What is GEG? Lola Salem reveals all

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Can you tell me a bit about GEG – what is its purpose?

GEG stands for ‘Group for European Geopolitical studies’. It is a discussion group, which is part of a bigger organization based in Paris since 2017. Its main purpose here in Oxford is to organize intellectual, civil discussions. As a result, it creates a very special social network, which bring people together; especially people, I might add, who don’t think the same way. I would say that the DNA of the whole project is to encourage a diversity of perspectives and opinions. This is something, I think, which is of primary importance in an academic place but seems lacking, here and there, in Oxford.

The global organization aims to rethink the political issues faced by the European continent as a whole. In France, different projects are organized; so there are discussions like the one I’m doing here in Oxford, but also publications, an online review, thought-provoking analyses that are read throughout Europe and the world. European governments are closely following those works. The GEG in Oxford is also a pretext to find people willing to take part in this bigger picture.

What types of issues do you discuss?

I think it is important to keep in mind two main things, whatever the topic is. First, scales. Secondly, interdisciplinary analyses. What is the best scale to talk about different political issues in Europe? Europe is sometimes perceived as a monster, especially because of Brussels ‘blurry’ administration, which can be seen as a screen or even a threat. Also, at a pragmatic level, all these countries don’t speak the same language and although they share the same history, and sometimes culture, some differences exist, which are not always addressed. Therefore, the point of the GEG is to foster multi-scale analyses, building on an inter-disciplinary lens. They really are the two pillars on which the issues should be interrogated.

Then, you can find a geopolitical angle for most current or long-term issues. Sometimes, during the GEG’s discussion, we address very broad topics; some other times we stick to very concrete ones.

Can you give an example?

Yes! For example the very first discussion we had in Hilary term was about the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ which is a movement that began in France last November, and spread out massively in Europe, thus encountering different political agendas. Although all those people are reunited under the same banner, the movement is obviously changing as it is spreading; people project their own domestic policy issues and the specific vision they have of Brussels. I would say that this was quite a concrete topic to discuss.

The other one that was absolutely not as concrete and led to a feverish discussion that I really appreciated was in week 3 of Hilary term: ‘Is Europe Christian?’ We tried to go from very specific article, published on the GEG’s online review, to broader ones, showing that it is possible to talk about this from a geopolitical point of view or at least that the question has something to tell us about European geopolitics, either within Europe’s territory or outside of it.

What do you think are some of the most important geo-political issues facing Europe today?

I don’t know if that’s a simple answer, but I think it is one of primary importance: we are facing European elections and there is a clear issue regarding who is going to shape Europe. We used to have, to put it very quickly, right, extreme right, and nationalist parties in different countries in Europe that would be traditionally very anti-EU and would claim the sovereignty on their borders and currency. But now those parties and political lines have shifted; now we call them neo-nationalists, and they are the new face of European populism which is not anti-EU, but definitely willing to change it from inside. To be honest, it is a very bold move. They are right now successfully launching their campaigns. In that respect, we can understand Viktor Orban’s speech at the end of 2018 as a rallying cry. It is of primary importance to confront those ideas because… what really stands in front of them, at the moment? Moreover, I would say that we should confront them without demonizing them, because we need go beyond sterile polarization. We need to build this kind of grey-zone for debate, which, I think, is lacking and show that we are not only polarized but, I would say, bunkerised: tribalism, as fostered on social media, locks us up in our echo-chambers. This must be, in my opinion, one of the greatest challenges that we’re facing in Europe right now.

What do you see as the future of GEG here in Oxford?

Here in Oxford I want to continue the civil discussions. I think it works quite well. It is beautiful, in this kind of intellectual tonality, to see that people are still willing to debate each other in a very constructive, respectful way. I would like to continue doing this. It might be possible next term to invite, from time to time, special guests. So far, the discussions have been very ‘horizontal’ and I would say that is one of the best features of the discussion as it offers a good alternative to the top-down debates we can find elsewhere, like in the Oxford Union, for example. Although I don’t really dislike it (it is the format, you have to comply to it) I think having not too many people in a discussion where anyone can jump in and ask questions is important. But, yes, it would be nice to bring at some point to welcome recognized political or intellectual figures. Maybe later on, we might have publications going on, for example short articles about specific topics or translations of political debates. This is important especially since we are fostering transnational links, with Paris and other ‘branches’ of the GEG around the world (LSE, Columbia, etc.). Creating those links would show to the rest of Europe that, yes, everyone is thinking about these topics, but not always in the same way. What an exciting news to see that you can disclose fresh, new ways to look at things!

Image credit to Lola Salem