On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the EU, we at the Centre for European Perspective feel called upon to say a few words in this regard. Also, we at our institution celebrated an anniversary last year. It was 10 years since our establishment. However, in the year of 2006, when we were established, we were living in a different EU, as it is today in the year of 2017.
Ten years back, the EU was just in front of the enlargement with Romania and Bulgaria and just after the big one in 2004 with 10 new member states. Today, we are almost not talking about enlargement any more, but more about “exits”.
Ten years back, we were living in a period of high economic growth, while today many of EU countries are still struggling with the consequences of the financial and economic crisis of 2009. The migration crisis in the past years confronted member countries and the EU institutions with new realities, for which we do not have common answers or solutions. Despite the rules still in place, many borders among Schengen states are not ensuring “the free movement of people” anymore. Terrorist attacks are changing the everyday life in the EU capitals and people do not feel safe anymore.
These are just a few differences we can notice, if we take a look only 10 years back. If we would look 60 years back, the differences would be even more visible. It would indeed be interesting to see, what the founding fathers of the EU would say, if they would be here today. Having in mind they were setting up a union among countries, which were just a couple of years ago, involved in two world wars and have lived through the economic depression in between them. Many people said at that time they are dreamers and utopians.
However, after 60 years, we can argue, they were not dreamers. Today we have a young generation for the first time living a “European life”. Majority of the European millennium generation is today using one currency and they are not any more troubled with exchange offices when traveling from France to Austria or Germany by exchanging Francs for Schillings or Marks. Studying a semester abroad is something completely natural, while even still in the 90s this was a privilege of just a few. The Schengen system enabled people to move across Europe much faster and easier. Some of us still remember the long lines of cars and people at the boarders between countries. Communication in the EU is nowadays almost free (GSM roaming, internet coverage etc.), while only a few decades back a telephone call from the UK to Italy was a huge expense.
As mentioned, the young generation was born into all of these benefits and is consecutively taking them for granted. In my opinion, this is a very dangerous thing to do, since nothing is for granted. The EU, the Schengen, the Euro, Erasmus etc. are not for granted. All these success stories of the EU are there because many visionaries 60 years ago believed in it and fought for it. And if the young take all this for granted and at the same time see the EU as something which is very distant, we have a lot of homework still to do.
We at our Centre implement many projects in the countries which are still on their way towards the EU membership. In these countries, we rarely here or talk about “exits”, but much more about “entries”. The young in these countries do not have all the above-mentioned things, nor do they see them as granted. And if we stop believing in cooperation and in integration, we might just lose all the things for which we believe are there ever since.
Thus, when I talk to the young I try to explain that if “only” decades of peace in Europe would be the only positive outcome of the EU, it would be worth it.
The EU is a process and we must never stop believing in it and shaping it. At least in my opinion, having lived my youth without the EU, nowadays there is no real alternative for it.
All the best to the European integration.
Dr. Gorazd Justinek, CEO at CEP