Last week, it has been 60 years. 60 years since the first founding contracts of the European Union had been signed in Rome. 60 years of peace followed and a process of integration started that has not finished yet. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that this Europe we live in, this European Union, is not ordinary. Yes, it has hiccups due to its structure. But like my president said, it takes 60 years to build something like the EU but it takes just a few minutes - or a referendum - to destroy it. Luckily, there are those other people in Europe that cannot be blinded by populism. Hofer lost, Geert Wilders lost and let’s wait and see what is going to happen in France.
I have been born during the Cold War. I witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union. I remember being a child and waiting at the borders in the car with my parents because traveling was not as easy as it is today. I remember calculating how much foreign money a trip would cost and change money accordingly. After joining the European Union, that has changed. Traveling became much easier, student programs across Europe were part of my Education and we would not have to worry about the money being changed anymore - in most countries. My daughter ought to grow up in peace and benefit from the advantages of being a member state within the European Union.
Nationalism & Its Illusion
In recent years, that European drive lost energy. For global challenges we need to face, populists always create the illusion that everything could better be solved nationally. That is why we face two major obstacles nowadays. Populism and nationalism. But seriously, are trade deals with the USA or China better negotiated being a small country, or being part of the EU? Is the climate change something we can tackle better on a national basis, or do we need a bigger structure? When easy answers are provided, things are not that easy in general. Ask the president of the United States.
Sooner or later, nationalists and populists fall in the same trap of political realities and they find out that providing political answers to substantial questions is rather difficult. That is when they lose their voters. But voters often fall in the same trap as well and really think that things are a lot easier than we believe. The EU is very complex and hard to understand. It is easy to bash against the EU, but reforming it is difficult.
Believing in European Ideals
Granted, the EU is far from being ideal and needs to address its challenges sooner than later. To my mind, the main problems occur within the European Council which is democratically imperfect. But I believe in Europe and its potential. And more importantly, I believe in European ideals, in human rights and in democracy. 60 years after its foundation, the European Union is at a crossroads. Either it is going to fall apart, as most populists suggest or, it is going to survive its biggest crisis and is going to find a way to renew that European spirit. I believe in the latter and I think that most young people do. In order to renew that spirit, the EU needs to address social issues as well, not only economic and geopolitical ones. Maybe we have a chance.