If there was one issue that I was readily ‘in the know’ concerning Europe, it’s that of the Euro Crisis that has been plaguing the European Union for over a year now, as well as pinching the pockets of everyone around the world. Several European countries, most notably Greece, have been facing very hard economic times, which has come to affect the livelihood of all within those nations that are hurting. However, with that being said, there was something else that I was not aware of at all: that of the crisis of the European identity.
This conflict was brought to my attention the day following my Maastricht adventure and evening dinner; the exchange students were gathering at Zuyd Hogeschool for the first of two days of learning about the building, as well as each other. Nerijus and I made it to Zuyd by way of car, much thanks to Nerijus for making the drive from Denmark with his vehicle. And getting to Zuyd proved to be quick and easy, again thanks to Nerijus and his handy (and hilarious) TomTom GPS. Before we knew it, we had arrived to Zuyd in short, markedly different than had I made the journey by foot.
What followed was a fairly long and drawn introduction ceremony, which seemed to be taxiing for some of the students there, myself included (again, jet lag).
I did keep my interest glued on a couple of the professors who spoke with prepared statements concerning the state of the European Union and what can be done to fix. One professor took the viewpoint of the Union needing a centralized federal bureaucracy, a la the United States of America. The other, a somewhat younger, professor, while supportive of his colleagues point of views, chose to go the opposite of his statements, believing that more independent nations akin to before the Union would help make a stronger Europe. All of this proved to be immensely engrossing to listen in upon (when I wasn’t fighting sleep), but it was only to get more so fascinating.
After this introduction, we students were split into 5 separate groups, then headed off to various classrooms where we would continue the discussion of this European crisis. Much of the thought around solving this crisis was believing that the European Union needs a strong, centralized government to ensure that all nations are cooperating upon an equal basis. The problems with this, according to many of the Europeans that were in my group (and more so later) were that if such a government were founded, individual European powers would begin to lose the identity that they have held preciously to for decades, or centuries perhaps. Many cannot deny the benefits of having a federalized government, but the sacrifice is perhaps too great in losing their own identity.
All of the groups eventually coalesced again in a large room, where a speaker (yet another professor) awaited for our arrival. The discussion for the afternoon revolved around this very issue of the identities, crisis, and coming to a solution. What had began to gather from listening to many others discuss this issue was that the European Union, by some stretch, reflected the early United States during the time of the Articles of Confederation.
Under the Articles, states sought to act more as independent nation-states, rather than strictly states under one federal government. There was indeed the government of the United States, but it became very apparent rather quickly that the Articles were a complete failure in maintaining a country. So with comparing the Articles to that of the European Union (as it stands now), the European nations within the Union wish to continue to act as nations while trying to work together under a weak unionized government.
And as with American history, the Articles were eventually scrapped, with the form of government we currently see in the US today being formulated within the words of the United States Constitution. So far, I think I can say that the Constitution has been working just fine, sans a little Civil War that happened some time ago.
And with that, I believe that if this issue of the European Crisis were to be solved, reformulating the European Union into a federalized power with one leader overseeing the executions of government – akin to the President of the United States – Europe can potentially be better off that it ever has been in its history. And concerning the identity crisis itself, Europe can still function as they have been throughout their history. Even though I, myself, identify as an American, I’m also still a Missourian by birth and feel proud of that fact. So a citizen living under the European Union may identify themselves as a European, but they can still say with pride they are a French, or German, or wherever they may hail from.
I shared some of these views with the group of exchange students – though only really when the speaker/professor asked if there were any Americans in the room (I was one of two, but he found me first). Granted, I didn’t share my thoughts on the Articles of Confederation and comparing them to the current European Union (I wasn’t about to give a history lesson for everyone), but I did give the best explanation I could give out to all. But to end that discussion, and here as well, the decision for a federalized European government under one man/woman is something for the people to ultimately decide, because it should be Europeans who wish to determine whether they want to be ‘European’ or remain as they are now, i.e. as citizens of a single nation.
This is definitely been a thing that I have been discussing heavily with various other exchange students from Europe over the past few days, so I will hopefully have a clearer and vaster understanding of all of this transpiration.