After two successful years of posting articles setting out a European, as opposed to national, perspective this site has decided to update its look. Not only can readers now see more posts on one page viewers will also notice that EU Perspectives has given the site a completely new pictorial identity. Much as EU Perspectives is attached to Mercator’s fifteenth century map of Europe it was felt that something more symbolic was needed to portray the real meaning of the European Union’s objectives. As such it has decided to feature Rik Poot’s 2003 Abduction of Europa. Written across the centre of the featured picture is Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union:
The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.
Trying to find a pictorial representation of the EU, other than the twelve yellow stars on a blue background, has bedevilled the EU for years. In vain it has sought to find an image that all on the European continent can identify with. There is nothing the EU would like more than to turn Ovid’s Greek myth on the birth of the European continent into a more modern narrative of justice, tolerance and legitimacy but feels constrained from doing so by a sorry tale of rape, violation and deception – hardly the core values the EU wishes to project.
For this reason the image of Europa resting on Zeus the bull has been pretty much rejected as an icon of modern day Europe. Many will no doubt decry EU Perspective’s choice of the Abduction of Europa as too clichéd to represent modern day Europe let alone the European Union. Further, detractors may see the myth of Zeus and Europa as sexist (Europa was tricked into riding the beast), alarming (Europa was raped) too perverse (we’re talking bestiality), too inaccurate (it’s myth not history) too humanist….
All valid points …. and yet….closer examination of Rik Poot’s magnificent sculpture can offer a completely different interpretation. To justify use of Rik Poot’s Abduction of Europa as a symbol of the EU look to the artistry of the sculpture before turning to the myth.
Since time immemorial mankind has viewed the strength of the bull as worthy of imitation. From the pre-historic images of bisons, aurorchs and bulls in Altamira and Lascaux, through to the minotaur in Crete the bull evokes notions of power and strength. Be it friend, foe or fodder mankind has always respected the courage, durability and vitality of the bull. With the European Union’s core values being increasingly attacked either by deranged extremists or by more subtle though no less dangerous proponents of illiberal democracy never has it been more vital that the EU find a symbol of strength, courage and durability to represent its core values.
A further full frontal attack on these core values can be seen from within Europe by the rise of right wing parties and movements who actively advocate the dismantling of the European Union. Parties such as UKIP, Le Front National and Syriza peddle the myth that the European Union is an organisation with less than honest intentions. They are the parties that encourage movements such as Pegida in Germany to promote intolerance rather than tolerance of the other. These are the very parties who exploit turbulent times to their own party political ends by undermining Europe’s confidence in its core values not least the values of “tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality.”
Let us therefore propose that the bull’s strength is allegorical of the core values that strengthen, unite and sustain everyone residing in the European Union – democracy, human rights and the rule of law. These core values are a banner all right-minded individuals across the European continent can and do identify with and can and do rally around.
Were these very values not borne out of Europe’s own extreme suffering during two world wars including the rape of Belgium, Hitler’s deceptions during the time of appeasement, a complete disdain for basic human rights, governance through dictatorship rather than pluralism and democracy? Rather than being the perpetrator of rape, deception and violation the bull has metamorphosed, emerging as a symbol of the very values that the European Union upholds as expressed through Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. Values that each and every EU member state must and does adhere to.
The bull is no longer the deceptive Zeus but is allegorical of very foundations upon which the European Union rests namely, human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Destroy the bull and Europe collapses into the sea. The figure of Europe resting confidently on the bull’s back grasping the horns of the twisting bull is a suitable allegory of the European continent’s magnificent and continuing contribution to philosophy, religion, art, music, culture and civilisation – but for any of these to thrive Europa requires the bull to carry her forward.
The European Union is being attacked and ridiculed on many fronts. It is time for it to take a more confident position on what it represents. For fifty years the European Union has delivered peace, tolerance and prosperity on a scale that the likes of Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen or Alexis Tsipras could never, ever achieve on their own. Not even in their wildest fantasies. It has delivered the kind of peace, prosperity and security that those living in authoritarian, fractured countries can only dream of. It has delivered the kind of prosperity that those who advocate illiberal democracies will never be able to deliver.
Last but not least Art 2 of the Treaty on European Union expresses the very values, sentiments and emotions that caused the largest protest movement in modern history this past week-end in France where leaders of the free-world stood up to defend the core values expressed in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.
The European Union may not have an army to defend these core values but defend them it will regardless of who would try and undermine them – be they radical extremists of what ever persuasion, proponents of illiberal democracies or parties seeking the break-up of the European Union. If nothing else, the despicable attack on journalists last week highlights how all of the EU member states stand united on one thing – the importance of upholding our freedoms as expressed through Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. Love it or hate it Rik Poot’s sculpture may yet come to represent the strength of Europe’s core values that give succour in times of crisis.