Today, on the Day of Europe, let us take some time to reflect on what the European Union means to us, what it has brought us, and where do we want to take it from here. There is no need to hide that the EU is faced with serious challenges; the ring of instability around the European Union is making itself felt even beyond the EU’s borders. But we also feel the effects of this instability within our borders, they are visible and tangible on our doorstep. Member states struggle with the intake and reception of large numbers of refugees in search of safety and a future. The migration crisis also forces us to revise our cooperation with countries surrounding the EU, Turkey first and foremost. Terrorist threats and attacks in Paris and Brussels, as well as in neighboring countries, put our societies – our open societies– under strain.
In some parts of our societies, there is a tendency to pull the blinds, and to try to shut the world out. But it is precisely in these times of concern and crisis, that we need to keep our heads cool, that we need to recognize legitimate concerns of our citizens and that we need to join efforts to address the problems. Today is a good day to see the opportunities hidden in the challenges.
We must not forget what we have already achieved. The fundamentals of the EU are strong. It is the biggest internal market and a political partnership, but even more important, it is also a ‘soft power’. And as a ‘soft power’, Europe possesses enormous attraction and authority.
Our challenge is to make sure that this is turned into our advantage, that it becomes our asset. It is more important than ever that we advance a sense of confidence in the strength and value of European cooperation. We sometimes assume that everything we have, the values that are secured by our Rule of Law, are self-evident. They may be inalienable, but they are not unassailable. Results will only persist if we, as member states, work together closely and stand behind our decisions. European problems require European answers.
We cannot afford _alleingang_, meaning we all will have to pull our weight at home. Strong states make a strong Union. This also means that we need to keep a careful eye for ways in which we can improve the way the EU functions.
This is what we call better governance. Therefore, while it is understandable that we are preoccupied with urgent issues, these may not prevent us from furthering our equally important long-term commitments.
They are essential for sustaining all that we have accomplished. The Dutch Presidency is working on this, aware of the urgency that we focus on what is essential. I very much hope that, when you reflect on the EU today, you will keep this in mind: nothing is irreversible, nothing is inevitable, everything stands or falls with sensible politics, democratic decision making and joining forces. It is up to us, it is up to you, citizens of Europe.