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In recent discussions and debates with euro-sceptics, often, and probably rightly so, the historical background of the European Union has been mentioned.

(Source: Sme)

The famous declaration by Robert Schuman, at the time foreign minister of France, laid the foundation for what over time has become the European Union of today. From the original membership of six countries of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) it has grown to be the European Union of 28 European countries. 

The first and at the time overriding aim was to prevent war by bringing together the industries without which it was impossible for any nation to start a war. The Luxemburg-born Frenchman Schuman was inspired for these ideas by fellow countryman Jean Monnet. The claim that the EU and its predecessors have helped to prevent war is historically justified. 

Just a few quotes from the declaration exemplify the high-spirited ideas that marked “the birth of the Union”. 

“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”

“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.”

But these arguments do not convince at least part of the present day population of the European Union. Questions and remarks along the lines of “But look at what the cost is” and “Who is really profiting?” come up frequently. Well, I will try and give an answer! 
In everyday life, we continuously benefit from the advantages of the European Union. I will not dwell too long on travel throughout Europe – or at least the Schengen area – without border controls. Presently these are under pressure due to the migrant crisis. Nor will I say too much on the advantages of the euro, your daily shopping across the border, the Austrian neighbours shopping here or the reduced cost of cross-border business for companies in the eurozone. 

Let me give you a clear and convincing argument. When travelling and using your mobile phone – be it for making a call or browsing on the internet – the cost has recently been reduced tremendously. Not because of an act of sheer goodwill from the telecom companies, but thanks to European legislation. 

Although, for me as a firm believer in “one Europe”, the thoughts, ideals and aims of the founders still resound, perhaps the best way to convince those sceptical of the European Union is to point out which aspects of our daily lives are improved upon through this European process. From unified packaging and preparation guidelines for our food to common standards for medicaments, and from protection of employees against exploitation to funding for underdeveloped regions. 

And what is the cost of it all? It amounts to just over 1 percent of the GDP of the Union. Just compare it to the cost of national government. And then we do not count what comes back to the member states. As a Dutchman – known to be money driven – I would argue: It is a bargain! 

So whatever we think of “high politics and Europe”: Europe is an excellent idea. The emphasis of the Slovak presidency on concrete results and the focus on citizens comes at exactly the right moment. 

Richard van Rijssen is the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Slovakia

Topic: European Union


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