The EU, Universal Basic Income, and COVID-19: an Interview with Maeve Moynihan ’17

CCE VISTA Member Ellie Dickerson ’19 interviewed Maeve Moynihan ’17 about her work with Europe’s Stories, a University of Oxford project researching European opinions on critical social, political, and cultural issues.

Maeve Moynihan ’17 is a writer, researcher, and advocate of social change primarily interested in issues of migration and mobility. While at Middlebury, she engaged deeply with community-connected learning though CCE programming and majored in History and minored in Spanish & Art History. After graduating, Maeve received a master’s in Migration Studies from the University of Oxford. She is currently working with the Europe’s Studies research team, a project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at the European Studies Centre, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford, to research European opinions on critical social, political, and cultural issues. 

Maeve Moynihan ’17 is writer, researcher, and advocate of social change interested in issues of migration and mobility and is currently working with the Europe’s Studies research team at the University of Oxford.

Europe’s Stories’ March 2020 survey, designed in consultation with the Bertelsmann Foundation’s eupinions survey project, provides insight into the current and future state of the EU, including, perhaps, the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the region. In one of the more striking survey results, 70% of the 12,000 EU & UK respondents supported a Universal Basic Income (UBI), while 84% backed a mandatory minimum wage.

I was thrilled when CCE Director Ashley Laux asked me to reach out to Maeve to learn more about the project because of my interest in the topic, but also because Maeve is awesome. I first met Maeve during a Middlebury club frisbee practice in fall of 2015, my first semester at Middlebury. Standing on the sidelines waiting for our turn to get into the scrimmage, we bonded over our shared Nebraska roots (Maeve lived 6 months in Omaha, I grew up in a small town in the north central part of the state) and discussed all things Midd. When I described my intense anxiety with writing essays, Maeve assured me that it would be okay and offered to help me with any assignments, or simply sit next to me while I wrote. “Writing buddies,” she said. 

The interest and commitment Maeve showed to me, an anxious first year whom she had just met, meant a lot to me at the time, and serves as a great example of her character. When I say Maeve is awesome, I mean that she is one of those rare people who makes time for others while also engaging deeply, and impressively, with community and academic research. While at Midd, Maeve was a solid Prankster (I, on the other hand, only “played” on the frisbee team for one semester and never in any tournaments), a Juntos Compañeros volunteer, a MiddView Transfer and Exchange Leader, a Service Cluster Board Coordinator, a Kellogg fellow, and a Fulbright award winner among other activities and accomplishments.

Keep reading to learn more from Maeve about Europe’s Stories, her role on the research team, and her take on survey results, with particular emphasis on UBI and (im)migration issues.

Maeve, could you tell us a little more about Europe’s Stories and your role on the research team, as well as what led you to the position?

Europe’s Stories is a multi-year research project that seeks to illuminate the many narratives of Europeans in the 21st century. Dramatic changes in the past few years, including Brexit and the growth of populist movements, suggest that a new story of Europe is emerging. Oxford Professor Timothy Garton Ash leads our team in exploring the diverse strands of these narratives.

I joined the team as a Dahrendorf Scholar in early 2019 during my Masters at Oxford and focus primarily on analysis and evaluation of our interviews. Our research is currently based on two main pillars: interviews with individuals across Europe and public opinion surveys in collaboration with eupinions. Interviewees are invited to share their formative, best, and worst European moments, allowing us to see trends among political, cultural, and social events. Our public opinion surveys allow us to get a broad perspective on what young Europeans think about topics like climate change, populism, migration, and more. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, our team launched a self-interviewing feature which has allowed us to broaden our audience considerably.

What aspects of working with Europe’s Stories have you most enjoyed? What has been surprising or challenging?

We have an incredible international team of researchers from a variety of academic backgrounds who regularly challenge me intellectually. Our discussions push me to consider not only the current state of Europe, but what the future could look like and how we can play a role in shaping it. Unfortunately, as in any research project, it’s difficult to reach every voice and hear every story. I’ve found it challenging to know that our results so far do not represent the full spectrum of experiences of Europe. In particular, our results represent very few marginalized groups, such as irregular migrants and refugees, people of color, and those that are already silenced in many aspects of the EU. In the coming months, I am hoping to develop this aspect of our project and enrich our pool of respondents.

70% of the 12,000 EU and UK individuals surveyed support a universal basic income (UBI), while 84% back a mandatory minimum wage. Did these statistics surprise you–or not in light of the financial crises and uncertainties brought on by COVID-19?

Europe has a very robust public welfare system, so the widespread support of UBI and a mandatory minimum wage did not surprise me as it would have in the U.S. These results came from a survey completed during March 2020, when many Europeans began to confront the economic threat of COVID-19. Whether or not that threat is directly related to the support for UBI and minimum wage is hard to tell, as the pandemic was just starting to take hold in Europe at that point.

UBI & mandatory minimum wage are two progressive economic reforms that could benefit society’s most vulnerable. On the other hand, COVID is exacerbating border tensions and nationalistic sentiments within the EU, leading governments and individuals to feel an even greater need to protect their borders, their medical supplies, and their food. In your interview for the European Moments project, you discuss how you see restricted policies around movement as the EU’s most defining issue. What factors do you think will be most important in harnessing the more positive results of COVID while reining in the negatives, especially around issues of movement and mobility?

As we have already seen, COVID-19 is a liminal moment when our societies can carefully construct a more thoughtful future. From my perspective, the most important factor with regards to COVID and migration is clear, data-driven research, policy, and communications.

In the context of mobility in our research, the story is particularly interesting. The majority of our respondents, most of whom are EU citizens, have indicated the freedom of movement as the most important thing the EU has done for them personally. However, very few mention the inherent lack of movement for non-citizens. The recent border closures due to COVID-19 have given Europeans a lens into the lives of people on the move, for whom borders are almost always closed, whether bureaucratically or physically. Many governments have used the pandemic to further develop already hostile practices in Croatia, Malta, and the Mediterranean, for example. In order to facilitate a sustainable and just recovery with regard to immigration, Europeans need to understand precisely how (im)migrants contribute to European society economically, culturally, and socially. When you actually look at the numbers, scholars have shown that the 2015/2016 refugee crisis, rife with xenophobic tendencies, was not in fact a crisis of refugee arrival, but rather a crisis of the failure of EU governance. Similarly, the anti-immigrant Rhetoric that defined the Brexit Leave campaign was rooted in xenophobic rhetoric. Just four years later, Europe and Britain are witnessing the literally life-saving impact of immigrant essential health workers during the pandemic. Clear, unbiased, data-driven research can drive appropriate policy that would finally establish mobility as an asset to Europeans, rather than a liability.

Thank you, Maeve!

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