Happy Europe Day!
We all have a reason to celebrate today.
The Schuman Declaration from 9. of May 1950 was the first step towards the birth of the European Union. An attempt to find sustainable means for securing peace in Europe led to the declaration, proposing the creation of the first of many European level institutions. We now celebrate Europe Day on 9. of May as a day of peace and unity in Europe.
The expansion of the European Union over the years.
The EU’s path to unity has not always been rosy, as there have been obstacles and threats for peace between the Schuman declaration and today. Peace and security in Europe is undoubtedly the greatest achievement of the European Union. However, it would not have been possible without the common values and goals of the people building it. If we look back at the fall of the Berlin Wall, we can see many people standing and fighting together - young and old, German and non-German. But they all believed in one thing: they wanted to be united.
The Berlin Wall in 1989
Today, many EU member states continue to face challenges for unity. A high rate of youth unemployment is an unfortunate reality in many of the member states. Euroscepticism is growing and fuelled by different reasonings, such as the Greek fiscal crisis or the upcoming British referendum on EU membership. It is in these times that we must not forget that such decisions, seemingly distant and top-level, will affect all EU citizens. For young Europeans, it is important to realise that we - the people and the youth of Europe - can actually affect these decisions.
Participation and active citizenship is about having the right, the means, the space and the opportunity and where necessary the support to participate in and influence decisions and engage in actions and activities so as to contribute to building a better society.
(Council of Europe, 2014)
Participation does not only mean voting during elections or following the news. It means taking an active approach toward what we believe our Europe should be. It means that we will not stop believing that our actions will positively reflect on the development of our society. It means that we are united no matter what, because divided we will fall.
Youth participation in civil society and international mobility for youth can impact the way young people see Europe and the world. We have to find acceptable methods for living together in peace, learning to tolerate each other and resisting the xenophobic rhetoric in Europe. One of the means to overcome the intolerance of others is to provide young Europeans with possibilities to interact and to collaborate with people from different countries. This is what the Erasmus programme has excelled at since the late 1980s.
Symbols of Europe, such as the EU, the flag, "Ode to Joy", the euro, the Schengen Area and unified official documents foster European identity among Europeans. Young Europeans also recognise the Erasmus+ programme as a similar symbol for the unity of Europe. The Erasmus+ programme has enabled millions of Europeans to participate in international mobility. The Erasmus Impact Study shows the positive influence which participation in the mobility programme has had for the Erasmus generation.
Europe Day is the perfect time to look back to how unified Europe has developed since the Schuman declaration. Today, EU citizens can be grateful for long-lasting peace and collaboration between the member states. For us as Erasmus Student Network volunteers, it is also essential to remember the role of the EU in establishing the possibilities which have enabled millions of young Europeans to gain unforgettable experiences during their time as Erasmus students. We have been able to witness the empowering, positive effect of the programme on its participants. We believe that it is essential for the future of Europe that youth mobility programmes such as the Erasmus+ programme keep existing. Opportunities for international mobility will enable an ever-growing number of young Europeans to change their lives and to feel at home in Europe.
This article was written by Matleena Heikkinen and Saniya Giniatullina from the ESN International Committee for Education
Photos by Kasia Pasierbiewicz and courtesy of Wikipedia and University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Study