When you think of the history of European integration, is there a date that strikes a chord deep in your heart? Is there a date that fits both in the grand scheme of History and in your personal history?
This is the question that haunted me for a while after I was invited by Hanneke Siebelink, author of the book The 50 days that changed Europe, to speak at her book presentation at The Edelman Centre in Brussels on 7 December. Each speaker, ie Jean-Claude Piris, Peter Spiegel and myself were asked to reflect on the book and to share a date that was dear to our European heart.
But first, let me share a few words about the book to set the scene.
The book about the EU you will even enjoy reading!
When I look back at my student years, I recall horribly long and dull books about EU law and the EU institutional framework. Certainly, there were one or two easier reads to lighten up my studious nights ( certainly Jean Monnet’s biography can be counted as one of them), but nothing to be nostalgic about really.
So Hanneke’s book really came as a good surprise. It is written in short two-page chapters, 1 for each date she picked, and puts you directly into the human context of the date. It’s not about processes but about people, their relationships with other people, and the power games that were played by individuals and groups. The many quotes really lighten up your reading and are quite memorable. All the ones you know (“I want my money back”) and the ones you should know (“If you want to move forward fast, then go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”) are there in good company.
I’m already looking forward to the time when I can read bits and pieces of the book to my kids to explain some of the key dates of the European Union to them.
My special EU date and my European hero vs bogeyman: what is yours?
Back to the beginning of my post. We were asked to share our special date from the book. Actually, the date I had chosen was missing, as Jean Claude Piris rightly pointed out to: it was the date when the Schengen agreements were signed, in 1985 (you could also argue the Schengen Convention signature date in 1995 is the one that really counted).
I recall how every summer my parents would drive us from Vienna where we lived to France where we had our roots and family, and that one of the highlights of this 12-hour trip was the crossing of the border between Germany and France near Strasbourg. Now imagine my surprise (and disappointment) as a 12-year old kid when I realised my sisters and I would never again be singing the song that marked the true beginning of our holidays (“On est en France, c’est les vacances !”) because we could simply not remember when we had crossed the border, the border controls having been abolished.
When, after some years, I realised the revolutionary potential of the Schengen agreements, I regretted my earlier disappointment and every time I travel across the Schengen area, I feel blessed to live in the European Union.
At the end of the panel discussion, we were asked to mention who our EU hero and bogeyman (bad guy) was. I picked Simone Veil for many reasons, not the least her election as first (woman) President of the European Parliament. The other picks were Angela Merkel and Jean Monnet, but everyone in the panel had a really hard time identifying a bogeyman. At the cocktail later on, there seemed to be a kind of tacit agreement that Margaret Thatcher could possibly play that part…
So, now I’m really curious to know what YOUR special EU date is and who your EU heroes and bogeymans are – type away!