What does it mean to be a European?

By in Video_Ingles on 6 marzo, 2014

On my senior year of high school, I was presented with the opportunity of spending a year in the United States. One of the things I miss the most about that brief period is this English class I took.

And Mexican food.

And the people I met.

But that English class too.

You see, every few weeks we had to hand in an essay and then have several drafts of it corrected and improved by our classmates before the final submission. It was the school’s famous “peer review system” and it generally allowed for at least three weeks during which you would work on your essay, so that, by the time you turned it in, you had sort of formed this special bond with it and it felt kind of sad to let it go. Sometimes the topic sucked, or your writing sucked, and then you’d just be relieved to be done with it, never looking back, but on some occasions you’d be sad.

My very first assignment was supposed to answer a momentous question: What does it mean to be an American? I remember that when our teacher gave us the topic, he smiled at me and I thought that maybe he’d allow me to write about something else, but he was of the opinion that my foreign perspective could also add something to the mix. I struggled with the essay for weeks and, at the end of the peer review system, my essay was still filled with corny clichés and void of a true thesis. But my high school writing skills are not the point here.

The point is that we thought about what it meant to be an American. We thought hard. We discussed it and we argued. Some thought that it had to do with philosophy and the ideas upon which the United States had been founded, others that it was just a result of history, void of any substantial meaning, while still some argued that the definition of what was American changed periodically and was always subject to interpretation.

Looking back on it now, I think that the fact that we were having that discussion in the first place was the most American thing about it. I mean, who does that, right?

We certainly haven’t gone through a similar process in the EU, and I think we’re paying the price for that now. We focused so much on the praxis, on implementing the concrete measures we could all agree upon –single market, free movement of persons, a common currency-, that we didn’t give much thought to what was behind it all, to what gave it meaning. We have postponed the big questions, we have procrastinated on our duty to define the destination of our journey and we have often delegated that responsibility on the member states. Probably we all acted on good faith, thinking that stopping to pin down these definitions could be risky at the time, that it could cast a shadow of doubt over the integration process, that there’d be time in the future. Well, I think we’re running on a deadline.

Malta recently approved a measure called Cash for Citizenship. I dislike the initiative, but the name is honest and straightforward, I’ll give them that. People who can afford to pay 1.15 million euros can become citizens from the tiny island-state.

And given that, according to the EU treaties, being a national of a member state automatically grants European citizenship –and all the rights that come with it, in particular the possibility to reside anywhere in the EU-, we can finally answer the question with which I began this short piece: apparently today, to be a European means to have 1.15 million euros in cash readily available.

I’m pissed off. I’m very angry at the Maltese government for using a legal loophole to trick all of its friends and allies for some cash of disreputable sources. I don’t think we deserve it. I think it’s a short-sighted, inefficient measure and I can only hope that it will be repealed soon.

But I’m even angrier at us, at the EU, for letting this happen. At the time when the European citizenship was created, did nobody think to unify the criteria by which member states grant their nationality to their citizens? Could we, at least, not have agreed on some standards as to avoid the abuse and exploitation of rights granted by the Treaties? Were we really as naïve as to think that member states would never abuse their powers, or was it simply more comfortable to postpone the debate? Both the European Commission and the Parliament have publicly condemned the cash for citizenship initiative. Sadly, their strong-worded rejection carries about the same weight and power as this blog entry, given that the EU has no power in the matter of member states’ citizenship. Again, since nobody thought to define what it meant to be a European, what we wanted it to mean, the government of Malta took the chance to submit the essay for all of us. No peer review this time.

Sadly, this is but an example of the very imperfect, very incomplete European integration process. Other similar instances come to mind: a monetary union without a fiscal union, a free-travel area without a common border police patrol, a powerful Commission without true accountability to the citizens.

Let us change this behavioral pattern while there’s still a chance. Let us think hard about where we want to go and what we want to become. Let us argue among one another and let us all make concessions where we disagree. Let us confront the tough questions. We can do better and we must do better. Europeans, let us speak up!



Sobre el autor:

Guillem Manso García

Guillem Manso García

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