Photo: paulgalipeau.comAs we already started our week with a well–writtenhistorylesson on the significance of May 9th, today, Europe Day, is also the day when Europeans are challenged to think about what Europe means to them.
What does Europe mean to you?
Does it mean the freedom to study, travel, live and work in Europe freely as you would like to? Citizens across Europe have different things to say about the meaning of “Europe” and one cannot help but ask why that is? Who benefits the most from these rights European citizens are entitled to? And who does not enjoy them?
Maciej, a PhD candidate and journalist from Poland says that for him Europe means home. “I see my European friends and I’m proud of being one of them. I grew up in the early 90’s in a country, which was for over 40 years limited because of its political situation. For me Europe means freedom. When I think about Europe, I think about development, the many personal and professional possibilities, about the beautiful history and culture, about the European languages that fascinate me. We all are different, but here in Europe, we can be different in some beautiful way and we can learn a lot from each other”. There is only one thing to fear, he says, and that’s the political inconsistency which inhibits the process of integration. “I’m not sure if we all are ready for being some kind of United States of Europe. I’m afraid there are too many differences in development and mentality between EU-countries. The present crisis shows us our weaknesses as a unified body not only at the economic level, but also at the political level”. But he also adds that the new generations growing up now are much more open-minded and that they can change a lot of things. “Only together can we become better – our common history reminds us that.
To Scott, a Brit passionate about languages, Europe is all about the freedom of movement, which some hold as the greatest blessing for EU citizens in Europe. “We have something no one else has, the ability to visit, live, work and study in other countries with little restriction. Without this I wouldn’t be able to hop on a plane to another member state and start a new life there. Freedom of movement is not yet complete, but it is still an amazing feat”. He doesn’t really see any disadvantages of Europe, aside from problems of coordinating it all and institutionalizing cooperation between 27 different member states. “These are more a necessary challenge of the European project rather than outright disadvantages, however”.
On the other hand, a European, but not EU citizen, Mars, from Albania, has experienced a lot of bureaucratic troubles while studying in Sweden regarding expiring VISAs, bank statements, applying for a residence permit, learning the language and finding a job or an apartment. “It’s not la vie en rose”, she says, “and now that I think about it, I was better off back home”. There seems to be labeling at all levels, she adds, from entering the EU borders to establishing yourself to another country that grants you residence permit as long as you’re entitled to either study, work or be a partner of a native. “I don’t want to sound too pessimistic, but it looks like unity in diversity is just political propaganda aimed at hindering multiculturalism and its success in European societies”.
Much that has happened in Europe lately can support this notion of a Europe less committed to the motto of “unity in diversity”. In recent times exposure in the media of xenophobic political discourse in Europe has increased and far-right parties have risen to prominence in most Western European countries. In 2009 there were deportations of Roma from France and finally multiculturalism was denounced by top EU leaders and proclaimed a failure.
But in a Europe of 27 very different member states, and many other countries on the periphery, it is difficult not to think in multicultural terms, both within and outside the EU’s borders. The four freedoms that Europe Day celebrates should be open to all Europeans, even in a Europe struggling to grapple with shrinking job opportunities, welfare cuts and rising intolerance and violence.