, surely that is enough to keep us together. Who needs or wants total cultural assimilation?
Made in 2014, it does not escape the filmmakers that in many ways the situation today is more dire than when they gathered their information. In particular, the brief mention of the refugee crisis in the film, and accompanying statistics, shows just how much the crisis has escalated in these short months. For Piras, the ‘disaster’ of the title seems far closer now than she had initially envisioned when planning the film, ‘we wanted to make a film about the future,’ she said, ‘and ended up making a film about the present.’
Whilst acknowledging the many problems the union faces today, the film also attempted to evoke an emotional reaction, speaking of the memory of war and genocide, in comparison with the relative peace of Europe in the years since 1945. Judging by the reaction of the audience, this link may have been less convincing. Amongst the crowd of students, overwhelmingly born after the fall of the Iron Curtain, one asked the filmmakers if they were truly suggesting that without the EU a dictatorial regime could rise in Europe? Well, yes, came the reply.
Perhaps the EU has not been single-handedly responsible for keeping the peace. In fact the refugee crisis goes in some way to show just how poorly humanitarian crises have been handled. However, for a younger generation this film serves as a pertinent reminder of the principles of the EU, and warns that we are seldom aware of the danger in front of us.
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