Questioning what the European Union (EU) means to me was raised to a different level when I woke up this morning. It is the 24th of June 2016 – Britain decided to leave the EU and the explosiveness of this decision remains yet to be unfolded. I am currently travelling through the Balkans together with my friend Lisa; both of us were shocked. As we are both thinking of ourselves as Europeans, the outcome of the Brexit vote is incomprehensible. We started discussing what consequences this decision might have for the future of the EU and what it means to us.
We are aware that Britain has always had a rather special relationship with the EU and that Euroscepticism is deeply embedded in large parts of the society. Also here in Serbia we are more and more confronted with Eurosceptic views. Both of us study European Studies at Maastricht University. Reactions to our studies and the ideals underlying the European Union turned out to be largely unfavorable. Many of the Serbs we talked to oppose the idea of their country joining the EU. These experiences make us rethink and reconsider the values, characteristics and potency of the Union. Nevertheless, I can say that for many people the European Union offers many unique opportunities. Having the chance to study as a German in the Netherlands without a visa being required is a privilege. Also, I love to travel through Europe without facing overly cumbersome procedures on borders. During our travels through Serbia, Romania and Moldova we meet many different people and although our languages, cultures and histories are very diverse, we encounter each other on the same level. In that way, we exchange ideas, have vivid discussions and learn from each other, making not only our knowledge and understanding grow but at the same time our personality.
Here in Serbia I am staying and meeting many of my Serbian friends that I met during my travel in Denmark. These long-lasting friendships are enrichments enabled and supported by the EU. Such an exchange between Europeans is however only possible through a common language, that increases people’s ability to communicate and understand each other.
Speaking from my experience at international conferences, the mutual understanding and the ability to have discussions with students of different backgrounds is a privilege that the preceding generations, my parents and grandparents, were never able to enjoy. Bilateral understanding is especially crucial because it can lead to those long-term friendships that might even be possible between students whose governments are actually in conflict.