January 30, 2014
I’m thinking of starting a new initiative – one aimed at improving citizen to citizen relations within the EU. I am a long time supporter of the idea that a EU identity is based on the people’s experiences. So, in front of all this new Euro-scepticism and continuous finger pointing, amidst debates and arguments between politicians, let’s do something.
Let’s start a citizen’s foreign exchange program, that would allow families or individuals from one country in the EU to go abroad for a week and live with another family or individual from the EU. Experience life with the other, eat together, drink together, talk and debate. Let’s have people sit down and know each other before we start calling each other names, or before allowing propaganda and populist politicians to tell us how the other one is. Learn first hand.
An NGO could well handle this – set up a website, allow people to sign up. Grant the first 100 users from each country a stipend, so they have an incentive to go through with it. Bring all low cost airlines together, and brake a deal – if this is going to work their traffic is bound to get the bulk of it, so they could come up with some interesting packages for this type of travel. Establish a good practices manual, start small support groups in all EU Member States that can advise or provide assistance. Encourage people to go out there and meet the people of the EU.
All of us went through something like this when we were young – pen pals of sorts. Only now you’re not just writing, you’re traveling. A new experience, exciting and fresh. The best way to stop people from hating each other based on rhetoric is to allow people to get together, know each other, create bonds. Real bonds.
Let’s put up a network of citizenship – a sort of team-building if you like. Team building Europe. That’s not a bad slogan if I think about it. And there is nothing politicians could do to stop this. Which is precisely the point. Because if you take the politics out of the EU, all you are left with are the people.
I can imagine a British family coming to Romania or Bulgaria, or a Spanish family going to Finland. A Dutch national visiting someone in Croatia, a German family in Italy. And one successful story will bring at least another one – some of your neighbors are going to be curious, some would see it as an opportunity to travel on the cheap. It’s not important. What is important is the interaction. Sure, maybe 50% of all those who join will do it for practical reasons, and care less about the bonding. But it will happen nonetheless. Maybe 25% of those doing this will have a bad experience. It still leaves 75% positive experiences. That’s where the focus will be.
We can study the bad experiences and publish a monthly newsletter, with advice on how to keep things from going wrong. We can set up a knowledge base – what do you need to know before visiting this or that country, what are the do’s and the don’ts.
No one will build this identity for us, for the people. It is entirely up to us to make that happen. Let’s build bonds.Horatiu Ferchiu