It feels like every media outlet is talking about Europe. And you can pretty much guarantee that the text will include one particular era-defining word: Brexit.
Both demonised and glorified in equal measure, Brexit has come to mean so much to so many, but few are really be able to define it.
“There has never been a time, certainly in the last 30 years, where Europe has been so central to the news on a daily basis and Brexit is often in the limelight,” explains Derek Hutcheson, Malmö University associate professor and coordinator of the school’s European Studies programme.
People forget that the EU is not just about “bureaucracy and bananas”, he adds. Moreover, the triggering of Brexit means there has never been a more relevant time to study Europe.
“Brexit indicates – if not an existential crisis to the EU – then a change in the direction for it,” he says.
Among other things, the referendum and ensuing debate showed how little most people knew about how the EU works and what it does.
“There were discussions in the UK media about immigration, about economic costs, but very little understanding of what the implications were of either staying or leaving,” says Hutcheson, who believes that fully understanding Europe and the EU requires more than one national or scientific perspective.
“Discussion about the EU gets distilled down to some of the more obvious but technically less important things, such as regulating what size and shape bananas should be,” he says.
“This misses the important role that the EU has in regulating competition and trade. Trade is made easier when standards are similar and where there is recognition of each other’s quality controls.”
Hutcheson adds he’s surprised by how little debate there has been around the fact that Britain wants to leave the EU single market, something he calls a “huge step”.
“It will have massive implications,” he says.
And it’s precisely these sort of thorny issues that are addressed in Malmö University’s European Studies programme, the only English-language programme in Sweden devoted to studying Europe.
Questions like Brexit and trade can really only be understood in the bigger context: how the EU and its various institutions work. Thus the programme sets out to give a grounded understanding of Europe using political, historical, geographical, legal, cultural studies perspectives.
“The programme is not about the EU as such – though obviously, discussions about it play a central role in the programme,” says Hutcheson.
“But it is mainly about understanding Europe and where today’s Europe comes from. A large focus is on European history and how the EU of today emerged. For that, we go back 1,000 years to get an understanding of different cultures within Europe.”
Hutcheson believes that Brexit poses a potential challenge to the EU but it poses a bigger challenge to Britain.
“The EU has always been about ever closer union, it has been about moving forward and bringing in new members, deepening cooperation – now Brexit changes that,” he explains.
“I’m not pessimistic about the future of the EU as such, but I think that it needs to be better at communicating a vision of where it goes from here.”
Current discussion now revolves around whether the EU should stop moving forward and integrating and rather consolidate what it does; whether “it should do less, but do it more intensively”.
But, Hutcheson warns that developments “could result in chaos” if every country tries to get what it can from the EU without understanding why it is part of it.
“Part of the challenge for the EU is getting people to understand what it is, what it is there for, and what it seeks to achieve,” he adds.
Linnéa Maria Göransson, who lived previously in Prague and London and has long been interested in Europe, is studying on the first year of the programme and just completed an essay on Brexit.
“It’s a global society we live in, but not everyone wants to live globally!” she proclaims.
“That has manifested itself through the Brexit vote. It seems like the UK never really felt part of the EU so they rejected it.”
Göransson believes “overreach” is one of the main problems with the EU.
“It wants to deal with too many things and that has led to problems. We are joking about the time we will graduate – will the EU still even exist then?”
One of the best aspects of Malmö University’s European Studies programme, according to Göransson, is how international it is.
“We have students from Germany, Serbia, Bulgaria, Finland, the Balkans, China, and Bangladesh,” she says.
“When you have people from different parts of Europe and the world, they have a different way of viewing things and that brings different perspectives to the discussion.
“It is a great environment to learn about Europe.”
This article was sponsored by Malmö University.