by Catherine Lankes
The very foundation of the European Union is crumbling, and we are partly to blame. We, the young Europeans, for whom passport controls along the Austrian-German border are a distant memory of the past. We, the EU’s twenty-somethings, who spend the Union’s money on cheap wine during our Erasmus exchange semesters. We, Generation Europe, who board low-cost airplanes to Paris as naturally as we take the train to visit our grandparents – we are contributing to the demolition of the EU.
The European Union’s fair-weather days have undeniably come and gone, and the prospects for the EU appear dimmer than ever before: A possible Brexit, the blatant mismanagement of migration policy and the remnants of the Euro crisis. Influential voices in the media warn that this explosive combination might be what finally does the Union in for good.
We are witnessing the creation of a predominantly anti-European discourse fuelled by a general disappointment in our leaders in Brussels. The ongoing blame game equates the pitfalls of EU bureaucracy with the political project of a common European Union. Union-bashing has effectively transformed the EU into a socially-acceptable scapegoat, one which resonates strongly with the politics of right-ring populist movements across the EU.
This self-destructive dialogue stands by and large in glaring contradiction to the liberal values with which we, Generation Europe, have been instilled: Tolerance, openness and a belief in multicultural community. It is disquieting, however, how quickly we forget what our European identity is based upon when we are immersed in a culture of constant complaint. This is reason enough to worry about the power of anti-EU sentiment and its influence on public opinion.
It is easy to become disconnected from current developments in the belief that we are not influential enough to bring about change. But by doing so, we are misjudging the power every single one of us has to shape the prevailing discourse. It is our attitude toward the EU that influences the atmosphere within the Union – small-scale amongst friends and family and large-scale by participating openly in the public sphere.
By apathetically observing as events unfold, we are paving the way for the real danger to the EU – right-wing parties across Europe. Neither the migration crisis, nor further political disintegration, nor the formerly unthinkable prospect of a “Europe of different speeds” will break the Union, but rather the rise to power of the Front National in France and the increasing influence of Alternative für Deutschland in Germany – the two powerhouses of European development – both of which, if unhindered, will be responsible for the collapse of the EU. If we do not now positively influence anti-EU rhetoric, we are in part guilty of having contributed passively to the decline of one of the most successful peace projects of our time.
Union-bashing has effectively transformed the EU into a socially-acceptable scapegoat, one which resonates strongly with the politics of right-ring populist movements across the EU.
The EU’s current constellation might not be perfect and the Union may even be dysfunctional, yet our EU is by far the best option we have for the continent. Quickly consider the fundamental freedoms we, Generation Europe, as well as every other European citizen, would have to give up were the EU to break apart. We were born with those freedoms, but we need to understand that none of them are a God-given right. Let us not forget that never before has a generation profited as we have from the EU’s advantages.
Our liberal-humanitarian values might seem naïve, ineffective and all too idealistic in light of the crises we are facing at the moment, but they are by no means insignificant. They are the same values upon which the European Union has been built. The same values to which millions of people subscribe. They are the fundament of the European project. Now is the time to put them into practice by strengthening the European Union from within.