With the upcoming European elections, the EUNIC cluster in Norway is organising four public panel discussions on the future of Europe. In the interview, Martin Bach, EUNIC cluster president and director of the Goethe-Institut in Oslo, talks about the project and how it looks at the challenges for democracy in Europe.
The title of the project – “Nervous Societies” – seems to be referring to a shift in how democracy is perceived. Can you tell us more about what's behind this nervousness?
A lot of politicians say the world is in disarray and there is that feeling among some people and maybe also amongst ourselves that something is changing in the world, for example the international system of security. Partners that used to be very reliable seem to change and also inside the European Union you see some tendencies towards populisms and the erosion of democracies, so this is why there is some kind of nervousness in societies and this is one of the reasons for the title.
What do Norwegian people expect from the European elections coming up in May 2019?
Norway is, of course, not part of the EU and still today, the majority of the Norwegian people are against joining the EU but on the other side there are many strong links between Norway and the EU and many of the laws that apply to the EU also apply to Norway. So, the bonds are very tight and very strong. This is of course why Norway is observing very closely what is going on in the European Union and especially in the UK. The UK is one of the major partners of Norway, so it is very important for the Norwegian what will happen after Brexit. And the things we discuss on in our panel discussions are relevant for Norway. In fact, these things are not only important to the members of the European Union but also for any other countries. For example, the way we changed to communicate in the political sphere and the influence of social media on the way we discuss things and the way we treat each other is also something important. I think the people in Norway expect or hope that there will be stability inside the EU after the elections because it is important for them in terms of economic but also political reasons. They hope that the EU won’t change too much, I guess. But of course, I cannot speak on behalf of the Norwegians.
What was the outcome of the panel discussions so far?
One key feature of our public discussions it that we cooperate together with ARENA (the programme on Advanced Research on the Europeanisation of the Nation-State the Centre for European Studies of the University of Oslo), and the students were involved in some of the research as well as in the organisation of the project. We haven’t had yet our de-briefing on the first debates since we are still before the European elections and the project is ongoing. But we know for sure that in November we will have the next panel discussions and they will include input from France, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and Wallonia. We want to continue discussing that issue and it will be after the EU elections, that we evaluate. We also want to include in our findings the lessons learned from the Brexit debate. So, we still need some time and also see after the elections to follow up on the content.
An important part of the project is to actively include students of the University of Oslo in the organisation and implementation. Why is the inclusion of students in the process such an important key component of your project?
We think that the challenge of EUNIC is to overcome the national perspective and to not only propose national points of view. That is the reason why it is so important to have a local partner that acts as a kind of facilitator with a neutral perspective. And we took the students as kind of consultants on how to compose the panel discussions and also on how we can sharpen the profile content wise of each panel discussion. Since the students are very deep into the field of European studies this kind of exchange was very fruitful. During the debates we had one of the students also acting as a moderator while the second moderator was a senior researcher from ARENA. The exchange was very helpful for us and we want to continue with it, of course.
How do you define your target group and through which communication tools do you reach out to your target group?
The target group is the interested public audience. But thanks to ARENA and thanks to the students we had also many young, around 20 to 30 years old students, that took part in the debates. The network we have through ARENA is one important channel, whereas the other important channel we have are the newsletters of all the EUNIC members of the cluster in Oslo. We also did some Facebook marketing. So, the combination of these promotion channels and communication tools allowed us to have a very broad and diverse audience for the first two panel discussions.
You are going to use a mix of methodologies to evaluate the project after the European elections. What kind of long-term impact are you hoping to have with the project and how do you think you can measure it?
One long term goal would be to really re-establish the EUNIC cluster itself since it has not really been active in the last few years. We want to re-start the network and to continue working together and we hope we can do that over the next years and we have already discussed our projects for 2020 and we think about continuing the discussions on Europe. Another long-term goal is to find strategic partners for the EUNIC cluster in Oslo. That could be ARENA with whom we already have started the cooperation and that is very positive, and we hope that we can build on that cooperation. The way we measure impact is not so easy to answer. Of course, there are some simple indicators on how to evaluate impact like the number of attendees. But the number of attendees is not that crucial to us. More curial is that we really meet our own expectations that we have been discussing beforehand, and we will discuss them again after the last panel discussion to see on how we have fulfilled these expectations. My person expectation for the cluster is that EUNIC is seen as a local player in Oslo that helps to link between European issues and culture and that we become visible in Norway.
Martin Bach is Director of the Goethe-Institut Norway in Oslo. Regional Program Director for South America at Goethe-Institut São Paulo, Brazil from 2015 -2017. Project Director at the Allianz Cultural Foundation from 2008-2014 in Munich and Berlin. Project Manager for the German Foreign Office in the Department for Culture and Education in Berlin from 2003-2007. Martin studied Political Science inBerlin and Kyoto.
The picture was taken during the first two panel discussions on 8 April 2019. A video of the kick-off event is available on YouTube.
Photo: Sören Giesow
Embassy of Austria, Embassy of Greece, Embassy of Poland, Embassy of Spain, Embassy of the Netherlands, Wallonia Export Investment Agency, Institut français in Norway, Instituto Italiano in Norway, Goethe-Institut Norway, ARENA Center for European Studies (University of Oslo)