This weekend, the 27 EU heads of state (yes, 27, it’s official) met in Rome for a very special occasion. March 25th – yesterday – marks sixty years since the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the EU’s birthday! And what better way to celebrate that than with… a council.
Oh well… at least they celebrate, I guess.
Unfortunately, on its 60th birthday, the European Union indeed looks very, very old. In fact, its condition even seems critical. In the last ten years, self-proclaimed doctors of all sorts have repeatedly told us, the EU might not make it much longer. The institution’s body is frail and the removal of its diabetic food called England certainly does not improve this overall situation. This weekend’s celebration might therefore quickly turn into a mourning.
Notwithstanding the critical condition of Europe, the EU needs this celebration. After so many bad years, it feels good to celebrate for once. And this also gives us the chance to look back on what is still a huge success story. The sixty years that the European Union has been around mark – after all – the most peaceful, wealthy and open period this continent has ever seen.
It is an old story that wars between EU members have become all but unrealistic. However, the EU-period marks much more than that. It opened up new opportunities for people living in every corner of Europe, from Spain to Lithuania. People can today move more freely, think more freely – simply live more freely – than they ever did before. We are currently living through our heyday. No matter what these so-called doctors tell us, the patient is therefore far from dead.
That of course doesn’t mean, the EU does not also need to change. Recent discussions around the future of this union lead in the right direction. Yes, the EU will have to reinvent itself. But it always has.
What is the true tragedy is that so many people living on this continent no longer connect the historical accomplishments they enjoy each day – their personal freedoms, their wealth and their possibilities – with the political structure of the EU that made so much of it possible. As I said, we are now living more freely than ever. It is no coincidence that this unprecedented level of personal liberty and wealth came alongside the development of the EU.
On this birthday, let us therefore rightfully celebrate what has been achieved on this continent. But let us not forget to also think ahead. To discuss – and yes, fight over – the future of this European Union. Many paths are possible. All but one: going back to our petty nation states, falling for the populists’ promise that this would magically solve all our issues. The EU is not the problem. It has always been the solution but as the problems change, so must the solutions.
It only seems fitting – in the face of the celebrations in Rome – to end on some Latin wisdoms. One in particular comes to mind here, the Habsburgs’ old slogan now used by Spain: plus ultra – “further beyond”. That is indeed the only direction open to us but it is a damn good direction. It can be done. Viribus unitis.