In 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU) in a move known as “Brexit.” Since its inception over half a century ago, the EU had come to stand as the paradigm of democratic cooperation, promoting ideals such as open borders, cosmopolitanism, and humanitarianism. The U.K.’s sudden planned departure from the EU rattled democracies the world over as they saw those ideals being trumped in favor of nationalism and populism. In short, the European Union was in crisis.
“Then again, the EU has always been in crisis!” says Assistant Professor of History Corey Tazzara. “First there was the crisis of rapid expansion of Eastern Europe after the Cold War, then there was the Greek debt crisis, and now Brexit. So, the crisis isn’t new, but there are aspects that are new, such as the sheer electoral success of populism—which has dragged both parties to their polarity—so the whole discourse has shifted largely to the right.”
This was not always the case. After two back-to-back world wars ravaged Europe, Winston Churchill concluded in 1946 that the European countries “must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.” Thus, the European Economic Community (EEC) was established in 1958 as a way to foment economic cooperation as a prophylactic against future intra-European conflict. Since then, the organization has expanded to focus on climate, justice, migration, the environment, and more. In 1993, the name was changed to the European Union, and it currently includes 28-member states. As a way to promote EU issues in the U.S., the EEC established the Delegation of the European Union to the United States.
One of the projects of the delegation was to set up EU Centers on college campuses nationwide. Thanks to a $150,000 grant in 1998, Scripps was selected as one of only 10 colleges to host an EU Center. The EU Center of California, housed at Scripps and directed by Professor Tazzara, serves to advance public understanding of European integration and transatlantic relations through education and research. It sponsors a curriculum in European Union studies at The Claremont Colleges; provides opportunities for students to study in Europe and to intern at various international organizations based in Europe; hosts scholarly conferences as well as lectures by distinguished visitors; and participates in the West Coast Model EU. The U.S. has vested interest in the continuation of the EU. At the level of ideology, the EU aims to promulgate both democracy and human rights, an objective that is central to America’s foreign policy. But more importantly, the EU offers security.
After two world wars, the Cold War, and continued economic and ideological competition and turmoil, the existence of the EU provides assurances that a large-scale conflict won’t happen again. “The EU is a model for how the U.S. would like to see peace and cooperation, broadly speaking, in the world,” says Tazzara. “The continent—with the exception of the Balkans—has not had a ‘hot’ war since 1945. We take that for granted now, but historically, it’s a huge achievement.” And as China’s continued rise poses possible threats to the U.S.-sponsored economic and military order across the world, American policymakers tend to see the EU as an important ally in preserving global peace and prosperity. Nevertheless, the EU Center at Scripps does not exist solely to promote a pro-EU agenda. “I make sure we bring speakers with as diverse an array of perspectives as possible, from EU councils representing the party line about the EU all the way to academics who see the EU as a form of neo-colonialism,” says Tazzara. He adds that the main benefit of the EU Center is that it offers a chance for students to confront international affairs as a way to understand issues in American politics. “State power, economic growth, human rights—the EU Center is a way to really think through these areas,” he says.
Tallulah Tadlock ’19 experienced this firsthand. “You can use the tools from one country to examine another,” she says. “For instance, there are constant parallels between politics and the rise of populism in the U.S. and the EU. Here in the U.S. many were surprised by Trump’s election, but those in the EU weren’t surprised at all. They’ve been through it, it’s happening all over Western civilization.” The politics and philosophy major, who plans to study international law and just returned from a year at the London School of Economics, attended an EU Center–sponsored summer abroad program at the University of Rijeka in Croatia called the Summer School on Transitional Justice and the Politics of Memory. She had spent a gap year in Ukraine prior to coming to Scripps—at the height of the Ukrainian crisis—and wanted to return to Eastern Europe to study transitional justice to learn interventions for healing countries after a crisis. “Transitional justice is a juggernaut. In conflicted countries, how do you help people come to a resolution?” asks Tadlock. She gives the example of the Holocaust museum in Berlin, which has a placard that states, “For the murdered Jews of Europe,” with no mention of the circumstances of those murders, including the perpetrators. “What you put on your monument matters,” she says.“Reconciliation requires an acknowledgment of truth; it’s the only way to resolve biases and hate within a divided country.”
“One of the reasons I came to Scripps was for international experience, and I definitely got it,” she adds.
Ashleigh Jones ’18 had a similar experience during her five-week Brussels Summer Study Program, supported by a stipend through the EU Center. The dual European studies and French studies graduate became involved with the EU Center when she joined a student board that advised the EU Center on topics students were interested in learning about. “We wanted to see topics that connected the broader nationalist phenomenon to domestic politics,” she says, adding that the EU Center provided a bastion for her interest in international relations.
Jones’s program took place in Brussels and Luxembourg and focused on visiting major EU institutions, such as the EU Court of Justice, the European Investment Bank, and the U.S.Delegation to the European Union. She was witness to the landmark invocation of Article VII against Poland by the vice president of the European Union, Frans Timmermans, a move meant to protect the independence of Poland’s judiciary amid increasingly centralized executive power. “It was a window into the functioning of the organization,” says Jones, who just began a master’s program at Georgetown University in German and European studies. “The original environment that gave rise to the creation of institutions like the European Union and NATO after World War II is so far removed—it can be easy to underestimate their importance. Further, the EU can seem so complex and abstract, so actually going to Brussels and watching these events unfold was a great opportunity to see how these organizations work behind the scenes. It all becomes real, not just conceptual.”
As the U.K. prepares to initiate its exit from the EU (scheduled to commence on March 29, 2019), the status of the European Union will continue to serve as a bellwether for the broader transnational trends toward nativism and nationalism. “The whole Western world is implicated,” says Tazzara, “even as far as India and China: nationalism has been consolidated across the globe. “People talk about The Claremont Colleges like they’re in a bubble,” he continues, “but the study of languages is central to a Scripps education, and the languages offered at Scripps are all EU languages, offering entry into the European world of ideas. Scripps students have a real calling toward social change, and the EU Center represents a community of values: gender, racial, and economic concerns that are of tremendous importance to Scripps students.”