“What are personal experiences you have made that make you optimistic about Europe?” I have asked this question to people from all over Europe in the past few weeks.
The focus was not so much on impressive facts and figures. I was more interested in personal experiences and what is personally important to people about a united Europe. Some related “Europe” to life on the European continent more generally. However, the majority of responses referred to optimism regarding the European Union.
People from countries such as Austria, Germany, Portugal, Malta, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Greece, Poland, Romania and UK shared their individual stories via email, on Facebook, Discord and Reddit.
What follows is an attempt to bring together all those reasons why to be optimistic about Europe. Even if the EU has its downsides, this article serves to highlight the positive aspects. It therefore focuses exclusively and with pleasure on the positive experiences.
I would like to thank everyone who contributed and aim to feature everyone’s voices as much as possible in this article.
1 Cultural variety as a superpower
Europe consists of a unique patchwork of national, regional and local cultures. An example to illustrate this diversity: The European Union – a place smaller than Australia and half the size of the U.S. – has 24 official languages and more than 60 regional and minority languages.
“The cultural variety within this little space we call Europe is so great that we have like a superpower. When I drive 50km no matter the direction I see a different culture. Sometimes a different country and sometimes just a different culture within my national borders.” (Matthew)
“I feel very lucky to be able to experience different cultures.”– Katie from Ireland
Many people share Katie’s appreciation and also Matthias from Malta writes: “I think what is making me most optimistic is the people, the diverse people of Europe.”
2 Travelling is such a breeze
Many of us have come to enjoy the benefits the EU brings to us as travellers. There are no currency changes within the Eurozone and – apart from Corona times – hardly any border controls. If you come from outside the EU you only need one visa to enter more than 26 states. As a European citizen, you do not need one at all. You also benefit from Europe-wide health insurance cover and mobile data on your phone without skyrocketing roaming charges.
“I travelled before Romania joined the EU and also outside of Europe. Travelling inside Europe is such a breeze.”
Next to the practical ease, Katie points to another crucial point that makes Europe so appealing to her: “I feel safe and free when I travel around Europe.”
In addition, people appreciate the overwhelming offer of travel destinations all year round in Europe. Even though we often complain about the weather in many parts of Europe, every season has its charm: Winter comes with Christmas markets, the skiing season and Northern Lights. The almond blossom on Mallorca ushers in spring. In summer, you can relax on beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean or Atlantic coasts. And autumn awaits you with a gorgeous Indian summer in Scotland, Poland or South Tyrol.
3 Studying and working anywhere
“I have been allowed to study, travel and work abroad in the EU and to meet people from outside the EU, and I have been confronted with how many problems I could have had if the EU wasn’t there (VISA, money, not-recognised titles of study etc…), so I believe in this project.” (Lorena).
Several million students have enriched their studies with an Erasmus exchange semester. The Erasmus programme is a European funding scheme which – amongst others – supports students to spend some time during their studies at another European university.
Lorena pointed me to the Erasmus Impact Study conducted in 2014 which discovered an unexpected, pleasant side effect: Almost a third of the respondents said they had met their long-term partner while being on Erasmus! It is estimated that about 1 million Erasmus babies have been born to Erasmus couples since the programme was founded in 1987.
Besides studying, many people also move within the EU for work-related reasons.
“A lot, and I do mean a lot of colleagues found way better-paying jobs in the west.”
Apart from the freedom to take a job anywhere in the EU, you can be sure of relatively high working standards there. Matthew spells out some of the perks of this:
“The very high living standard, while having chilled working hours, making life really livable. Vacations that are long enough to really come down. Health care that makes you feel secure, while not eating up every cent you have when something happens.”
4 The art of debate
Matthias once met a student from Kosovo at the model EU simulation (a one-week conference where participants simulate the European legislative process). They discussed the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which are marked by a history of ongoing conflict and tension. Matthias recounts the story:
“I had the pleasure of hearing a student from Kosovo talk about how their professors are teaching them the art of debate and politics. […] The professors wanted them to debate as people from Kosovo and Serbia. The student explained that the professors did this to help them understand the other’s side. To understand a bit more why they say or do certain things, to try and put aside your personal anger and hatred in order to find a common ground to walk side by side in a peaceful manner and coexist. I found this very touching and beautiful. The ability to be pragmatic, progressive, and tolerant.“
Besides Matthias, many others appreciate the EU’s ideal of democratic cooperation between the various member states. The European Union is promoting the search for common ground – despite all differences – through healthy, democratic dialogue. This is an enormously ambitious undertaking. Or as Lorena from Italy puts it: “The ideal of cooperation and democracy is quite a grand project; a vision to be undertaken with inexhaustible enthusiasm, which the world seems in dire need of.”
Not only is it an impressive vision, but it is an approach that has already repeatedly led to fruitful results.
5 Laws for vacuum cleaners
An often rather unnoticed side of the EU is its laws. Nevertheless, European laws are all over our daily lives, such as laws on reducing plastic bags, on travel protection for all-inclusive holidays, on what a “Pizza Napoletana” is and on warning labels on cigarette packages.
But it’s about more than just a few funny, reasonable or exaggerated laws of the EU. It is about the legislative power of the EU in a broader sense. A Dutch person recalls:
“I remember people being offended by the EU deciding that the wattage of a vacuum had to be turned down. People were scared they sucked less. But what the EU did was to force manufacturers to design a different model (be less lazy tbh) so that the wattage should be half than normal, but it still sucked the same. Sounds stupid, but they did it. And overall, a lot of wattages are being saved, it adds up a lot.”
Another user affirms: “Free markets do work but need rules to cultivate healthy business practices.”
This writer from France is also mainly optimistic about the European Union because it does not depend on a few strong personalities:
“In fact, people often blame ‘the bureaucrats in Brussels’, but I think that they are precisely the reason why it works and can lead to good things. European institutions and law processes go beyond individuals and peoples. I know I can’t trust individuals and mobs, but I can trust how the EU works. I know it can be slow and sometimes strange, but overall, it works. It may not be very inspiring, but that’s still a strong and healthy basis for the future.”
6 Not just a matter of Europe but the world
Several people link the EU’s success to the achievement of global goals, especially regarding environmental protection and climate change.
They are optimistic about a strong and united EU because they consider it a necessary step in tackling global problems.
Philippe is speaking, I believe, for many when he says: “I hope that Europe will serve as an example for a more united world with the same objectives. It is the only way to overcome social and planetary problems. Being concerned only about one’s country is no longer tolerable these days. We are all connected. We are one.”
7 From bloody wars to a common parliament
It is all around us and yet in our daily lives, we often forget that we have it: peace.
Preserving peace has been a founding pillar and one of the biggest achievements of the EU. Quite a few people mentioned lasting peace as a crucial reason to be optimistic about Europe.
Someone noticed for example: “The fact that we managed to create something that ensures peace, stability and prosperity. European Nations were slaughtering each other not even a century ago and now we are under the same political and economic umbrella.”
The last seven decades have been a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity for a continent with a long history of bloodshed. Or as a Reddit user from Poland put it in a nutshell, what makes him/her optimistic: “It still exists.”
8 Shared enthusiasm
Lastly, many people feel happy because of the growing number of people who are equally optimistic and positive about Europe.
“It is encouraging how much positive emotion is attached to the idea of a united Europe”– Klaus, from Germany
Klaus experienced this rousing positive atmosphere in Budapest when an anti-Orban protest turned into a pro-European demonstration.
“We attended the [anti-Orban] demo on the castle hill right in front of Orban’s residence. Besides ours, there were a few European flags, but mostly anti-Orban messages. And then we started to distribute the little 10” by 5” paper Europe flags, hundreds of them. And people loved them. The crowd had visibly turned into a Pro-Europe crowd. People waving our little flags and sporting the Pulse of Europe buttons everywhere.”
There is a rise of organisations that bring people together across all differences for the common cause of Europe. People identify with Europe and at the same time, they are “proud too, of their cultures and their homelands”, someone from Greece appreciated.
“This […] movement gives me hope for a further rise in Pan Europeanism. I am optimistic about our future.” – Matthias
Thanks for reading and thanks to everyone for sharing their story.