#Europe


Prof. Kath Browne, School of Geography, UCD.

Coronavirus is geographical: It moves transnationally, has national responses, and provokes local ramifications. It directly influences our everyday lives and how we move—or don’t move—through space in ways that many of took for granted. Already, geographers across Ireland are responding, to name just a few (and there are many more!): Dr. Gerard MacCarthy and Dr. Padraig MacCarron using RIP.ie to map death notices; Dr. Gerald Mills used mapping techniques to pinpoint the location and growth of cases in Ireland; Dr. Niamh Cherry-Moore and the Greening Dublin team, exposed inequities of access to green space and the relevance of green space for health and well-being; Dr. Bradley Garrett’s work on bunkers and preppers having massive resonances, Prof. Rob Kitchin and team creating the Cornovirsus dashboard and currently, Dr. Niharika Banerjea, Leela Bakshi and I are pulling together a reflection on liveability and COVID19 for a special issue of Dialogues in Human Geography. This short piece will focus on some starting points that I have been considering in linking Coronovirus and some themes in Critical geographies, linking it to further work under preparation around liveability and the ‘New Ordinaries’ of COVID19.

Making Lives Liveable

Whereas liveability in geography has been addressed primarily in terms of availability of cultural infrastructure, amenities, and economic opportunities (Florida 2004), liveability is a pressing contemporary question. Our work on the project Making Lives Liveable, interrogated what makes life liveable in ways that understand where we are as crucial to these liveabilities (see for example Banerjea and Browne, 2018; Browne et al., 2017; 2019; McGlynn et al., 2020). What makes life liveable is now a key question, as governments both under lockdown and those seeking to emerge from it, work to maintain a compliance with restrictions that save lives. Yet, whose lives matter has also been a key preoccupation of considerations of liveability. Whose life matters is an inherently political and geographic question, with thousands dying trying to get to Europe and into the USA; a lack of counting of the death tolls in some populations due to war (Butler 2016). Discussions of liveability have addressed whose lives matter, who is expendable, who is less than human, questions that relate directly to Butler’s consideration of livable lives (Butler, 2004; 2016). Reactions to COVID19 demonstrate that those with ‘underlying conditions’ and the elderly, can be spoken of in ways that make people expendable, as if their lives mattered less. Nonetheless, precarity, health wise, but also economically, socially and through our mental health, is more widespread affecting more than those whose lives have been considered less worthy of life.

Population Compliance and Self Surveillance

The boundaries of individuality are contested by a potentially deadly virus that moves between us. The relations between us are also central to the response. The strategies adopted by numerous governments, pertain to the prevention of the transmission via population compliance to physical distancing (for those whom this is possible).  Whilst this can be achieved through sanctions and policing (as I listen to the surveillance helicopter fly overhead) and the variations on this vary state to state, there is also an important connection between self-surveillance and compliance. A relative having been shouted at for going for a walk in Brazil with her family, a practice which is not officially illegal, now no longer leaves the apartment with her family. Applying Foucault, self-surveillance is created through fear of state sanction, but also produced through social norms that inform what are ‘appropriate’ and socially sanctioned behaviours, and where these are allowed and prohibited.  These behaviours are policed between ‘us’ ‘keeping an eye’ on each other. Yet, in considering adherence and compliance through policing or forced compliance, we cannot overlook the productive relations of care that are also apparent in various societal responses.  Care work is also keeping people at home, out of public spaces, away from relatives and groups.

KB post pic

Micro-Resistances

As with all norms there will be resistance, including through official routes such as the court cases taken against laws that prohibit movement, but perhaps more impactful are those resistances that take place in everyday spaces, what might be termed micro-resistances. Compliance and adherence will be spatial, there will be different levels of adherence to public health measures, in different places.  This will depend on a variety of factors, some of which cannot be predicted in advance, but in Ireland, it might be related to proximity to for example other people/shops, notions of respectability, engagement with authorities and the state, factors around housing, including overcrowding and access to green space, and safety within and outside the home. These are not uniform across the country, within different regions, or within different cities/villages/towns. In turn they will have different effects, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Geographies from the global to the home matter in understanding the implications of COVID19.

Power and social difference

There is also much to be said about how policing others in person and through social media, as well as other ways of seeking to create compliance by social disapproval creates vilification, reiterates problematic assumptions of for example young people, those who are economically marginalised, as well as other marginalised people, such as travellers. As has long been shown, these marginalisations are both spatial differentiated, and also create places often within good/bad binaries.  These hierarchies also creates an us/them, good/bad in ways that reiterate social polarisations. There are undoubtedly there are multiple and diverse power relations that will need to be unpacked both in the here and now of living with COVID19 and in the ongoing ramifications of social, political and economic upheaval. Currently, with others in the UK/Ireland, I am working on an ESRC/IRC networking bid to consider these ‘New Ordinaries’ and the potentials and inequities of COVID19- using theorisations of sexual and gender politics in the 21st century to conceptualise seismic social and cultural shifts that offer both potentials and losses.

In considering how COVID19 has altered the potentials of contemporary life there are potentials and losses. The question of what makes life liveable is pressing, both in how we make lives under lockdown liveable in equitable ways and also as an opportunity to think about how we create new models of liveability through exploring how ‘best to live’ (Butler 2016).  As isolation becomes a social norm not previously envisaged, critical geography helps us understand our ‘new normal’ and the different ways in which we live and create these normal. At its heart, critical geography is about how we can create more liveable lives by exploring the power relations that make lives less liveable, precarious and expendable. As we face hugely uncertain times and paradigm shifts that both connect and disconnect us, our social worlds are fractured and remade. These power relations become more apparent with governments creating bans on everyday activities, friends imposing shared restriction on their usual social events; and the market price-gauging immediate necessities.

Imagining New Futures

How we make sense of the current normal, and decide which elements to move forward, is interlaced with power. There have been moments where change was possible, but unachieved, in Ireland the 1916 rising promised social equalities, globally the financial crisis of 2008 provided an opportunity to realise a paradigm shift.  Yet in both cases social and capitalist norms were reinstated or even strengthened.  But there were other potential futures, and there are again new possibilities of shifts in social and economic equalities. To realise these potentials we need to identify them, value them and believe in the possibilities of fluid and unpredictable worlds. Reflections on how we navigate this time period and how we progress after Coronavirus, requires more than political, economic and media responses.  We need responses that engage with the social in ways that centralise how these are created in places and differentiated geographically, that work with communities, and that offer possibilities of restructuring lives in ways that now might be unimaginable. It is time to imagine new worlds, new futures. Critical Geographers are well placed to engage in this endeavour which requires nuanced analysis of power, society and space.

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Dr. Carla Kayanan for her generous feedback and comments on this piece and all that she brings to geography in UCD and beyond. Thanks to Cari Burke for her reading and support, and for encouraging this blog to happen! Thanks to Niharika and Leela for working with me on the liveabilities research, and to all now working on the ESRC/IRC grant.

 

References

Banerjea, N. and Browne, K. (2018). Liveable lives: A transnational queer-feminist reflection on sexuality, development and governance. In Mason, C. (ed), Routledge Handbook of Queer Development Studies, (pp. 169-179). Routledge: London.

Browne, K., et al. (2017). “Towards transnational feminist queer methodologies.” Gender, Place & Culture 24(10) (pp. 1376-1397).

Browne, K., Banerjea, N., McGlynn, N., Bakshi, L., Beethi, S. and Biswas, R. (2019). The limits of legislative change: Moving beyond inclusion/exclusion to create ‘a life worth living’. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654419845910

Butler, J., (2004). Undoing gender. Routledge: London

Butler, J. (2016). Rethinking vulnerability and resistance. In J. Butler, Z. Gambetti & L. Sabsay (eds.), Vulnerability in resistance, (pp. 12–27). Duke University Press: Durham, NC.

Florida, R. (2004). The rise of the creative class;and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Basic Books.

McGlynn, N., Browne, K., Banerjea, N., Biswas, R., Banerjee, R., Sumita and Bakshi L. (2020). “More than happiness: Aliveness and struggle in lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer lives.” Sexualities. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460719888436

 

 

In July 2017, I posted a piece on this blog, arguing that the exit of the UK from the European Union constitutes a critical moment in Irish geography, with far-reaching consequences for the island of Ireland. I was (and continue to be) convinced that there is a strong spatial dimension to Brexit which is often overlooked in the mainstream academic and policy commentary. Brexit is fundamentally about territoriality. Brexit does not simply have geographical consequences; the act of the UK leaving the EU ruptures our taken-for-granted understandings of the position of Ireland within Europe and, in relation to the UK and, perhaps most North-South relations on the island of Ireland. Brexit is metageographical. The future of ‘European space’ is at stake. All of this makes, I believe, a persuasive case for a critical and sustained engagement by geographers and other spatially inclined thinkers with the phenomenon of Brexit and its implications, both in a critical, theoretical sense, in terms of how we understand territoriality in Europe, and in an applied in sense, in terms of addressing the challenges posed by this geopolitical moment (see also Boyle et al 2018).

Image source: The Irish Times

Since July 2017, things have of course moved on. Yet the fundamentals have remained the same. The UK formally left the EU on 31st January 2020. Yet, Brexit continues to have a Beckettian quality. ‘Leaving’ is a gradual process (as Jim was fond of reminding us) and there continues to be much uncertainty concerning the end of the transition period as a substantial agreement on the future relationship seems as far off as ever. Meanwhile, the current public health crisis has prompted a return to hard borders within Europe and restrictions on movement that few would have thought possible, just a few short months ago. Once again, the ideals of the European project are tested by a crisis of existential proportions. Much depends on the willingness of EU Member States to effectively demonstrate solidarity within Europe.

In May 2018, Gavan Rafferty (Ulster University) and I convened a session at the Conference of Irish Geographers in Maynooth focused on the implications of Brexit for cross-border cooperation and spatial planning on the island of Ireland. This session drew on the expertise of the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) in engaging with planners, policy-makers and other stakeholders at local, regional and national levels concerned with regional development and spatial planning in the border region, North and South, in the period since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The papers from this session subsequently formed the backbone of a Special Issue of Irish Geography, which has been published online just this week (official publication date November 2019). The papers explore the process and practice of creating spaces for cooperation across the Irish border, pre- and post- Brexit. Drawing on both critical theoretical debates on territoriality, soft spaces and spatial imaginaries as well as applied practical experience, the papers in the special issue highlight the scope for, but also the challenges of working with the ‘island of Ireland’ as a ‘soft space’ in the context of Brexit. It is argued that soft forms of public policy, working under the radar, in the shadow of territory should continue to play a significant role post-Brexit, but that sustained institutional and political support will be required to support these informal practices.

It is hoped that this publication will foster further critical reflection and engagement on the issues it raises as the implications of Brexit for the North-South and East-West relations become clearer.

Cormac Walsh (University of Hamburg and ICLRD)

The individual papers in the Special Issue are available to download (open access) from the Irish Geography website.

There will be tens of thousands of words written this week about Donald Trump’s first year as President of the United States. His first 12 months has been characterised by a gummed-up domestic policy and letting the military apparatus do what it wants elsewhere in the world. In Europe, we may look askance and turn our noses up at the sheer grubbiness of it all. Within the EU we may find ourselves silently smug about how different things are here in Europe. There are however echoes of Trump’s vision for Making America Great Again (MAGA) among the 27 members of the Union. In Hungary, Poland and Austria, right wing parties lay bare the ugly face of late capitalism with anti-immigration measures and welfare retrenchment. In the UK, the unfolding Brexit mess brings with it a number of considerable political and economic costs yet to fully explored. Anyone living near the border in Ireland could attest to this. Similarly, people in Ireland are not immune to the midnight tweetings and wild policy pursuits of a leader who may not see out his first term without a dirty political fight. Trump and his cabinet are determined to bring jobs back from overseas to employ US residents as a way of shoring up working class support. It is not clear yet how US capitalists are taking to this idea but even a moderate success in this regard would make a considerable difference to the Irish economy, north and south.

Two incidents in recent weeks point to how this may unfurl in Ireland. Firstly, Apple is planning to build a data centre near to the town of Athenry, Galway. The planning application has been upheld but not without a chance for the High Court to review a decision to allow An Bord Pleanala’s decision to have effect. Two residents sought a review of the decision on a technical ground.  They claimed that the EIA was based on eight halls of data servers and not only one as sought in the application. Other people in Athenry have been out marching in favour of the planning application, citing that jobs would be lost to some other location if local politicians do not support the application. Not unrelated to these movements of course is the fact that the Irish state will bend over backwards to accommodate a company that owes us at least €13,000,000,000 in unpaid tax. On his return from a recent US visit, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar committed to Apple, indicating that his government will do anything to curry the company’s favour. It has been reported that “the Cabinet is developing a detailed position on the role and importance of data centers, including on their designation as strategic infrastructure”. It is not at all clear how many jobs would result in the Athenry project (perhaps 100?) but it will be a significant drain on our electricity grid.

During this time, across north America, cities have been competing for Amazon’s second headquarters. Mexican, Canadian and US cities have been offering tax breaks, highway construction and whole city blocks in bids to ensure Bezos’s company would land in their turf. As an aside, it was not radically different under previous administrations, Obama’s included. ‘Infrastructure’ is fast becoming code for the reshaping of entire cities using privately held surplus. This resonates in Ireland where a deeply embedded cluster of policies lowers corporate tax rates and environmental monitoring to ensure foreign direct investment. In Ireland we like to convince ourselves that FDI is because we offer an educated and English-speaking workforce, implicating all schoolchildren in an ideological project since at least the mid-1970s. In reality, as the Panama Papers, Wikileaks and the Paradise Papers all make clear, Ireland’s economy is best in class for tax avoidance. International best practice eludes our health service but in the matter of squirrelling money forced out of people’s labour and pockets, we are among the elite. (What is it about islands and tax avoidance?)

Global finance and money moves quickly around the world, landing in different places in different ways. Regional geographers and others examine this unevenness in great detail. We need, however, to connect political struggles like the election of Trump and the re-emergence of reactionary governments in the EU with this unevenness. The attraction of high quality jobs can no longer act as cover for large scale tax avoidance and politicians in Ireland may have to realise that quicker than they think. The game with the highest stakes is that of money flow derived from profit. The implications of MAGA are being felt in east Galway and elsewhere in the Republic. This is not because of what elected politicians have or have not done in Galway but because of what happens in Washington and California.

Eoin O’Mahony

Teaching Fellow, School of Geography, UCD.

Last month, negotiations on the exit of the UK from the European Union commenced. As noted elsewhere, Brexit constitutes a critical milestone of game-changing significance not just for the UK but also for the EU and indeed for the Republic of Ireland. In November 2009, it was argued in the initial post on this blog, that the establishment of NAMA represented a critical moment for Irish Geography. Brexit represents a critical moment of transformation with perhaps similarly far-reaching consequences for geography of the island of Ireland. Brexit represents a reconfiguration of territoriality with direct implications for North-South, Ireland-EU and Ireland-UK relations. I argue here that Brexit thus requires critical and sustained engagement from the geographical community. To date, much of the discussion and debate on Brexit has occurred at macro-level against the backdrop of an implied simplistic geography of ‘London and ‘Brussels’ or the UK and Europe. Discussion of a ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland has occurred for me the most part without due reference to the complex territoriality of Northern Ireland post-1998.

A Briefing Paper recently published by the Centre for Cross-Border Studies sets out the specific geographical implications of ‘flexible and imaginative solutions’ for Northern Ireland post-Brexit. Significantly the paper highlights the potential role of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) as a political framework for territorial relations ‘on these islands’ post Brexit. The GFA is composed of three strands concerning the devolved governance for Northern Ireland (Strand I), North-South (Strand II) and British-Irish (Strand III) relations. Crucially these strands are mutually interdependent:

To reach a negotiating outcome that undermines any one of the strands of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the geographical spaces they represent would be to undermine the entire Agreement given that they are all interdependent (CCBS, June 2017).

 In this context, the Irish and British governments have pivotal roles as co-guarantors of the GFA. The interdependence of the three strands goes to the heart of the territoriality of Northern Ireland. It follows that this territoriality must be understood relationally – in relation to the UK, the Republic of Ireland and, indeed the EU. This perspective serves to relativize the perception of Northern Ireland as a bounded container space within the UK. Katy Hayward has argued cogently on QPOL that different normative ideas on sovereignty are at the heart of the Brexit debate:

At the heart of this Brexit debate are two different conceptions of sovereignty. If the EU is about the growth of sovereignty by sharing it, Brexit is, in essence, a move to deepen sovereignty by restricting it to the territory of the UK (QPOL, June 2017)

A relational understanding of territoriality helps in moving beyond black/white, either/or solutions to the Northern Ireland question. Maintaining a (for the most part) porous and open border does not need to lead to a border poll and political unity. A hard Brexit does not need to lead to a hard border. The CCBS Briefing Paper sets out a possible post-Brexit geography whereby the island of Ireland under Strand II of the GFA becomes an in-between space allowing access for goods and services from Northern Ireland (but not the rest of the UK) to EU / European Economic Area markets. An alternative model would allow free movement of goods and services between Ireland and the UK due to Ireland’s status as a co-guarantor of the GFA. A recent House of Lords report on the implications of Brexit for devolved governance in the UK, has furthermore suggested that Northern Ireland could maintain compliance with EU law in order to minimise discordance the impact of the border on North-South relations.

Both of the above approaches indicate the potential for imaginative solutions (not necessarily the political will), which requite innovative engagement with territorial relations on the island of Ireland, but within the context of existing frameworks. In the period since the GFA, the island of Ireland has emerged as a coherent functional space with extensive effort gone into the development of shared cross-border spaces for cooperation at community, local authority, regional and inter-jurisdictional levels. Reflecting this, as discussed in a previous post here, the proposed National Planning Framework (RoI) makes substantial reference to the North-South, island of Ireland context and the work of the border area networks. The International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) among other organisations has played a key role behind the scenes, in fostering spaces for cooperation in spatial planning and local and regional development within the border region. Reflecting the near-invisibility of the border in the landscape, a comedian quoted anonymously in Garrett Carr’s The Rule of the Land wryly remarked, “We are going to need the border again… if anyone can remember where we left it”.

The shared border region, and indeed the idea of the island of Ireland as a functional space may be understood as soft, non-territorial spaces. They are informal spaces, located outside the regulatory sphere of nation-state territoriality but very much located in shadow of territory and dependent on formal territorial relations, including in this case the GFA. It is likely that in the post-Brexit context such soft spaces will acquire increased significance whether on the island of Ireland or in terms of Ireland-UK or indeed Northern Ireland-Scotland relations. Indeed a number of scholars of European integration and EU reform (e.g. Jan Zielonka, Andreas Faludi), the future of European integration lies in precisely these forms of soft space, in moving beyond the straitjackets imposed by dominant conceptualisations of the EU as a ‘club of nation states’ and embracing flexible boundaries, soft spaces and variable geometries.

Brexit will lead to paradigmatic shifts in the political geographies of these islands as well as of Europe more broadly. These shifts will play out at multiple scales from that of the EU to the micro-geographies of the Irish-Northern Irish borderland. It is imperative that current and future debates on post-Brexit geographies are informed by critical, theoretically informed perspectives recognising the complex relationships between shifting territorial spaces and the lived places that lie behind them.

Dr. Cormac Walsh

University of Hamburg and ICLRD

I think there is an election on? From where I sit here in Luxembourg you would hardly know. The lamp posts are not festooned with every manner of local and European election candidate posters. Now and then a billboard reminds you that there is in fact a European election on – and only a European election. Meanwhile, the commuter buses are daily packed with bureaucrats busily going about the policy work of the EU – policies which are having an ever-increasing and direct influence on Irish people but which have barely registered in the European election debate.

election+posters+kerry+3

Take for example the Europe 2020 strategy which is currently the flagship overarching policy initiative of the EU. The strategy is built around five ambitious headline targets for each Member State to achieve by 2020 in the key areas of employment, R&D, climate and energy, education and the fight against poverty and social exclusion – pretty much the entire sphere of national government. Yet, reviewing the European election manifestos of each of the major political parties and trawling news reports on the elections, the Europe 2020 strategy is not mentioned, not once.

These are not vague or distant targets which have no immediate concrete policy meaning in practice for Irish people. The Europe 2020 strategy is now implemented and monitored through the new European Semester, the yearly cycle of coordination of economic and budgetary policies at EU level. Within this new process the European Commission can, depending on performance towards achieving targets, issue Country Specific Recommendations on the basis of National Reform Programmes which must be carried through in the annual budgets of each Member State. Where recommendations are not acted on within the given time-frame, policy warnings can be issued. There is also an option for enforcement through incentives and sanctions, including by withholding structural funds.

Ireland’s National Reform Programme 2014 was published just last month – again without a murmur in the media so fixated on reform at the last election. It is clear from EU monitoring that Ireland is struggling badly to meet many of our 2020 targets, particularly in respect of poverty and greenhouse gas reduction, which could prompt policy warnings from the European Commission. As part of the National Reform Programme, the government also published the Draft National Risk Assessment 2014 for public consultation. This new strategic policy initiative is designed to identify the future risks, both financial and non-financial, which Ireland faces and, which according to the Taoiseach, is “an attempt to avoid the mistakes of the past by not only identifying risks the country faces, but also encouraging debate in the Dáil and by the public”.   

It is hard to think of a more meritorious political debate to be had during the European elections than the future direction of the Europe 2020 strategy.  However, judging by the woeful election campaigns, most Irish people, including most of the candidates, have most likely never heard of it. Just this week the European Commission announced a review of the Europe 2020 strategy as it is now considered time to reflect on the design of a new long-term ‘post-crisis’ strategy. The review presents an opportunity for an informed national debate on a whole series of risks and issues which can now only be effectively tackled at pan-EU level including: fiscal imbalances, renewable energy, growing energy dependency, greenhouse gas emissions, real estate bubbles, unemployment, widening social inequalities, dysfunctional financial systems and underperforming public administrations. These are the real European policy issues which struggle to rise above the clutter and polemic of the election campaigns.

As we creep incrementally towards greater European integration and an ever greater importance of EU policy, it may be about time that we consider separating European from local elections. Having both elections on the same day, and with both sets of candidates competing for scarce space on lamp posts and in the media, inevitably results in a conflation of local, national and European issues.  Granted, there may be a genuine fear of plummeting voter turnout given the general apathy towards Europe. However, I am equally unconvinced that the status quo is the way forward. The important European reform agenda needs to be met with a maturing political discourse in Ireland and a significant change in attitude in how we engage with EU policy making.

Gavin Daly

  • Submissions on the Europe 2020 Strategy can be made here before the 31st of October 2014
  • Submissions on the National Risk Assessment 2014 are being accepted before the 30th of June 2014. See here.