Looking back, looking forward

It’s almost the end of the academic year (I get to spend most of tomorrow dressed up in my robes for graduation), so it’s a good point to reflect on the past year.

In political terms, it is hard to feel that we have moved on at all: last October, I was writing about the Conservatives and Europe, saying much the same as I was last week. Similarly, the EU looked to have an opportunity for structural reform with the creation of technocratic governments in Greece and Italy, a promise that has only partially been realised, much as successive European Councils have still not found sufficient common ground to provide a definitive and comprehensive package that gives financial markets more lasting cause to stand down.

Indeed, it is sometimes easy to forget that we have been in some form of financial crisis since 2007 and seemingly nothing has been bad enough to act as an unambiguous external driver to integration. We might reflect upon this when we look back to the post-1945 situation, where economics and security aligned to provide strong incentives to integrate: then again, back then we also ended up with a core moving forward, to be caught by the periphery: hardly a recipe for generating positive attitudes in the UK, if that is a concern.

We remain then in a period of stasis: most people on the street not being very interested in the EU, most politicians thinking in terms of costs and benefits rather than community. It is a mark of the weakness of the European public sphere that the most conspicuous voices are those of people opposed to integration, who quite reasonably feel the wind in their sails. If the EU is to have any future, then this has to change and the full range of views needs to be actively expressed and debated.

Back in Surrey, it’s also a chance for us to reflect on our work with social media: over the past year, we have worked hard to develop channels on facebook, twitter, our blogs, as well as our School website. It has been particularly heartening to see that work being picked up by colleagues in other institutions, the media and more widely with other groups and individuals. We are now working through a review of all of this, to consider how we progress on this, as well as how we might share our practice with others. My personal impressions are that these channels have been very useful in connecting with new audiences, in testing out new ideas for subsequent development in more formal research and in building an extended culture of debate and reflection, both within and beyond the School. At the same time, it does require notable start-up and running costs (mostly of time to produce content): online, you can’t just make something then leave it.

I will immediately underline the last point by saying that I’m not posting for the next month or so, since I’m off to South East Asia on an extended holiday. I would tempt fate by saying that nothing happens in the EU in the summer, but i’ve learnt enough to know that this isn’t actually true. Until then, I wish you all a pleasant summer, whatever you are doing.