One of the good things to come out of the aftermath of the Brexit referendum (yes, I can find a bright side) is that there is currently more of a focus on Europe than there used to be. Or maybe it was always there, but we’re noticing it more. Certainly the pro-EU community which has grown up online gives the conversation about Europe a natural audience. We’re not just talking about Brexit here either, we’re talking about Europe in all of its diversity. In focusing on why we love Europe, why our European citizenship and identity matters, and who the key political players are, we’re also focusing on what Europe is.
The motivation for me starting this blog was largely about encouraging and recording that conversation. About looking at Europe beyond Brexit. About celebrating the continent and getting to know it better. Brexit has brought this into focus and made it, perhaps, more painful. The joy, though, is in discovering I’m not alone in wanting to explore Europe in more depth. I was delighted, recently, to interview the guys behind the Previously in Europe podcast – whose motivations and interests are similar to my own with this blog. I also recorded a chat with them for the podcast – on Brexit, the Remain community, the joys of Twitter, and a few other things. So, if you want to hear my voice, do have a listen – available from Friday 2 Feb onwards.
So, what’s Previously in Europe all about? Here’s Hugh and Ciarán in their own words:
1. Describe Previously in Europe for someone who’s never heard it.
Previously In Europe is a weekly current events and politics podcast centred around Europe independently run by two Irishmen living in the UK (though who knows for how long?).
2. Why should we tune in?
With the podcast we try to give a general overview of the important events around the continent. It’s a conscious choice to put an emphasis on things we think either aren’t being covered well or are being missed because they can’t be easily related to something happening in the anglosphere. A mix of serious discussion and not so serious takes on the, often ridiculous, place that is Europe.
3. How do the co-hosts know each other? Do you always agree with each other?
We knew each other from growing up as teenagers in Dublin. We started podcasting when Hugh moved to Cambridge as a means of staying in contact. We grew closer together the further we got apart.
We don’t always agree with each other, Ciarán often jokes that he is very emotional while Hugh is more pragmatic and rational, but we respect each other and we are friends first and foremost. Neither of us take a hard line on particular issues and we are often able to see the other’s point. An example that comes to mind is we recently discussed the idea of transnational pan-European voting lists for the EU parliament, while Ciarán thought it might have the potential to fuel pan-EU political conversations, Hugh had concerns that it was a subversion of the idea of representative democracy.
4. What made you start Previously in Europe? You say you were annoyed at the skewed coverage of European events in the mainstream press. Can you elaborate on this?
We’d been talking about it for a while, we originally had very different ideas on what it would be. More scripted, more irreverent in tone but we didn’t have the production time to make that the best it could be. By the time we had agreed on a format and recorded test episodes we were happy with, Brexit happened and we had to start then and there.
We’re not sure skewed is the right way to put it but we felt that the English language press had deemed much of European politics either unimportant or constantly felt the need to relate it back to a national experience. English language press is dominated by the US and the UK: a country that’s an ocean away from Europe and another that has often kept Europe at arms length. We felt that a functioning EU requires that it’s people understand at least the broad strokes of other member states’ politics and the conventional press was not providing that.
Some really interesting events happening around the continent are overlooked or spun in a far less interesting way to make them more related to the Anglosphere. Take the Czech elections last year. A lot of focus seemed to be on how Babiš was just the Czech Trump but the actual situation was far more interesting. Their recently re-elected president is if anything a more sensational figure. Babiš was often painted as a very anti-EU figure with a real chance of being in control of the country. What we’ve ended up with is a fragmented parliament where he can’t survive no confidence votes (something that was actually very predictable from national polling).
5. Does the podcast take a stance on Brexit?
Yes, sure, kind of. We feel that it’s an important issue that warrants pragmatic discussion, but a lot of what we are seeing now is a battle of sound bites. We are pro-European and we voted remain ourselves, but we have little reason to believe that Brexit will be reversed. How Brexit is handled is important and we’re not convinced it’s being treated as seriously as we feel it should by those in power. Our own immigration status could still in theory change post transition.
6. You don’t take yourselves too seriously. Who are your comedic inspirations from around Europe?
We don’t! We feel that’s important because ultimately we aren’t trained, experienced journalists or political pundits. We are interested in politics and this stuff is a big part of our lives what with being EU citizens and all, but ultimately that’s what we are, citizens.
We’ve been paying close attention to attempts at making pan-European and international comedy out of Europe and Ciarán is a bit of a cheerleader for certain European comics. From Germany, there’s Jan Böhmermann who hosts Neo Magazin Royale on ZDF, a late night satirical show that is largely in German but has created outward facing content for Youtube such as V for Varoufakis in response to the Greek Financial Crisis and Be Deutsch in response to the growing far-right in Europe and the states.
He and his show also boosted a pan-European effort called Every Second Counts which was started by a Dutch late night comedy show and then the invitation to contribute to it was put forth by Jan on Neo Magazin. From France there’s Paul Taylor, an English comic who champions the French English-speaking comedy scene in Paris. He got international attention when he got a show with Canal Plus that was also put on Youtube called What the Fuck France and I’ve heard great things about his newest show, Franglais.
The growing number of English language comedy scenes around Europe are worthy of attention as well. Berlin’s scene is quite strong with the venue Comedy Café in Neukölln, but there are scenes popping up all over from Iceland to Barcelona. It’s always worthy of a Google if you are ever on holiday in another big European city, you’d be surprised.
7. Do you find that some countries/regions of Europe give you more to report on than others?
Yes! We actually have a map of Europe on the website showing how many times we’ve talked about each country. UK, France and Germany are certainly in the lead but they’re far from dominating. At around 80 odd episodes we’re happy nowhere has been in more than half the episodes. Ciarán had a small celebration when we first talked about Slovenia.
8. Where you do find your stories – are you constantly monitoring European news channels?
We’re both big users of RSS readers – being able to go through everything from a wide variety of sources is great but sometimes it’s hard to stay on top of everything. There are a few great pan-european sites that have become favourites. Eurotopics pulls together short abstracts from different newspapers on different topics of the day which is great for picking topics to do more research on. EuObserver has good broad coverage, especially on the EU itself. Politico’s EU site has really come into its own in the past year too.
Having general news sites is great, but the real joy comes from spending far too long before recording doing a deep dive into something we’ve only seen briefly touched on elsewhere.
9. Do you have a favourite feature or episode of the podcast so far?
Hugh – we did a listeners questions episode as filler for a Christmas break we took this year which was a lot of fun. We don’t normally get so much time to speculate wildly on the future and how the EU should really work.
Ciarán – any time we cover a small country’s election and Hugh thinks we should move on like the Malese election last year where almost nothing changed, but Ciarán took his sweet time telling Hugh that.
10. Have you learnt anything new about Europe since beginning the podcast?
An enormous amount! We find we’re getting to know a lot more about the finer points. For instance we knew there was a corruption problem in Romania due to the protests, but if you’d asked us to give some specifics we wouldn’t have be able to without the podcast. Every country has its own problems which are always more nuanced than expected. Spending the time to drill down into such a wide variety of issues has been invaluable.
More specifically Ciarán makes sure we try to cover every European national election which makes sure we take a look into places we’d otherwise miss. Long live the Liechtenstein government!
11. If you were to recommend other podcasts for your listeners, who/what would you recommend?
Hugh – Reasons to be Cheerful is a wonderful listen. Ed Miliband talking about left wing ideas is surprisingly relaxing
Ciarán – The Irish Passport is particularly good. They discuss broad topics relating to the Irish zeitgeist, like why do so many people in England not know we are independent, and why is our relationship with Europe far more positive.
12. What can we look forward to this year?
The Italian elections are coming up very soon! Croatia and Slovenia have a border dispute which might get more complicated! Macedonia might get to call itself something other than FYROM if Greece doesn’t make things more complicated! Will Germany get a government? Will the Hungarian election get more exciting?
Maybe something will happen with Brexit too…