News reports about the European Union nowadays do not give much reason for celebration. Greece is on the brink of economic collapse, other European countries are also in severe economic troubles, and shrinking solidarity is going hand-in-hand with reviving stereotypes. Yes, the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize last week, but this news was quickly met with cynical comments.
Nevertheless, the EU today kicked off a week of celebrations, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the single market, which allows Europeans and their goods to move around all 27 member states without borders or barriers. The Single Market Week encompasses events all around Europe, with various “opportunities to discuss the main achievements of the Single Market.” Some of these include “cheaper calls abroad,” “safer toys,” and “more rights for travelers,” according to documents handed out to attendees of the launch event of the Single Market Week at the European Parliament in Brussels.
The celebration comes at a time when citizens' trust in the European Union is at an all-time low, according to the most recent survey by Eurobarometer. Only 31 percent of EU citizens say they trust the European Union (mind you: they trust their national governments even less). Also, 28 percent have a flat-out negative view of the EU – almost double the figure of six years ago.
According to some of the speakers today, the European Union doesn't always receive the credit it deserves. “Citizens don't attribute their cheaper mobile phone bills to the single market,” said Malcolm Harbour, a member of the European Parliament for the British Conservative party, during a meeting with journalists. “Sometimes we forget how much has been achieved. The free movement of people, students studying abroad – citizens take that for granted.”
Mr. Harbour has a point. I arrived here in Brussels yesterday from the Netherlands, without realizing that my train didn't have to stop at the border. The only reason I brought my passport was to show it at the security check of the European Parliament. And it is not just free movement of journalists and other Europeans. If I want, I can buy as many Belgian waffles as I want without having to declare them at the border.
As European Commissioner Michel Barnier said: “Our lives have been made easier.” But as with most advancements, we quickly take them for granted. So how to make the people more aware of these things? Mr. Barnier's answer was simple: “We have to talk about it.” And that's what EU representatives will be doing this week.