Europe: Sense and Sensibilities

“the need is for a new model and a new project for Europe which cannot but see women in leading roles”


The below is an editorial from the Italian feminist magazine Donna Woman Femme. The full issue is available here –


Actually, we had been contemplating dedicating an issue to Europe for a long time. It has been a long gestation, which has made itself felt on a number of occasions. At times collectively, at times individually, the dream of the ‘Project Europe’ has been recurring for all of us. It may have been conjured up by a childhood song (Carol), or pursued in a form other than the single currency or the rape of Europa but, without risking being naive, we have all in one way or another seen in the birth and growth of the European Union a possibility, an opportunity.

As from the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, the EU’s lifespan so far is approaching long enough to see adult “native Europeans” by now. So we feminists, we who “relate”, who start from ourselves, Europeans travelling without passports and with euros in our wallets, often with three toothbrushes, each in different share accommodation (or coloc, as the French put it) – we were wondering if we had something to talk about, and if so what, with the feminists in Sweden, Austria, Lithuania, Poland… and whether one could speak, even if to some extent provocatively, of the existence of a feminist movement in Europe. There certainly are differences, but the challenge is to see whether there is a common thread binding them (Pacella).

And if there happened to be this thread – we went on to ask ourselves – would the transnational feminist movement be Europeanist? And on what bases, seeing that the great project of united Europe, aiming to keep the differences together without flattening them out on a universal standard, has produced a form of governance and a system put together with restrictive rules? A system that has given way to finance, erected walls or, even worse, got others to, standing as a “fortress”– in short, that preferred straight lines to curves, which are less tameable or predictable (Gregoratti).

We are well aware of what Europe has proscribed. The question we ask ourselves – and others – in this number is what Europe has permitted or permits women, in the first place. And we ask it bearing in mind that Europe’s favoured perspectives start from the cities (Sassen), and that all too often Europe itself (its fault) forgets that not all the people live in metropolises.

Starting from our own lives, these considerations have gone a long way (Dro), raising many questions and demands which we report in this number of DWF. We are aware that many issues have been left out, but we are equally sure that wehave begun to traverse the map of Europe with specific and unequivocal political questions.

We have questioned groups and individuals. The result is not that of a journalistic enquiry clarifying this or that point, but rather a burgeoning of considerations and observations that we deem no less eloquent, no less important to present to and share with the readers of DWF.

Of the interweaving threads to be examined in order to see whether we can speak of a “European feminist movement” European project, the main three are:

  1. How to construct European citizenship: for example, bringing the focus back to welfare, well-being, the opportunities the European Union should guarantee (Pacella), and the rights that some women have and others are waiting to have (Björk, Jafari). There can be no getting around the fact that the human rights that European culture has been built upon have for some years become an obstacle (to break down) favouring a market rationale. At the same time, we may say that Europe, given the heterogeneous characteristics and multiplicity of cultures it embraces, is probably one of those places where citizenship is destined to become a matter of physical human beings inhabiting a certain territory, and not of passports.
  2. What is already common culture, such as the urban lifestyle, and what has yet to enter into it, namely a common identity expressed in terms other than the single currency and the rape of Europa.
  3. What are the theories, reasons and feelings for us to give a political future to Europe.

This questioning leads to one only – but decisive – result: the need is for a new model and a new project for Europe which cannot but see women in leading roles (as political actors). The reasons adduced for this were: women have never constructed their political identity on nationalistic bases (Virginia Woolf – El Fem), most probably because their cause is rooted in the fight against patriarchal universalism (Braidotti); and their European experience, networking with women of different backgrounds, has proved highly beneficial in terms of learning about other practices and comparing them with their own. In other words, it is thanks not only to the Erasmus Programme that we have learnt about each other, but also, and above all, to comparison between various different practices.

It is women themselves who map out the urban context where they take their conflicts (Sassen), where they take their physical presence, occupy streets and squares. Again, it has always been women who have learnt, the hard way, the biopolitical risk now threatening (in Europe, too) many more bodies, for exclusion or inclusion can be a matter of life or death (Braidotti). And again, it is women who understand and exercise the movement, the dynamics of contemporary life between micro-macro, inside-outside. This is evident in the migration processes (Brinis), which see women mayors taking on full commitment in their areas, together with involvement in European emergencies. Moreover, women create culture top-down and bottom-up (Spinelli, Hirschman, Warso, Forenza), which means that the feminist movements represent the only policy that flows while remaining rooted, which takes to the streets but can also become theory, responding to emergencies and transforming them into new directions.

Nevertheless, the data on gender inequality and discrimination (in the labour market, but not only there) tell us that the imbalance is still too great (inGenere, Squillante, Manca).

This number of DWF is important because it brings complicated issues into discussion, but it does not demonstrate that the new model of Europe based on the physical and intellectual presence of women is being implemented or finding political scope to emerge. All of us, women and men, feel the urgency of this, and all the more so if Europe’s scope is hemmed in by currents moving in the direction of authoritarian democracy (Russia, Turkey, USA), but we cannot count on effective response from Europe. The ‘European feminist movement’, as far as there is one, could in the meantime be working towards other legitimate options: a new internationalism, practical nomadism, caravans, matriarchal communities, taking the struggle to common territories.

This number does not offer direct answers to start on immediate political action and the necessary alliances to construct the new model within our map – the geographical and cultural map we inhabit (including the sea). On our experience, however, we can propose political action that takes on form and force like a mosaic “piece by piece”. Our proposal is to set about seeking alliances immediately – political action – on the single pieces of the mosaic, instead of delaying in the expectation of coming to agreement on the overall political project, which still needs clarifying.

We can put the first “piece” in place now, making the gender approach obligatory in all the proceedings of the European and, in cascade, national institutions, introducing a different attitude and/or a gender impact assessment in all cases, at all times, alongside assessment of other impacts. In short, what is known as. “Gendermainstreaming” (Forenza) must be made effective and widespread.

In fact, 8 March 2016 saw approval – during the Strasbourg plenary session – of a report on Gendermainstreaming to the European Parliament3. The rapporteur, Angelika Mlinar, liberal, Austrian and full member of the FEMM Committee (women’s rights and gender equality), enjoyed the support of an overwhelming majority within the committee and subsequently in the plenary session with 453 votes in favour, 173 against and 79 abstentions. Starting from this Report, the offices of the women MEPs who had given it most support set to work to make Gendermainstreaming a perspective adopted across the board for all EU policies. A letter was also sent to the chair of AFCO (Committee on Constitutional Affairs) with the request to modify the rules of procedure in the European Parliament with a view to making adoption of a gender perspective binding throughout all the work of the Parliament.

Another piece of the mosaic consists in a new design for education taking gender into account, able to deconstruct stereotypes and offering European programmes and European handbooks to all, based on studies by women with experience of the project Athena4: in other words, working towards implementation of a platform for construction of European citizenship characterised not by national borders but by border crossings, and thus ever subject to mutations.

Yet another piece of the mosaic consists in continued reflection on everything that obstructs, filters or raises issues with our European project: wayward populist trends, institutional arrangements, the distribution of powers, the bureaucracies, commons, governance of conflict, town/country relations, patriarchal hangovers, economic freedoms, nationalisms.

The Dashwood sisters, all three having rightful claim to the title of this number inspired by Jane Austen’s novel, unconcerned about Brexit and the conventions of the English provinces, have declared their enthusiasm about the work that has been and will be done!


If you would like to contribute to this project of feminist reflections on the European project, see here for details.

‘Militarisation’ and the CFSP Strategy 2016: Post-‘Brexit’ alternatives?

“this military-based approach is in stark contrast to, and undermines, any efforts of the EU to incorporate a more ‘feminist’ outlook on its operations and activities.”

The UK Brexit referendum of 2016 was a turning point. This, almost too close to call, vote was the result of a culmination of negative attitudes towards the European Union dream post-WWII. A dream which began with a hope for a future free of regional conflict, economic stagnation and, arguably, a future free of the xenophobia which had blighted some nations in recent memory.

Brexit and the European Dream

The path to this future began with a handful of European neighbours agreeing to join a common market, for a shared stake in a more stable and prosperous economic future. It was in this ‘pilot’ project that the European Union made its foundation and further grew to include more member states. These states sought to trade in this common market, but more than that, members sought shared values, greater power globally, guidance and the free movement of their peoples throughout Europe.

During this period of expansion for the EU, the UK has continued to have a difficult relationship with the EU, though at best the UK response may be described as ambivalent. The Brexit referendum saw the UK-EU relationship at its worst point in decades. The vote (and pre-vote campaigning) indicated widespread distrust of the EU bureaucracy and a lack of knowledge or awareness of EU activities and purpose. This vote also facilitated other member states’ anti-EU pressure groups to come forward and lead local debates in calling for a cessation of their relationship with the EU (for example, Marine Le Pen’s right-wing party in France). Though the economic impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU is yet to be determined (and the legal arrangements are yet to be made, with ‘article 50’ yet to be invoked), the political ramifications are already becoming visible.

The author focuses on the security and defence implications, post-Brexit, and most notably the response of the EU to the Brexit referendum decision.

CFSP, Maastricht, Mogherini and Militarisation               blogimage2

Under the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) pillar of the EU, established in 1993 by the Maastricht Treaty to enable the EU to speak and act with one voice on security, diplomatic and defence matters, with the aim of preserving peace and security; Federica Mogherini delivered a global strategy aimed at further unification.

As vice-president of the Commission (under the Juncker-led Commission) and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mogherini outlined a core strategy of further evidencing ‘unity’ and ‘strength’ of the EU by ultimately creating an EU-wide military force, proposed in July 2016.

It is understood that, as this strategy was published post-Brexit, this is a response to fears and concerns regarding the EU and its role in the future. This may also be a response to greater concerns regarding Russian aggression, particularly in relation to some member states on the regional borders of the EU and Russia. The Russian question, and two other contemporary security concerns for the EU in the near future are considered in this brief, ultimately the author will argue that in seeking a ‘strong vision, shared action’ – a greater military build-up in the EU will be costly and counter-productive.

Cold War 2.0?

The threat of Russia continues to plague the European community. Though the Cold War is said to have ended with the ‘fall of the Berlin Wall’ in 1989, Russia remains a cause for concern and significant threat to the stability of the European region, economically, politically and physically. Post-Cold War, in hindsight, we still appeared to be in something of a détente with Russia, keeping the nation at arm’s length. Recent years have seen operations in Syria and wider Middle East conflicts continuing and worsening, with material and financial support provided by Russia facilitating the continuation of hostilities, and the attempted expansion into Georgia and the Crimea. The Russian question is again on our lips.

Traditionally, NATO has been the provider of security for the European Community, particularly in relation to the potential threat of Russia – indeed it has often acted as a deterrent for Russian aggression. However, post-Cold War NATO’s role has been called into question, particularly given the long period of apparent ‘détente’. NATO, to some extent, became obsolete and appeared to struggle to reconstitute itself to remain relevant in a changing security landscape. This may have been seen as an opportunity, by the Russian state, to again challenge the balance of power(s) globally. The author believes this issue is best combatted by NATO, as the traditional leader in regards to this security concern, as the EU is not equipped – nor is it fundamentally constituted to tackle Russian aggression (in any military capacity at least).



During its attempts to ‘rebrand’, NATO has made efforts to counter the threat of cyber-security and hacking (on behalf of member states). Indeed, this is also an attempt to counter the Russian cyber threat. Such a contemporary threat, in light of our globalised world, requires a coherent and ‘networked’ strategy – a ‘web’ or ‘net’ of sorts.

As cyber-security not only includes threats to state infrastructure, but also threats to the individual (i.e. fraud), this is an issue which would benefit from strong diplomatic relations and an integrated approach across various EU and global organisations. It would appear that the EU and NATO are now in a very strong position to lead on these efforts. Thankfully, such an issue does not require a stronger military approach, but rather increased funding for resources (i.e. technology, R&D) and greater organisation of intelligence (knowledge) sharing and man-power. A member state, such as France which has previously struggled with attaining a streamlined and organised strategy, would certainly benefit from such an EU-wide approach and support.

Trafficking, Refugee migration & criminal networks

Such a contemporary approach, focusing on integration, organisation and networks is also very beneficial for some of the oldest criminal practices and issues which have plagued the EU and member states. The crisis in Syria, among other recent conflicts, has been a particular problem for the EU given the vast and sudden increase in refugee migration to or through the EU. Whilst this crisis has highlighted the best in some states’ response to ‘open borders’, this phenomenon has also highlighted the xenophobia, political tensions and organisational or ‘structural’ problems in some parts of the EU. Urgent meetings and debates will no doubt continue in the EU, in regards to this continually developing issue.

Criminal networks operating within the EU have been a concern for some time. There appears to be a fairly robust approach by parts of EU infrastructure focusing on law enforcement and criminal activity. Trafficking, particularly human trafficking is an ongoing issue and increases when crises arise and major sporting events are hosted. The law enforcement approach should continue (with some adaptation in responses to trafficking ‘victims’); but should also act as a template for the Mogherini global strategy – in seeking a more cost effective military alternative. Efforts of Interpol, for example, indicate what is possible with a more integrated approach.


  • Increased profits for the Arms Trade
  • EU funding and resources wasted on outdated military solution
  • Undermines gender-mainstreaming and other ‘feminist’ inspired practices


Conclusion blogimage3

Whilst the strategy adopted by the EU in 2016 (post-Brexit), for a more unified, strong approach to foreign and security policy, appears a good strategy; attempting to strengthen or streamline the position and look of the EU by creating a shared military force is misguided, given the contemporary security landscape and perceived threats. The author would argue that it would be best to instead imitate the integration efforts of the EU in seeking to combat criminal networks, for example, pooling resources, man-power and knowledge (intelligence) and developing a flexible and adaptable (EU-wide) network.

The concern over Russia, which may also be a significant concern in creating Mogherini’s strategy, whilst a reasonable concern is not really a concern for the EU to resolve militarily – this, is a problem for NATO. NATO is the relevant organisation to address the threat of Russian expansion or aggression, which is also the reason for its creation during the Cold War. It is not the role of the EU to provide a military response to Russia; indeed this appears to contradict the fundamental ‘raison d’être’ of the Union and the CFSP.


Militarising the EU will simply improve business for the Arms Trade; it will not substantially improve the stability or strength (in real terms) of the EU. Furthermore, this military-based approach is in stark contrast to, and undermines, any efforts of the EU to incorporate a more ‘feminist’ outlook on its operations and activities. Therefore, gender-mainstreaming or equality practices, and any efforts to propagate gender-sensitive or neutral practices elsewhere (globally) would be called into question, following this very masculine show of ‘strength’ against Russia. However, the EU could have a role, supporting the USA, in facilitating (politically, diplomatically, economically) a renewal of NATO efforts to tackle this threat.

Originally produced as a mock policy brief for TEPSA

Rosalie D. Clarke


Nottingham Trent University (NTU)



Federica Mogherini


Global Strategy (2016)