I am European
Victoria Panova, 11th grader at DSFG “Intellect” in Pleven, tells us a bit more about what unites and what divides the people in the EU and talks to a politician and a student with different points of view.
The European Union, three words uniting twenty eight all unique of their kind countries, a mosaic of people of all races, gender, with believes and ambitions, hobbies and goals. People with diverse points of view and the equal right to be heard by the rest of the world. But what is the reality of the European Union? Are we as united as it seems?
Originally, the European Union’s creation was about one objective: peace. Europeans have been always good at leading wars. We took part in bloody conflicts for basically our whole history. A century- long war between Germany and France costed millions of lives and ran so deeply that Germans even invented their own word for it – „erbfeindshaft“, meaning hatred, passed on from generation to generation. After the Second World War Europeans decided they wanted lasting peace once and for all, meaning that economies, politics and people in Europe should become so closely connected that war would become both impractical and unthinkable. As we see the plan worked, between European members we have had over 20 years of peace. But not only that. Today, European citizens benefit from many individual freedoms – we are guaranteed easy travels, cheap telecommunications, a great variety of goods and services, аs well as very strong health and safety standards. Through the European science programs the countries have become a collaborative engine that serves science in the wider world. Unrestricted travel and the ability to work anywhere makes it easy to apply for funds and set up international teams of experts with the best equipment that produces more than twenty-five percent of world’s research outputs with only five percent of its population.
But many citizens feel distrust towards the European Union. Brussels seems far away and non-transparent, bureaucratic and difficult to understand. It doesn’t help that the European Union is terrible at reaching out to its people and explaining what it actually does. This disconnect has also led to a shrinking voter turnout for over a decade. More transparency and accountability are desperately needed, if the European Union institutions want to win the trust of their citizens.
Currently the European Union is still shaken by the refugee crisis of 2015, some countries have accepted far greater number of refugees, while the border countries are overwhelmed and feel left alone. Other countries are shocked by the unregulated mass immigration and have closed their borders.
The European Union’s wealth and the value of personal freedom makes it an attractive destination and this is unlikely to change. The population is split over the issue of immigration. Some argue that Europe let in too many immigrants with a different culture without strictly demanding integration, while others believe that immigration is not the problem but that racism and discrimination create challenges. Turning illegal immigrants away and successfully integrating the ones allowed to stay remains one of the most difficult and controversial challenges of the EU.
I decided to ask two people, differently aged, with a different point of view – a student from England and a Bulgarian politician.
Petya Vasileva, 58-years-old, vise-president of the Pleven’s Municipality, Municipal Council of the GERB party: Young people in Bulgaria are not interested in politics
Mrs. Vasileva, are we really united in the EU? Are European policies adhering to the ideals of united Europe?
The tendency is for the EU to be changing in terms of unity. The most drastic example is GB, whose population is deeply divided on the issue of EU membership. Less drastic movements opposing European unitedness are noticed in Hungary and Poland, especially the former, where national interests are seen as different from European interests and the population is made to believe that Hungary should not comply with the agreements made inside the Union as this threatens national security and identity, especially as it comes to accepting migrants. Similar to this are the nationalist and populist parties in Western Europe, their Bulgarian allies being VOYLA and patriots from VMRO. As a result, the new European Parliament could contain a nationalist alliance within its framework, which threatens the European unity and its ideals.
What about Bulgaria?
As for Bulgaria, our country is following a policy of not only abiding by EU traditional concepts but assisting other Balkan countries in being acceded to the Union – such as Macedonia, for example. Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU had as its strategic topic the united development of the West Balkans as means of ensuring the prosperity of the region.
Do you think young people have any interest in politics and are they well-informed enough?
Young people in Bulgaria are not interested in politics as a rule. The better educated part of them are more focused on pursuing lucrative careers, ignoring the fact that we depend on European solidarity for the faster development of our economy. Politics is distant from them, though in recent years information about the EU and exchange through Erasmus have become more accessible. There are also classes in Responsible Citizenship as an optional subject at high school. The part of the youth which is poorly educated and comes from ethnic or low-income background is even less interested and more inert. The sad fact is they are easily manipulated to vote in favor to those who promise or pay them more. Another negative tendency is for educated, competent youths who have achieved something in their professional sphere and can be useful in politics and the government, not to be willing to take responsibility of ruling the country as politics has become a dirty word for them in the light of findings about corruption and political elite.
Alisha Asanova, 17-years-old, studying Performing Arts in West Lancashire College: Youngsters have strong opinions on politics but they are not always fully informed
Alisha, you have been living in England for a long time.Why do you think GB wants to leave the EU?
Not everyone in Britain wants to leave the EU. However, I do. I believe that this will make us feel more secure. The disastrous combination of the UK’s open borders to all the EU’s new citizens and their conflicting cultures and the astonishing incompetence of European police and service fills many people with fear. Secondly, membership prohibits us from establishing our own trade agreements. The EU has done poorly in negotiating ones on our behalf. As the world’s second largest exporter of services, it’s damning that only 66 percent of EU trade agreements contain any reference to services, compared with over 90 percent with much smaller countries such as Singapore, Switzerland and Chile.
Do you think young people are interested in politics?
I feel like youngsters have strong opinions on politics but they are not always fully informed. Their opinions could be purely based on what they hear from their parents and I feel like that should not be the way it is. They should be provided with all the information about what is happening in the world and get to choose who and what to believe in.
The EU is definitely very flawed and still needs a lot of work. But it is fair to say that it makes us more powerful in the world. It gives us peace, security and a sense of shared identity and something we all crave in these turbulent times – stability. If we want to protect the values we are so proud of, a strong European Union is the best way to make sure our voices are heard in the whole world. Alone, as small individual states we are hardly given a chance in a world of shifting superpowers to show our strong presence and impact on a future marked by peace.