What It Means to be European
For this year’s Europe Day, I will tell you why I consider myself to be an EU citizen before anything else. I, in no way, am trying to say that the EU is perfect, we are far from that. I might be pro-European, but I can see that there is a lot of room to grow and to improve. The EU is faced with numerous problems and I clearly see that if the system stays unchanged, we will not be able to solve or survive issues like climate change, Euroscepticism or threats to democracy. However, because its Europe Day today more than ever seems like a good excuse to celebrate the Union for all the good it has done.
Freedom to move across borders
The most cliché reason to love the EU is because of the freedom of movement. This might not seem extraordinary to many, but for me, freedom of movement is not something I take for granted. My mother grew up in Socialist Germany and by the time the wall came down, socialism ended, and Germany was reunified, she was 19 and had left the country once. In contrast, by the time I was 19, I had lived in Germany, the Netherlands and France. Moreover, I had travelled to a total of 18 countries. My mother was not allowed to complete her high school education because she did not conform to the system, while I was never discriminated against based on my political views. Growing up and living in the EU, shows me that I have a greater degree of freedom than the previous generations of my family had.
Throughout the past few years, I met so many different people and I enjoy having friends from all over the continent. And by getting to know people from various backgrounds I more and more realized that we are not that different. And that is exactly when I feel the most European. Whenever I visit one of my friends and I get to meet their family, that’s when I realise that I have a family in so many different countries. My personal network really makes me feel at home wherever I go. Once I spent time with my friend’s mother, who is Bulgarian and speaks no western language, while I don’t speak any eastern language. I helped her prepare lunch and we communicated without understanding a single word.
And I think that’s what Europe is all about; people from different backgrounds who have different histories coming together, relating to and understanding each other.
Peace; can we take it for granted?
Growing up, the concept of war seemed confusing and I was terrified by it. I grew up in Germany but only over time did I understand that an invasion by an outside force was highly unlikely. Especially the horrors WWII scared me, but by learning how the EU was set up and how it worked, I understood that I had nothing to be afraid of. This knowledge is something that not only makes me feel safe in my own country, but it also makes me feel somewhat at home and welcome in other EU states.
When travelling within the EU, I know that there are laws and certain structures that do protect me. Moreover, there is no need to worry about insurance, visas and often even about the currency. I know that if I get into trouble, I can get help in any agency of one of the 28/27 Member States, so no matter where I am, there is a certain sense of security. So far, the EU is the most successful project on earth which ensures peace and security. Often enough, I find myself taking this for granted.
I grew up in the border region between Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, where for my family and I it never was special to go abroad to go shopping, either because shops are closed on Sundays in Germany, or because of special products like Belgian chocolate. We have gotten so used to the Euro and Schengen that life without it seems overly complicated and almost impossible. My parents’ house is so close to the Dutch border, that in the front of the house, there is German network reception, while the back of the house only has Dutch network access. So before roaming was abolished, we would only have reception in the front of our house, while if we did get reception at the back, the fees were high.
While all of these reasons sound cliché, they are very true. I grew up in an open society, where I felt free, without state suppression or surveillance, where I now can move to pretty much any EU country without major hurdles. My personal freedom but also the freedom of movement differs substantially to what my mother grew up with. I moved abroad for my studies, moved again for Erasmus and will probably move to another EU country for my master’s degree. A few decades ago, my mother was not even able to visit her entire country, because there was a fence running across it, separating the two halves.