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“Europe in Autumn” – a review of facts and science fiction

The borders are coming up all over Europe, secession is constantly on the agenda, and a line separate Southern Europe from northern Europe. It sounds like European current affairs, but these are central themes of Dave Hutchinson’s science fiction novel “Autumn in Europe” (2014).

In January, my colleague Laura Horn, who is interested in the link between science fiction and international relations especially in an European context, invited Dave Hutchinson to Roskilde University for a seminar called “Towards a fractured European future? Europe in Autumn”. The seminar discussed how fiction sometimes unintentionally intersect with the real world, such as the refugee crisis, free movement and national referenda. Despite the similarities between real life and his book, Dave Hutchinson said he just wanted to write a spy novel. The following post reflects the issues discussed at the seminar.

Europe in Autumn – a short summary

In the book, the EU has become history, and new countries are constantly emerging. Many countries have introduced border controls and some require visas, both obstruct free movement of goods, capital, services and people (the four principles of the EU). To circumvent these restrictions a mysterious courier company “Les Coureurs des Bois” smuggles everything from documents to people. The protagonist, Rudi, an Estonian chef working in Krakow ends up working for “les Coureurs” and travels across Europe on different missions, where he navigates a constant changing political landscape and restrictions to movement.

Back in the real world – the Schengen area

Several EU member states have temporarily withdrawn from the Schengen area in order to stop the refugees, yet border controls mainly affect EU citizens indeed the practical implications of re-establishing borders are evident for the commuters crossing the Danish-Swedish border (see my previous blog). It is unclear if border controls will be removed once the number of refugees is reduced, especially as the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris suggest an increased concern over free movement within the Schengen area. Indeed border controls enable countries to monitor movement of people within the Schengen area. Crucially, border controls are likely to reduce mobility between European countries.

The break-up of countries and the EU

In the book new countries are constantly emerging, for example a Berlin apartment block declares itself independent. In the real world, regions such as Scotland and Catalonia demand autonomy and independence. Furthermore, national referenda[i] on EU issues and the 2014 European Parliamentary election have increased euro-skepticism and right-wing parties are gaining seats in both EP and national elections. As a consequence of the financial crisis, social movements have emerged and are calling for alternative visions for the EU and Europe. Nevertheless, these alternative worlds have not (yet) led to the break-up of states or the EU.

A line separating the South from the North

The book introduces a mysterious railway company[ii], which has built a railway line through the whole of Europe from Spain to Siberia (the EU would be envious; the Trans-European Transport Networks continue to be delayed due to domestic politics). Importantly, the railway company claims sovereignty, thereby creating a 3 km wide country, which not only separate southern and northern Europe but also breaks up existing states. During the seminar, this led to an interesting discussion about bypasses and transit passage, which left several of us pondering the issue for a few days.

Indeed, the railway line brings back memories of the iron curtain and the separation of east and west Europe. Whilst the iron curtain no-longer exists, the responses to the financial crisis and the refugee crisis have highlighted the differences between EU member states, particularly between the south and north. The division is also reflected in national discussions of social dumping and social tourism, where some actors want to restrict free movement of labour. Thus, a discursive line is beginning to divide Europe.

Towards a fractured Europe?

Overall, the book presents a dystopian view of a fractured Europe including central themes from current European debates, and it poses the question; is this is how we want Europe to look like in the near future?  A world without free movement.

The financial crisis and the refugee crisis have created a division between north and south Europe. Whilst the financial crisis led to a closer union at least for the Euro-zone, the refugee crisis appears to have had the opposite effect. Indeed, the functioning of the single market is paramount for the member states, and any threat to the single market results in more integration, whereas policy fields, such as immigration and asylum, continue to be influenced by domestic politics. Moreover, national referenda are won on domestic issues. These developments lead to both a more fractured EU/Europe and a more integrated EU, which begs the question: how elastic is the EU and Europe?

 

Many thanks to Laura Horn for commenting on a previous draft and for bringing science fiction to Roskilde University, I look forward to reading your book about science fiction and Europe. I’d like to thank everyone at the seminar for an inspiring discussion, which I’m still pondering today and continue to bring into other conversations.


[i] The Danish referendum on EU justice and home affairs (December 2015), the Dutch referendum on the Ukrainian association agreement (April 2016) and the forthcoming Brexit referendum (June 2016)

[ii] The railway company remains mysterious throughout the whole book and you have to read the second book “Europe at Midnight” to understand the significance of the railway line.



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