Passion for Europe

By Christoph Schnabel

Last month I took part in the International Youth Competition of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German political foundation. I handed in a speech about a vision for Europe in the year 2030 and won a trip to Rome and an interview with Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and elected candidate for President of the European Commission of the PES.

1

©Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Photographer Pietro Pesce

In the past four years the European Union (EU) has been rocked by a crisis that has challenged the financial, economic and political functioning of the union. The future of millions of young people across Europe has become uncertain. From the 22nd until the 25th of May 2014 the citizens of the EU will elect a new parliament. What vision of Europe do young citizens have? Where doe we see the EU in the year 2030? Will it have emerged from the crisis strengthened? Will the face of Europe have changed completely?

I tried to answer those questions from a very personal point of view with a fictive New Years speech of the President of the European Commission in the year 2030. Apart from me, more than 200 other young Europeans from all over the continent handed in their contributions.

In Rome I met the 19 winners of the competition. Those young Europeans from 9 different countries were all highly motivated and in favour of deeper European integration. They had prepared interesting and critical questions for Martin Schulz. They covered fields like monetary and financial issues, immigration and youth unemployment.

2

©Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Photographer Pietro Pesce

In the interview with Martin Schulz I asked him about the conflict that comes along with the situation he is in, in which he is both, candidate for President of the Commission and President of the EP at the same time. I wanted to know how he could on the one hand be a good and neutral President of the parliament and on the other hand campaign for himself, because he wants to win an election. Martin Schulz responded we would see no problem in separating those two roles and he would still be able to do good work as President of the EP.

3.jpg

©Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Photographer Pietro Pesce

(I have to mention that he already broke this promise partly, as he changed his former “President of the EP – twitter account” to his “election campaign – account”, whereby he profits now from more than 80.000 followers.)

It was a great experiences and I had a really positive impression of Martin Schulz who is a great speaker and seems really passionate for the European idea.

4.jpg

I want to thank the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in London, Berlin and Rome who made this experience possible and Peter Rodford and Nat Copsey from the Aston Centre for Europe, who’s lectures enabled and inspired me to write my speech.

 

Dear fellow citizens of Europe,

I wish you, your families and friends a happy 2030. I hope it will be successful and satisfying for every European and for people all over the world. I hope you will find the time to sit back and figure out, what for you, very personally shall matter in the year to come.

Today I would like to speak to you not as the President of the European Commission, but as a European citizen. Standing at the beginning of a new decade it might be a good idea to look back rather than just proclaiming the political agenda for the year 2030. I would like to share with you my very personal experiences of the past decades, which some of you might have experienced as well. But I hope that in the end, I will be able to explain why I have been a supporter of the European idea since my youth and want to encourage you for more support for the Union.

I was born in 1990 in the just united Germany. In my youth I travelled to France, Spain, Austria and all over Europe. My best friends and me took an old bus to discover the world around us. We went out to see mountains and the sea and always followed the sun. Thereby we crossed boarders without recognizing them. We went over boarders to meet new friends in foreign countries, boarders at which our grandparent’s generation had died.

The first time I voted was in 2009 when the European Parliament was elected. I was really excited, as young voters often are. I wanted to be part of the history of European democracy and not let others decide about my life. Therefore I even began to study the European Union, with its institutions, laws and origins and slowly began to understand that it was the only logical consequence of European history. So I grew up in a united Europe and went to study in Great Britain whilst I experienced the benefit from being united in diversity. But this united Europe was nothing new or strange to me. It was just where I grew up, my home. What I was afraid of was the attitude of the previous generation before mine. They were threatened by the idea of losing their identities. What they had to understand was that the Union was our only chance to protect peace within Europe and our norms and values in a globalised world.

At the beginning of this century we faced what some at that time called financial or debt crisis. Now we know that it in fact was a political crisis, due to the lack of trust in national and supranational institutions, their legitimacy and transnational solidarity. Politicians all over the continent were not able to explain their vision for the European Union, because most just had none. The Union was short from a failure. But this situation in our common history did not come out of nowhere. Sure we’ve made some huge mistakes, for example when we regulated the banking sector too little, and when we intervened in peoples’ daily life too much. At the same time people felt vulnerability and uncertainty and we couldn’t explain them why they had to pay this price.

Nearly none of those who had started the project of European integration were left to explain, why they founded the Union: Neither they, nor their forebears had experienced a longer period of peace in Europe. There was a continuous fight at the place, which we today consider our safe home. I don’t want to imagine, what would have happened if my generation would had let the few Euro sceptics with their populist arguments win the fight for Europe’s future.

Now we can say, that this crisis was probably the best thing that could have happened to our Europe. It made it necessary to rethink European integration and thereby push it forward. Since the 1950s, crises have made Europe always stronger. Every single one had deeper and further integration as its main outcome. And so it was the logical consequence that the biggest crisis of all made the European Union stronger than ever. The critique on the Union presented inside the parliament but also on the streets did not destroy the Union, but initiated a process of political development. Stagnation ended, association in solidarity began. The mistrust in the existing Union transformed into power and a will to build a political project based on a European public interest.

The crisis forced us to make some tough decisions that were necessary and should maybe have been made much earlier. All democratic groups in the EP had to work together and find compromises to get Europe finally ready for the 21st century before it would have been to late. Employers had to arrange with the fact, that we did not liberalize the labour market any further, because we wanted to guarantee stability and security in the citizen’s lives. Then again, employees had to understand that our demographic problems could only be solved with longer working times. And we as politicians had to understand that we can’t and mustn’t regulate every single piece of peoples’ lives and that transparency and openness were wanted more than ever.

Since that time our Union has changed. And it has grown. We are more than proud to welcome the people of Armenia to our midst in the next year. After the ratification of the Treaty of Istanbul the Commission is not anymore the only institution with the right of initiative but still the guardian of the treaties. The European Parliament has become what it should have been from the beginning on, the heart of our European democracy. But still in retro perspective it was the right way to let the commission promote the European integration in the early and difficult years.

Being so satisfied and happy with all our achievements of the past decades we must not forget about the work to come. In my opinion we are not yet in a position, in which we represent the values that are considered as indisputable for the European idea in a satisfying way in our foreign policy. But still, we’ve come a long way to get to where we are today. And now here we stand, closer than ever and still united in diversity. When people ask me today what my motivation was in the hard times of the past decades and why I found it worth to fight for further European integration it’s quiet simple to find an answer for me:

I have never needed a vision for Europe, because it has always been reality, always been my home.

May my best wishes for the New Year always be with you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s