Rebranding Europe: Ulrike Guérot and her Res Publica Europeae

On 24th of September Ulrike Guérot gave a keynote lecture as her contribution to the main project of the 6th Moscow Biennale. Her presentation was dedicated to the problems of European integration. We are publishing Andrey Shental’s comment on her talk.

Almost one hundred years after the publication of Oswald Spengler’s book, the issue of “decline of the West” is once again placed at the heart of political discussion.The general European crisis — and its particular symptoms, such as the problem of Greek national debt and the flows of refugees — bring into question the political unity of Europe and challenge the idea of its cohesiveness. However, the project of aligned Europe that has its roots in the Enlightenment still remains an important utopian horizon for politicians and philosophers, who juxtapose European radical universalism and anti-nationalism to the current state of affairs. Thus, for instance, the French philosopher Alain Badiou in his ‘Eleven Points, inspired by the situation in Greece’ points out that the Greek people do not reject Europe as such, but come out against the “bankers’ Europe”, which is a distorted version of the original idea.

Berlin-based politician and the founder of the European Democracy Lab, Ulrike Guérot who was invited to give one of the keynote lectures during the Moscow Biennale, holds very moderate political views and suggests a fairly specific plan to preserve the integrity of Europe. Guérot is convinced that in its current form the European Union does not fulfil people’s original expectations. Instead of giving its citizens political freedom, it created a common monetary system and expanded the market freedoms, while the nation states remained unchanged. As a result, the EU once again became the zone of internal feuds where each country defends its own economic interests. However, notwithstanding its disadvantages, Guérot tends to think that the European Union is an 'avant-garde laboratory of politics” and a unique transnational entity. Structurally it could be compared with the unity of muslims in the “Islamic state” (which, in turn, could be called a reactionary counter-programme to Europe’s secular and emancipatory project).

In developing her argument, Guérot unexpectedly comes to the analysis of Europe’s iconography and decides to recourse to the metaphors of body and sexuality. In the manner, which slightly reminds one of artist Hito Steyerl’s performative Powerpoint presentations, she created a kind of a 'critical collage,’ comprised of Böcklin’s "Liberty”, Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” Mona Lisa and even Conchita Wurst. Juxtaposing them to Hobbesian Leviathan, she comes to the conclusion that despite the predominance of white heterosexual men in European politics, the true nature of Europe is feminine. The post-performative and transsexual body of Europe has to save its integrity: as a cutoff hand cannot exist without a body, the exodus of Britain and Greece would have a lethal outcome for both countries.

Goérot believes that to preserve the harmony of the European body, a new political entity should be created — the Res Publica Europeae. She sees it as a pan-European republic and together with Rem Koolhaas she’s already designed a logo for the new entity where different national flags merge into one colourful barcode. Guérot thinks that the model of federation is outdated and does not suit the demands of justice, while the republic, which would erase political borders between the states, will make it possible to establish equality among all the citizens. If today the citizens of Europe are not equal to each other, since they pay different taxes and have different access to the public goods depending on the country of their residence, then elimination of borders and introduction of the common law would change the situation. Such system would also allow the Europeans to level out the differences between underdeveloped and developed regions, which is not possible in the current situation.

Guérot’s presentation leaves the reader with a lot of questions. First of all, it is not clear how the creation of a republic and unification of the welfare system would improve the conditions of the poor. It is even unclear to what extent this new political actor would adhere to the idea of welfare state (and this was the main argument of the opponents of the failed European Constitution project). Moreover, Guérot’s faith in the hierarchical institutions that she uses as readymades without questioning them also raises doubts. Thirdly, the fact that Guérot avoided talking about the problem of migration signifies her disregard for Europe’s neocolonial role in global politics, which could be disguised by the new republic. Consequently, one could think that Guérot’s project — at least in the way it was presented at the Biennale — is no more than a mere renaming , as if thanks to the new title it could change the European Union itself. In this way Res Publica Europeae is an act of rebranding.