On 14th October, the European Parliament in Brussels opened its new visitor’s centre called “Parlamentarium”. As explained throughout the exhibition, it is the result of a long process of discussion inside the institution about what it should exactly be: an exhibition about the daily work of the European Parliament or a more general one displaying European history?
Visiting the Parlamentarium
First of all, visiting the Parlamentarium is free of charge. The staff provides every visitor with an Iphone in his own language, which enables him to find information by the i- points all along the exhibition. The Parlamentarium makes use of the newest technologies to provide a very vivid experience of the history of European integration: videos, interactive activities and even a role-play on the European Parliament for schools pupils.
Apart from the first corridor describing the European history from the Great War in overlapping videos, which is a little bit confusing for the visitor. However the overall exhibition is very pedagogical. One can just regret that this profusion of new technologies leaves very few spaces for facsimiles of historical documents, apart the “Schuman Declaration”.
When the Parliament writes history
One crucial question remains: how does a parliamentary institution write history? From this point of view, the choices made by the EP are neither clear nor explained to the visitor. First of all, the Parlamentarium presents a history of European integration from the European Economic Community’s perspective. Very little is said about the first military attempts to unite the continent (Roman, Napoleonic, Nazi) and about the roots of European identity. Neither does the exhibition present the Interbellum projects of Kelogg-Briand, Coudenhove-Kalergi nor the alternatives to the EEC project like the Council of Europe or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The European Parliament chose a teleological presentation of European history, which remains highly problematic. Furthermore, this exhibition within the walls of the European Parliament is mainly presenting today’s EP without devoting resources to retrace the very rich history of this institutions and the role of its main figures like Altiero Spinelli or Simone Weil.
In an effort not to limit itself to the western part of the continent, the exhibition also covers events in the Eastern part of the continent during the Cold War (under the pressure of MEPs from the new member states as we can imagine). But here again, the selection of events and their presentation are sometimes strange. Many examples can be found from the presentation of the eventful year 1968 in Western and Eastern Europe to the events of 1989-1991 in the Baltic states that are presented without a mention of the fact that they were illegally occupied by the Soviet Union. As more and more academic works like Judt’s or Davies’ try to give a comparative view of both Western and Eastern European history, it seems very problematic that their work has no impact on a project as important as the Parlamentarium.
One can argue that each institution tries to present its past in a way that justifies its very existence and the choice of presenting the history of the EU and the European Parliament can be perfectly understandable. This should be clearly stated somewhere, in order to preserve the very aim of museums. Here, the mingling of a quasi-museum and an information centre can only create a strange feeling among the visitors.
- N. DAVIES, Europe : a history, 1996.
- Ibid., Europe East and West, 2007.
- T. JUDT, Après-guerre : une histoire de l’Europe depuis 1945, trad par. P-E. DAUZAT, Grand pluriel (Paris: Hachette Littératures, 2009).
Illustration : European Parliament, What is « Parlamentarium »?, septembre 21, 2011