Twenty five years have passed since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. What lies ahead for the European Union? Should it break up or become a federal superstate? Neither, says second-year European Studies student Kerstin Spath. It should stay just the way it is.
When we hear about Brussels in the news it is mostly about technical, rather abstract matters, such as market regulations, consumer protection and environmental standards. Important as they are, these things are difficult to grasp. Moreover, they don’t help the EU’s image as a behemoth of incomprehensible bureaucracy. So let’s make things concrete: what has the EU ever done for you?
I can only speak for myself. I am 21 years old (or young) and was born after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Hence, I was born into an environment already much influenced by the Union and its regulations.
A German native, I am currently studying here in Maastricht. Next summer I will go abroad for my Erasmus semester – a programme funded by the European Commission. I can call my friend, who is studying in Italy, without fear of enormous roaming charges and high phone bills. My grandparents live so close to the French border that we can ride our bikes to the nearby boulangerie to buy croissants, and this without needing to carry our passports or a handful of francs. But there’s more to all this than mere convenience.
The European environment I grew up in has shaped me as a person. I would even go so far as to claim that being a European citizen has influenced the way I think about many things. Having grown up in such a borderless society has made me more open towards people in general. The dividing line between nationalities has blurred because, in the end, we’re all just European citizens. What’s more, the EU has influenced my understanding of democracy and my perception of justice. When talking to a friend in the US, I get the impression that my understanding of these fundamental concepts differs somewhat from his. While he sees democracy as “freedom and liberty for all”, I associate it with political participation, social security and equality. While he believes in a judicial system which allows the death penalty, I associate justice with the rule of law and the protection of human rights.
And finally, let´s not forget the most important thing the EU has brought to a continent long characterised by devastating animosity: peace. For my generation and that of my parents, peace has become so normal, so common, that it is difficult to imagine a world without it. We take stability for granted. And though we see war and conflict on the news every night, it’s always somewhere else, someone beyond the borders of Europe.
Growing up in the EU has given me many opportunities that seem so natural. This can make it difficult to believe that a few decades ago things were quite different. The more I think about it, the more I realise I am privileged to have a freedom and an abundance of opportunities that others cannot enjoy. In its current state, the EU offers us so much. So why can’t it just stay like that?
Without doubt, Europe faces many challenges today. After having staved off the economic crisis, new issues are plaguing the EU´s agenda – the troublesome relationship with Turkey, Britain´s decision to leave, the rise of populist and nationalist parties within its member states. Instead of constantly worrying about change, I find it essential to appreciate the benefits the EU brings with it.