I belong to the Erasmus generation. I have had the opportunity to live and study abroad without the nightmare of getting visas and exchanging currencies. I have friends from all across Europe. I speak four European languages. I feel European rather than Spanish.
Oblivious to the political battle, the daily life of Europe’s open frontiers has tranquilly shaped a European identity. A remarkable number of young Europeans have broadened their horizons due to their experience within the multicultural and multilingual European community.
Unfortunately this promising generation may soon cease to expand with new members. The economic crisis has brought back the ghost of euroscepticism and the suspicions of open borders.
The right-wing Danish People’s Party (DF) announced some months ago its demand for border restrictions. On the claim of having problems with criminals from eastern European states and foreseeable difficulties with refugees from North African countries, the party argued that border controls were almost a citizens’ right for Danes. If this action was to be approved, it would mean violating the Schengen Agreement, which clearly states that citizens can move freely within the so-called ‘Schengen area’ (consisting of 25 European countries).
This atmosphere of uncertainty and mutual distrust had also led to the blockage of Bulgaria and Romania joining the Schengen Agreement. Despite the fact that these countries meet all the technical requirements, last week the Netherlands and Finland vetoed their bid to join the border-free area. Citing that the two countries had not taken enough action to tackle corruption and organised crime, both the Dutch and Finnish interior ministers declared that Bulgaria and Romania could not yet guarantee to secure the Schengen borders.
The resulting picture is considerably disappointing. If we return to controls and restrictions we may have a safer but certainly less free Europe. The possibilities to socialise within a European supranational territory, where diversity is not a problem but a characteristic, will be drastically reduced. Therefore, the European ideal of a united, plural and supportive community will be shattered.
Citizens will not feel European because a law proclaims they are. The European citizenship feeling cannot be built on limits and restrictions, but on cosmopolitan, mobile and multilingual people that feel at home anywhere in Europe. The most powerful means to develop a pan-European identity is to experience life abroad and get to know other Europeans with different backgrounds and contrasting mindsets. Only through personal interaction will understanding and European cohesion arise.