I couldn’t feature the podcast without finding out more about the people behind it. So here, in my 19th personal interview, is a bit more about them…
Hugh and Ciarán: Previously in Europe
Hugh & Ciarán are the hosts of the weekly European political affairs podcast, Previously in Europe. We discuss everything from Russia to Portugal, Norway to Malta, focusing on big events and elections from around the continent because we strongly believe that to understand the EU you need to understand it’s member states.
1. Please tell me where you’re from, where you currently live and where you work.
Hugh: I’m originally from Dublin and spent the majority of my time there until I was 23. Since then I’ve had a couple of career changes working in academic publishing and then software. Now I’m getting my PhD in computing for medical imaging in London.
Ciarán: I’m from Ireland myself, I moved around a lot as a good. Living in Cork and Limerick and then Dublin (where I met Hugh). I went into digital design myself and moved to Edinburgh when I was 25 so my wife could do a masters here.
2. Do you speak any European languages other than English?
Hugh: Some very rusty German. I was just in Berlin for a week and I’m motivated to get it back up to at least a good conversational level.
Ciarán: Irish is the only other language I’m confident in, I work on a regular basis to keep that up to a good standard. I did French in school and I have a couple of words in German and Spanish, I’m terrible at all three of these languages.
3. Do you identify as European? Is this identity important to you or is it just a fact of geography?
Hugh: Yes completely. Growing up in Ireland it’s very much drilled into us that being part of a bigger Europe was what made Ireland what it was. The EU especially – you can’t go to a train station or use a motorway in Ireland without the “partly funded by the EU” sign right in your face.
Things like the mandatory EU language in school and the amazing times I had interrailing around the continent drove home my feeling of being European.
Ciarán: Yes, very much so. After living in the UK for a while you realise how Ireland’s relationship with the EU plays a big part in the differences between Ireland and the UK. Despite my time in Edinburgh, I’ve only ever been paid in euro and EU flags flew over government buildings.
4. Do you consider yourself to be patriotic? Does it matter?
Hugh: Hmm I’m not really sure. I would say yes, but I’m not really sure it matters. Ireland as a country means a lot to me but I feel like focusing on patriotism leads to a lot of insular thinking. Let’s all spend less time thinking about how we differ from other groups!
Ciarán: No, definitely not. I have fond memories of where I’m from and have lived, but that’s defined by personal experiences and the relationships that have been made. I think it can be dangerous to conflate those feelings with an uncritical examination of your government or society.
5. When you think of the European Union (as opposed to the European continent), what is the first thing you think of?
Hugh: It as tool in with incredible potential for positive change. It has an awful lot of problems but so does any governmental system. There are a lot more positives than negatives in my mind.
Ciarán: The means for me, and others, to live in 32 other countries (EU, EEA and Switzerland) without much hinderance. I support an EU that strives for big personal freedoms like Free Movement.
6. Were you/are you actively involved in the Remain/pro-EU campaign during the UK’s Brexit referendum and its aftermath?
Hugh: No I wasn’t. I’ve considered a lot of times being more politically active (i.e. joining a party). Right now it’s really an issue of finding the time.
Ciarán: Does talking about it aggressively while doing standup or in the pub count? Probably not. Edinburgh, and a lot of Scotland, was a bubble. The idea of leaving really felt like an ‘English thing’ up here, most Scottish people saw it as an internal Tory feud that had been thrust upon the public. As a result it felt like preaching to the converted a lot of the time.
7. How did you feel when you saw the result of the referendum? Have your feelings changed since?
Hugh: Initially I had very selfish feelings worrying about my own future immigration status, since I’m not from the UK but was studying here at the time. Now I’m not so much worried about myself but would really like some things to be set in stone.
Ciarán: I felt a lot more indifferent than I was expecting on the morning. I had researched the legality of being Irish in the UK before the referendum occurred so I wasn’t concerned for the status of my wife and I. My main concern was and still is the economic fallout, another recession, more justifications for austerity and the damage that would do to the most vulnerable in society. I don’t think my feelings have changed to much about this.
8. Do you think the UK will leave the EU in March 2019?
Hugh: No. I think it will happen but an extension or long transition is likely. Political instability in the UK could be a real problem for the whole process.
Ciarán: No, or more accurately I don’t think the UK will be ready to leave at that point. The UK will leave, I don’t think reversing the decision is likely, but I seriously doubt they’ll be ready to leave by March 2019. Which will be interesting since the next parliament elections for the EU are in May 2019, and the EU would really like it if the UK wasn’t a part of that.
9. Do you feel that living/working within the EU has made a difference to your life or career? How?
Hugh: I get a lot of questions about this working in technology. All the big players in the medical imaging space are multinational companies. Siemens and Phillips make most of the equipment and provide most of the funding. There’s not been any signaling of big moves out of the UK but I won’t be done with my PhD for at least 3 years, who knows what the UK part of the industry will be like then. It hasn’t affected it yet, but I think it will.
Ciarán: Hard to say, it’s all I’ve ever known. While I’ve been to countries outside of the EU, I’ve never lived or worked in any of them. It’s certainly helps Ireland maintain a comfortable existence and without it, Ireland would probably become a client state of the UK, which would not go down well. However, I feel like the light touch is probably what I like about the EU’s benefits.
10. Does the EU help sustain peace?
Ciarán: I mean, it’s either the EU or the Eurovision and Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 so, nil pointe for Eurovision there.
11. Does Europe inspire you? If so, how?
Ciarán: I’m not certain that it does. I feel like it’s important to have a normal almost passive attitude towards any given land mass.
Hugh: I would say not. Europeans can provide inspiration but not the EU or continent itself
12. Do you have a favourite place in Europe? If so, where and why?
Ciarán: Split, Croatia. I love that place, it’s built from a Roman palace, which is crazy. Also it’s so sunny and the bakeries are so good.
Hugh: Berlin! If I had to move anywhere immediately that would probably be my choice. This was a surprisingly difficult question. I think I’m spoilt for choice a bit!
13. Which (affectionate)European national stereotypes are true, in your experience?
Ciarán: I do think the Irish are really jovial and personable. That’s certainly what I tell myself anyway, in social situations.
Hugh: None, honestly I’ve never found any stereotypes to be true generally in my experience. I’ve met a lot of very insular, non-personable Irish people for instance. A few German’s with poor time keeping, the list could go on. It might be easier to see if we could cultivate some positive EU wide stereotypes!
14. Do you feel you have a lot in common with people from other European countries?
Hugh: For sure! The amount of shared experience I’d find with people from other European countries used to surprise me, but now I think of it as a given. Even country specific experiences tend to have parallels to find common ground on.
Ciarán: Yeah, language barriers are always an issue but I definitely feel like I have more in common with people from other European countries than I do with, say America. It’s similarities based on the personal and the political that I think unites the people of Europe.
15. How do you feel about ‘ever closer union’ or the notion of a ‘United States of Europe’?
Hugh: A United States of Europe could be good in theory. I really think it would all come down to implementation. I don’t want the USA form of government and I have big problems with how several EU countries’ elections are run, let alone how the EU works now. A compromise that would get enough member states on board really might not be better than what we have now.
Ever closer union sounds good. Normalising more laws throughout the EU seems like a good idea to me. A lot of tax policy would probably be fairer were it EU managed in my opinion.
Ciarán: I’m in favour of a Federal Europe, I don’t like the term ‘United States of Europe’ as it draws comparisons with the USA that I think harm the discussion before it even happens. It ignores so many other federal systems that might make more sense for Europe or be more desirable. India is a federation and has the same number of official languages as the EU, Switzerland has a system that maintains a lot of state autonomy and the entire German Sprachraum is a collection of federations, so EU federalism will probably look something more like that.
That being said I’m not in favour of federalisation at any cost, there’s certainly a wrong way to do it.
Ever closer union as a long standing goal I think makes sense, I do feel like a fair amount of hiccups in the current EU could be solved with more union.
16. Where is the best place in Europe to drink coffee? What would you order?
Hugh: I drink so much coffee that it’s largely all blurring into one at this point. I’m not sure I have a particular place in mind but everywhere I’ve gone in Europe has always had somewhere good with plenty of space to sit. Some of my best European coffee memories are terrible coffees on nice beaches.
Ciarán: I don’t know why, but a good Café con Leche in Malaga bus station is ideal. There’s just something wonderful about waiting for a bus, drinking a tiny coffee in the ridiculous heat standing at the ‘take away’ window (by god don’t take it away they gave you a glass, that’s not yours!).
17. Which European destinations are still on your bucket list to visit?
Ciarán: The Baltics, I’ve never been to Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia and I would like to see them, I’m also very curious as to what Kaliningrad Oblast is like. Also more of the Balkans. I love the Balkans, good food, music, people and weather but there’s a lot of it left for me to see. Put me in a rust bucket of a vehicle and drive like a madman around BiH, Kosovo, Albania and the rest.
Hugh: I’ve done quite a bit of travelling around Europe, but I think I’d really enjoy living somewhere else in Europe more at this point. Really get immersed somewhere maybe.
18. Beyond Brexit, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing Europe today?
Hugh: Reforming the commission – currently not quite a meritocracy, not quite democratic
Ciarán: Dealing with the fact that we’ve been moving around the continent for a long time and will continue to do so, which is natural, that’s what happens when you take freedom of movement and add time. The EU and member states might need to start seriously thinking about providing multilingual essential services, an EU-wide auxiliary language and immigrant suffrage. Even reducing the bureaucracy that comes with moving around the continent could have a real positive effect.
19. What do you think is the most significant moment in European history?
Ciarán: I’ve been reading more and more about the Spanish Civil War lately, there’s always something more to learn about it. The popular view at the time was that it was a battle of political ideologies that would determine the prevailing ideology of the future and so many people from all over the world came to fight for the Anarchists, Communists, Monarchists, Fascists, and others. I’m not sure it’s the most significant moment in European history but I think more people around the continent should learn about it as a precursor to World War II.
Hugh: I just got back from Germany and I forgot how interesting and complicated the reunification was until I was there in some museums. The whole collapse of the Soviet Union is so recent yet I think poorly understood. Something I’m going to spend some time reading up on again in the next few weeks for sure.
20. Are you hopeful for the future of Europe, and the European Union?
Ciarán: I’d say yes, tentatively. It’s hard to know what the future holds but ultimately I think we are heading towards a Europe and EU that has a better understanding of what it wants to be. It can be hard to square that away with my general feeling that the world overall is getting worse but sure, what can you do. Probably something.
Hugh: Yes. I think the EU needs a lot of reforming, but I don’t think there are insurmountable barriers to that happening. I think the sensationalist press in the UK especially paints a picture of an EU on a precarious ledge at all times, but the truth is pretty far from that. There are far more examples of dysfunctional national governments than central EU problems at the moment anyway. Hopeful for sure.
Listen to Hugh and Ciarán via their podcast – Previously in Europe