We, as JEFers, experience Europe not as a concept but as a practice. On a daily basis, we communicate, exchange, interact, work, study and develop projects with young citizens from 35 different countries. Travelling across the continent is not much different than taking a bus to cross our city. We constantly engage in meaningful actions together, and this is why we identify ourselves with our fellow European citizens. We perceive sharply our common challenges and try to address them together. In some ways, Europe to us has shrunken to the size of the city we live in.
The level of interaction and engagement with others is what define our identity the most. My local identity has been built because my daily life experiences and challenges happened in a limited geographical area: school, work, transport, leisure activities, volunteering. By Europeanizing our daily lives in different ways – attending international schools, participating in Erasmus opportunities and European volunteering opportunities, accessing European media and building better language skills – not only will we gain intercultural competences but also slowly build the European identity, complementary to our local or national identities.
This process is absolutely crucial to the survival of our democracies which are perniciously threatened by the decreasing level of trust. Trust not only between citizens and institutions, but most importantly trust between citizens themselves. Empowering citizens, equipping them with the right tools, and offering them the opportunities to engage in meaningful exchange, cross-border cooperation and projects is the only way to rebuild this link of trust and confidence. This is the most powerful way of recreating the necessary sense of common responsibility and destiny.
The recent White Paper of the European Commission on the Future of Europe, while failing to address this concern, starts with a famous quote of the Schuman Declaration “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” European citizens will demonstrate solidarity only if they are given the opportunities to be the driving force behind these achievements.