“We’ve never really thought of Europe as a home, a shelter, and today we pay a price for it” – a thought that seems very much like a mea culpa, with which Herman Van Rompuy has accepted the Charlemagne Prize in Aachen on May 29. Accepting one of the most prestigious prizes awarded to personality who stood out in favour of integration and union in Europe, the President of the European Council tried to give an explanation to the nationalists’ avalanche, to the will of abandoning Europe and getting back to national borders that is pushing eurosceptics so much these days. “How is it possible that people now see Europe as a reason they feel powerless and without a say – whereas it was precisely conceived to make them stronger and regain a grip on their own history?”
The President of the European Council has given himself an answer to this question: in the European Union “from the very start, the typical action was to remove borders, for goods, workers, investment, to let people and companies move, take initiatives, seize opportunities.” And this applies to the present time too: “on fields as diverse as energy, telecommunications or the digital economy” the focus “is still about bringing down borders, creating this big common space.” For sure, it is a remarkable asset. Yet Europe, with this urge of opening has lost its image of “home, shelter.” As Van Rompuy went on, “the great ‘opener’ of opportunities is now perceived by many as an unwelcome ‘intruder’, the friend of freedom and space is seen as threat to protection and space.”
To get back the citizens’ trust “we need to get the balance right,” according to the President of the European Council: for the European Union “it is essential to be also on the protecting side.” It is “urgent” for the Union “not to be seen as only benefiting businesses, but also employees; not only the ”movers”, but also the ”stayers”; not only those with diplomas and language skills, but all citizens.” Europe needs to consider “people not only as consumers, who like cheap products and a wide choice, but also as workers, who can see in others, competitors for their jobs,” ended Van Rompuy.