"The Great European Disaster Movie"

Bill Emmott / Sep 2015

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When will Europe finally wake up? That is the question that has haunted the film director Annalisa Piras and I, ever since we began work in earnest on our documentary, The Great European Disaster Movie, in the spring of 2014. It seemed to us that Europe was sleepwalking its way towards disaster.

We made the film in order to sound a warning, a warning that the crises facing all of our European countries, in the economy, in public finances, over migration, over the war in Ukraine, were not just technical or temporary like others in the past: they were potentially existential. The European Union really could cease to exist, which is why Annalisa opens the film with a fictional scene from a dystopian future that has followed the collapse of the EU.

The intent was not to predict collapse: far from it, it was to show how and why collapse needs to be prevented. The argument that lies behind the film is that today’s crises will remain potentially existential for as long as European citizens and their governments remain complacent in the face both of the crises themselves and of the increasingly nationalistic response to them in many countries’ domestic politics.

When the film was first broadcast in March and April 2015 we were often accused, especially in Britain, of being alarmist. Yet every month that has passed since then has made the film feel, if anything, too optimistic. With fences and barriers going back up all over the continent, with the European Union failing repeatedly to come up with convincing collective solutions, with Europe being easily portrayed as a negative, as a source of punishment rather than of hope or opportunity, the chances of a Great European Disaster have only increased.

It has felt ironic, really, that the film’s fiercest critics have mainly been Eurosceptics, particularly of course in Britain, since the movie is so critical of so many of the policies and failings of the EU and of the eurozone. We expected to be greeted with suspicion and even hostility in the European institutions, and perhaps also in Germany.

Instead, those audiences have reacted thoughtfully, even if sometimes defensively. By contrast, British Eurosceptics have mostly responded with hostility, accusing us of peddling “pro-EU propaganda”, with many simply trying to silence any discussion of the film by disparaging our methods and motives. Evidently it is not enough to say—as the Eurosceptics often do too—that Europe is heading towards disaster: our sin has been to argue that the EU is worth saving.

What we think above all is that Europe, and all the values that it represents, are worth thinking and talking about, with rather greater seriousness and depth than has been the case up to now. The view we portray in the film is, in essence, the view that “you don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone”, to borrow a phrase from the Canadian singer Joni Mitchell.

That is why we are now moving into a new phase with the film. Through the educational charity we have set up, The Wake Up Foundation, beginning next week we are making the film available free of charge to anyone who can assemble an audience, hold a post-screening debate about the future of Europe, and undertake to share the resulting ideas and conclusions with us and other people screening the film, through social media. We are calling the initiative Wake Up Europe!

Bill Emmott

Bill Emmott

September 2015

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