‘The nationalisation of states is killing the European thought’: EU ebook prize winner Menasse | EUROtoday

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Talking Europe hosts Austrian writer Robert Menasse, the winner of the 2023 European Union ebook prize. The award was arrange in 2007 to foster a European spirit and promote understanding of the EU from a cultural perspective. The prize has beforehand been bestowed on such towering figures as Jonathan Coe, Philippe Sands and Tony Judt. Menasse is the one author to have gained the award twice. We talk about his prize-winning novel “The Enlargement”, which takes locations towards the backdrop of the particular enlargement of the European Union. It types the second novel in his trilogy, after “The Capital” in 2019.

Asked why he’s drawn to the European Union as the subject material for his books, Menasse says: “I am a novelist. What is a novel? What should a novel be able to tell? Contemporaneity. For us Europeans, the European Union is producing the basics and the context of all our lives; of our search for luck and wealth. It’s European law which interferes in our lives, which defines our lives. So if I try to tell how we are living today, what our problems are, how we try to resolve them, and why we are not able to resolve them, that has all the time to do with the context of European law and the reality of the European Union.”

And why was Menasse notably within the Balkans, on this newest novel? “I was travelling in the Balkan states, North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and so on, because I wanted to find the most interesting possible example out of all these countries which want to come into the European Union. And I suddenly realised: it’s Albania. Albania is a very interesting country – completely different to the others and, at the same time, typical. They already implement European law and are not a member of the European Union. And members of the European Union like Poland are breaking European law. This contradiction was very interesting for me.”

The writer contends that the founding thought of the EU is being misplaced. “Europe does have a narrative. But the narrative has been forgotten,” he asserts. “It’s a fascinating narrative. The founding generation of the European project experienced in their life four nationalistic, brutal wars, because of aggressor nationalism. The idea was to take the different nations and combine them in a way so that none can do harm to another without damaging itself. The first post-national continent is the narrative. But the politicians today do not know it or forgot it. Or they find it easier to collect national votes.”

Continuing on that theme, Menasse takes a essential view of a number of the developments in his native Austria, which till lately was blocking the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen free journey space (though Austria has now agreed to a restricted rollback of its veto). “The veto against Bulgarian membership of Schengen, for example, is only given because the Austrian government expects that national voters want it. It has nothing to do with European needs. The nationalisation of the European member states is killing the European idea, and it is very interesting that the countries outside the EU and which want to come in, they know much more about European ideals and values. It’s very crazy. The better European Union is the union of the countries which are not members of the European Union.”

“There is a contradiction between post-national development and the renationalisation of the member states,” Menasse goes on. “This basic contradiction cannot be resolved. There is no solution.”

Programme produced by Sophie Samaille, Perrine Desplats, Isabelle Romero and Juliette Laurain