November 27, 2009
Today, when only a few days separate us from the December 1st celebrations, I would like to propose to our readers to think of all the achievements that makes our Union great.
For a start, the European Union is the only functional free trade area of the world, one in which people, goods and services can move freely from the Atlantic to the Black Sea and from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. The US have been trying for years to match it with NAFTA; in Asia, the ASEAN countries, China and Japan are in the process of emulating our model.
After last century’s two devastating wars, the Union has become the world’s most peaceful place to live, work or study. The Russians do not feel threatened by it, the Asian nations respect and admire it, while the United States are still trying to come to terms with our success. Transforming a nightmarish political environment into a peaceful, prosperous, democratic and stable society of nations is, I think, the biggest achievement of our times.
The 2008 financial crisis has shown that the European Union has a solid economic foundation, which was able to withstand the worst of the storm and to come out of it without the huge public expenditure incurred in other regions of the world.
The Union is technologically advanced, leading the world in areas such as aircraft manufacturing, high-speed trains, the Internet revolution and biotechnology, to name but a few. Style and fashion originate in Europe, and its designer products are sought after in all parts of the world.
The EU probably has the best and most extensive road and rail infrastructure, which enables local companies to access all corners of its territory with relative ease and security. ( Until the 1990’s, transporting goods across Europe also used to be relatively inexpensive, until the unfortunate introduction of medieval-style toll gates )
For more than a decade now, the European Union has a single currency, which in a short time frame has achieved a large measure of international recognition, becoming the world’s second reserve currency. Thus, Napoleon’s 1801 political testament – which envisaged a united Europe based on a common market, common laws and a common currency – has been accomplished.
Last but not least, the European Union refused to be shaped as a Darwinist society of nations. It leads the world in human rights enforcement. Anti-semitism has largely been rooted out, and we now have talented people of Jewish origin achieving the highest office in countries where it would have been unthinkable only a few decades ago.
To be sure, much remains to be done towards uniting Europeans into a single political union. We have a single market and a single currecy, but we don’t as yet benefit from the advantages of a single language of wider communication (LWC). Having two, three, or twenty-seven official languages is simply not acceptable, as it makes the Union look like a Babel tower of sorts.
Another area where the Union has a lot of work to do in future is that of its workforce mobility, which is currently hampered by local labour rules preventing employers from making full use of all the Union’s available pool of skills and talent.
Finally, I simply cannot believe that none of the European politicians responsible for transforming Europe from a war-torn region of the world into its most peaceful one has ever received a Nobel Peace Prize. Not to be outdone, our ECB officials have produced banknotes full of buildings, bridges and maps, avoiding giving credit to personalities like Napoleon, Beethoven, Robert Schuman or Konrad Adenauer.
In future, it would be useful to count our blessings more often, as many of us have the unfortunate tendency to concentrate only on our shortcomings – an exercise sometimes fanned from abroad or by a media divorced from our shared value system. Focusing on our achievements might even be instrumental in creating a truly European collective conscience, making the running of the EU’s institutions so much easier in future.Florian Pantazi