Time can be a cruel foe, it changes everything big and small inevitably. This goes for anyone, for people, for relationships, for countries, even for the constructs we created and relied upon for many years. And nowhere has this been more apparent than in the development of the European Union. Is the current generation, we Millenials, about to destroy the European Union?
Being a bright idea for the European continent at one point in time, the decay of the EU seems inevitable now with the Brexit, the arising of numerous European Union skeptic forces throughout the Union and low election turnouts that are more common than not. But why is that? What has changed in recent years?
The European Union
In order to answer the question, one has to think about what the EU really means to us today. Take the Brexit or any other discussion that had to do with what the European Union does or represents in recent years. Chances are, that there’s not much left to the argument but it is a very lucrative deal to be part of the biggest shared economic zone on this very planet.
Having access to the EU’s domestic market is a pretty big deal, but it comes with consequences and liabilities and all discussions seem to circle around those exclusively. And that’s all but understandable, because if you reduce the Union to its bare economic bones, there’s a lot of potential imports and exports in a lucrative environment, but there’s also the ever-present pressure of globalization and other economic challenges like the Greece’s debt crisis and the ongoing refugee crisis and those are admittedly scary enough for states to get second thoughts very quickly.
But what is the European Union then if not a shared economic zone? The first concepts of what eventually led to the Union began after WWII in an effort to secure freedom in a region ravaged by war and death. It was not only an economical merger, it was the search for something in common, for values to share, e.g. democratic principles. Those weren’t explicitly formulated until the actual founding of the union through the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which in article 6 stated: “The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States.”
The EU Millenials
The current generation in Europe never had to fight for a unified continent, never had to search for common values with their neighboring states, never had to live through war or even think about restrictions in crossing state lines. It’s all been laid out for them and they now might very well destroy it or stand by watching. Is it nationalist thinking, is it indifference or is it something else entirely that my generation so carelessly stands by and watches as things are seemingly spinning out of control without really having an adequate plan B?
A recent survey by the TUI Foundation found that the younger generation has indeed lost touch with what the EU used to mean, and that is partly understandable. There have been questionable things going on in the EU parliament, money spend on things that are beyond rational explanations, regulations that are incredibly weird at best and other things that warrant a change within the European Union, which is another topic entirely, but does that really justify a hard exit strategy that seems imminent or at least possible in some of the countries.
We are very aware that people advocating to leave the European Union, like Marine Le Pen in France, are unlikely to win but, sticking with the example, if Macron gets to be president of France and does not bring enough changes for the better, it’ll be another steppingstone for Le Pen in the next election. Right now, even if EU skeptics don’t win an election, does not mean the European Union is safe, it just postpones the problem to a later point unless we are able to find or reimagine a common European identity.
European Plan C?
According to aforementioned TUI Foundation, 76% of the European youth perceive the Union as an economic one, while less than a third see it as the community of shared values it claims to and should be. The values young people cherish the most are, interestingly enough, on point with those of the EU, topping the list with human rights, peace and security, though there is an evident dissonance between the shared values and the feeling of being part of an actual Union that promotes those very values.
That is the actual issue I think the European Union has to overcome to save itself. Being perceived as a beneficial way of doing business is not enough to captivate the youth and integrate them into a community of Europeans. We, myself included, always took peace and freedom for granted and never had to learn what it means to have human rights, peace and freedom readily available the moment we came unto this planet. The challenge for us all is to reignite the spark and to reevaluate what the EU stands for and not tread on previously paved bridges but to build our own within the framework we inherited, as troubled as it might be.
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