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Charlotte de Vreeze-Nauta questions the point of Europe Day.
Last Tuesday was Europe Day. On this day we commemorate Robert Schumann’s ‘declaration' in 1950 for a new form of political cooperation in Europe, which would make war between Europe's nations unthinkable. In other words, on 9 May we celebrate peace and unity in Europe...
This festive day has been ‘celebrated’ since 1985. One way of celebration is by European institutions opening their doors to the public. In Luxembourg you could visit the European court of Justice and in Brussels and Strasbourg the European parliament opened its doors for the public to play games, listen to debates and participate in interactive presentations.
It may sound quite nice to some of you, or even exhilarating, but to me, personally, it sounds pretty darn dull. Are we celebrating peace and unity by taking a tour of parliament? At least in Luxembourg, we all get a day off on 9 May. It is a public holiday. But we are the only country in the EU that has declared 9 May a public holiday. No other country has.
And maybe rightly so. Maybe we aren’t ready to celebrate Europe just yet.
There is the faulty name to begin with.
We are all aware of the terrible war that’s been going on for more than a year on the European continent. Celebrating peace and unity when there is a war taking place is outrageous and lacks all form of respect, integrity, and normalcy. Ukraine is one of the 44 countries that make up the continent of Europe. So, celebrating peace and unity on European soil seems rather ill-chosen.
But no, I apologize. I am mistaken, as on 9 May, we do not celebrate peace and unity in Europe, but in the European Union, the economic and political union of 27 European member states. This is not the same as the Schengen zone, by the way, a travel zone of also 27 European countries where citizens can travel freely without a passport or a visa. Fun fact: even though there is a big overlap, Schengen and the EU are not the same... There are four countries that are a part of Schengen but not the EU and vice versa. Oh, and of course there is the Eurozone, which, again, is something different. Within the EU (not Schengen), 20 countries have the Euro as their currency. They form the Eurozone.
I am sure that some of you will find it self-evident that this knowledge should be known by all. Well, I have asked around and it isn’t. So, when we celebrate Europe Day – jour de l’Europe – on 9 May, we are actually celebrating European Union Day.
If ‘Europe’ could at least get the name right, it would be a start.
But there is more. If you want to celebrate something, anything, you have to create a joyous celebration. Make it festive. Build a feast. Even if that means opening parliament to visitors… But there is a step that comes before that. I think that people must feel engaged with something before they can celebrate it. After all, if you are not engaged, if you do not care, you don’t celebrate. It’s that simple.
I have the impression that for the larger majority, Europe is just not very engaging and therefore people do not care about it, let alone feel very festive about it. They do not know what they are celebrating.
So, Europe should do better to engage and inform its citizens.
Just a few examples.
I am rather pissed off at the fact that EU citizens are not treated the same. Certain member states allow their citizens to own more than one passport and others don’t. If I want to become Luxembourgish, I have to renounce my Dutch nationality. But if I were French or German, I would be allowed to have a second nationality. Currently, 17 EU member states allow for dual citizenship. The others don’t. Why aren’t rules like these standardized for all EU members?
And on this topic: good luck getting your passport renewed in a country that is not issuing it (I am Dutch, so I need to get my passport renewed through the Dutch embassy). Did you know that all European member states have their own size and shape of passports and passport photos? And most people, including photographers are not aware of this. So, I once paid a fruitless visit to the Dutch embassy in Luxembourg to get passports for our two children, 3 and 1 years old at the time.
It took me half a day to get my one-year-old to sit up correctly for the photo, have the photos made, get the kids a snack, clean the diapers of my youngest, get them in the car, drive to town, find a parking space in the centre, and make my way to the embassy with my double stroller, only to discover that the passport photos that I had taken weren’t the right size because the photographer wasn’t aware of different photo sizes for different European passports. One Europe? Right…
Another point of total vexation for me is the fact that, for some reason, we continue the crazy monthly move of parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg.
Due to an agreement dating back to 1992, which in turn refers to the origins of the EU in 1952, the European Parliament (EP) moves to Strasbourg once every month to have meetings there. Every month this circus of 4,000 European members of parliament and staff work and spend four days in Strasbourg.
According to an audit by the EP in 2014, this amounts to 113 million euros (!!!) per year. 113 million to move 4,000 people, give them a roof and meanwhile pay rent and up-keep for buildings that are only used 4 days per month. Just for them to keep a tradition alive. Honestly!
I am all for tradition, but traditions must serve some purpose and the purpose of this monthly move is completely lost on me. In fact, financially, practically, environmentally, you name it, I only see reasons to ditch this ridiculous custom immediately.
I realise that these are just a few random examples. I know that there is a lot that ís organised on European level, or rather EU level. But the point is that much of it is far from its citizens. It isn’t tangible for many. I am a European at heart and I am fully in favour of one united Europe. But if European politicians cannot do any better than this, bring EU law closer to its people and create EU regulations that make sense on an individual and practical level ánd, very important, properly communicate about it, what’s to come of the European dream that Robert Schuman once had?
The concept feels weak at best.
So yeah, I was happy with 9 May to have the day off with my husband and children at home. But I did not feel ‘celebratory’ about Europe… I mean Schengen. No, sorry, I mean the European Union.