The EU excels at technocratic solutions but its citizens are not impressed. It seems that the EU is unable to come up with stories that truly unite us.
By Farid Tabarki Whenever I feel despondent about the fact that the European project is being dealt some heavy blows, I cast a glance at the EU Barcode, designed by the architects Rem Koolhaas and Reinier de Graaf. The multi-coloured flag, made up of the flags of all the countries that are part of the European Union, never fails to put me in a good mood. When Brussels was officially granted the title of ‘capital of the European Union’ in 2001, Koolhaas criticised the European Union’s media presence as being “mute, limp, anti modern and totally ineffective in an age dominated by mass media”. It is amusing, then, that the alternative should refer to a barcode, a sequence of numbers that can be read by machines, and for which the European model is on its way to becoming the global standard. It is those technocratic solutions the European Union excels at. Its citizens are not exactly impressed, however.
Colourful local initiatives can inspire leaders
Koolhaas sees a connection between this iconographic deficit and the poor knowledge citizens have about European projects. In reality, the European Union seems to be unable to come up with stories that truly unite us. As it turns out, citizens are not particularly impressed with our seventy years of peace (and counting). Hesitant European leaders would be better off letting colourful local initiatives inspire them. During the EU presidency of the Netherlands in the first half of 2016, an Arts & Design program took place, titled ‚Europe by People, the future of everyday living‘. As part of this program, a temporary FabCity Campus was realised where the future of Europe was explored. The campus formed a small-scale self-sustaining city located at the head of Amsterdam’s Java island. Visitors come across Tiny Tim, a tiny house that provides itself with water, heat and electricity through the use of solar panels and a wall that purifies water. The Pretty Plastic Plant produces building material out of plastic waste.
We need to rise beyond the city level
Dutch-Flemish acting collective Wunderbaum premiered their previously critically acclaimed play ‘De komst van Xia’ (‘the arrival of Xia’) during Holland Festival, which took place in FabCity. In the play, the makers encourage the inhabitants of Amsterdam to imagine an alternate society in which abuse of power, corruption, discrimination, inequality, food shortage, environmental issues and greed are all things of the past. In any big city, one will find not just clear-cut solutions, but tons of creativity as well. We need to rise beyond the city level, though: the problems in question deserve not just a local, but a European approach, too. Preferably one that incorporates a visual language that is multi-coloured, but does not attempt to painstakingly unite the interests of 28 separate nation states. A new EU flag should also portray the way in which citizens are able to shape their everyday lives, united in European networks of cities and regions. — Farid Tabarki is the founding director of Studio Zeitgeist. This article was first published in the Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad. Farid Tabarki is member of the initiative „A Soul for Europe“. Photos: F. Tabarki; Pixabay