Postcards from Prague by Sergio Cabezas

We are Europe’s children

We are those who have grown up feeling part of a bigger plan

We are those who have grown up feeling part of a bigger plan.

Those who saw their countries prosper with the construction of the European Union.

We saw new highways, airports and high-speed trains being built thanks to the common effort.

We saw important cultural heritage being taken care of with everyone’s determination.

We could study in different universities around Europe, learn new languages, make international friends, work abroad and live life-changing experiences.

We have travelled by train, car and airplane from one country to another without wasting time at passport controls and what is best, without having to exchange currencies each time.

How my love story with Europe started

It all began doing the Interrail in the summer of 1999.

The Euro was not yet implemented but the free circulation of people was.

It felt like magic, being able to keep sleeping on the train while passing the border from Germany to the Netherlands overnight.

Delft by Sander van der Wel

We travelled to many European cities that summer being completely bewildered with so much beauty.

Every country was different in its own way and in every place people spoke a different language that we often didn’t understand.

But even so we felt at home.

Because we sensed we had many things in common with people from those other realities, we had the same values and an equal vibrant energy.

I remember there was an exciting atmosphere around since we were about to really become one, with a single currency, the Euro.

People couldn’t wait to enjoy the freedom of travelling without the hassle of buying new currency and the economy was booming.

I ask to those of you who don’t believe that the Euro has brought most countries prosperity to read until the end of this post where I provide some facts and figures.

For the moment let’s go back to the summer of 1999.

I fell in love with the elegance of Vienna’s boulevards, the charming canals of Amsterdam, the artistic vibes in Berlin and the light of Stockholm in August.

Vienna at night by Roman Boed

I will never forget that trip, like you never forget the first time you fell in love.

Then I moved to Edinburgh.

Because I was a European citizen I could work and live in Scotland without any issues.

Well, only with the issue of understanding the Scottish accent!

As you can imagine, it took me some time to get to know what people were saying, but I could nevertheless improve my English which was one of my goals when deciding to move there.

I say one, because it was not the main one.

What I really wanted was to experience being myself in a foreign country.

I had always felt attracted by anything foreign, for me it meant an opportunity to learn, to discover new ways of thinking, of doing things, of looking at life.

This is what has always motivated me. To experience life with new fresh eyes.

Edinburgh was too cold for me so after 4 wonderful years I concluded I couldn’t spend another winter there, even if I loved the city, and decided to accomplish one of my childhood dreams.

To live in Paris and become a full-time writer, following the steps of some of my favourite authors.

From Edinburgh to Paris

I had travelled to Paris with my father when I was 14 and the city left me speechless. I didn’t know so much beauty could be concentrated in just a few kilometres.

Flying back home I promised myself one day I would live in Paris.

12 years ago I honoured the pact I made with my younger me.

I moved to Paris with a few euros in my pocket, without speaking a word of French and without knowing anybody.

I found a job as a nanny and I took free French classes at a really helpful non-profit organisation in Rue de la Roquette.

I loved my life in the city of light, I could walk for hours and hours gawking at the gorgeous buildings and lovely bridges.

I spent most of my free time in museums, in the cinema and drinking wine with the friends that I was slowly making.

Le Chateau d’Aubenas by Yann Coeuru

When I could speak French fluently I started working for the International Court of Arbitration. I again felt very comfortable there since I was working with colleagues from very different nationalities.

After almost 3 years living there and loving it I started to feel a bit trapped. The city was too busy and I couldn’t earn enough money to have a decent apartment.

So when I visited a friend in the Netherlands, and after thinking about the pros and the cons, I decided to pack my things again and start a new life in The Hague.

Living the Dutch life

I still live here. I love this city because it’s the perfect size for me, it’s on the seaside, it’s very international and the weather is quite mild.

I must admit that I feel ashamed of my Dutch language skills.

Everyone speaks such good English here and due to the fact that I’ve been working for an American corporation for almost 9 years, the reality is that I haven’t got many opportunities to practice it.

But I want to improve it. Because I like my life here and even if I don’t know whether I will stay in the Netherlands forever I see myself living in this country for at least 10 years more.

The Hague by Roman Boed

I don’t consider myself Spanish anymore.

I love Spain but I’ve been living most of my adult life in other countries.

Even if I still have some of the traits Spaniards are supposed to have (the love for great food and good laughs, temperamental discussions, enjoying unplanned evenings out with friends) I also see in myself many traits from other cultures.

I love to read quietly at home covered with a blanket while it rains outside (heritage from my Scottish times, perhaps?), I love to talk about art and culture and politics (definitely I took it from my French friends) and I still say merde when I drop something.

And from my dear Dutch fellows I’ve learnt to balance work and private life because we will always regret those extra hours we spent at the office when our families were waiting for us to have dinner together.

I’m European

I consider myself European.

For me it’s just normal to be eating dinner at home with a French, an Italian, a British, a Portuguese and a German friend.

And have lots to talk and to laugh about.

We are just fellow souls. We can talk about the past, about wars and cultural differences, always respecting each other.

We simply cannot believe that not so long-ago people from our nations were killing each other.

I think we are the luckiest people on Earth for having been born in such a culturally, climatically, culinary and history-rich corner of the globe.

And we are ruining it.

This is the mistake of the privileged. Having it all and letting it go because we have forgotten how it was before.

It really breaks my heart to see so many people angry with each other again.

Thinking they would be better off alone, closing borders, showing passports again.

I don’t believe any country can be better off alone, in isolation.

I believe in improving what we have.

Revaluating again what’s important and what’s not.

Having always in mind what has made Europe a referent in the World.

Its social justice and security.

Trentino by Giuseppe Milo

It’s true that we have lost the right direction being drowned in too much bureaucracy.

We need a new Europe, more efficient and just.

More agile and inclusive.

More realistic without losing the ideals that made us a common project.

And if you don’t believe we are better together, let’s look at the figures.

I’m aware that many people blamed the Euro as the factor causing the big inflation that occurred in 2000 across some southern economies like Spain, Italy or Greece.

Prices of certain goods (especially in the hospitality business) almost doubled in some cases.

For instance, if you ordered a coffee in a bar in Madrid in December 1999 you would have paid 100 pesetas. The same coffee in January 2000 cost 1 Euro (160 pesetas).

Let’s analyse this interesting fact, taking Spain as a study case and see if Europe is to blame.

What I did first is a comparison of the inflation the 4 years before the introduction of the Euro and the 4 years after.

According to the INE (the Spanish National Institute of Statistics) the 4 years prior to entry (1998 to 2001) the cumulative CPI (Consumer Price Index) was 11.26%, while the 4 years following entry (2002 to 2005) the CPI rose to 14.4%.

However, we need to look at longer periods of time in order to really see a tendency.

In this sense, if we compare the 16 complete years of the Euro (2002-2017) against the 16 previous years (1986-2001), the accumulated CPI reflects 38.3% in the euro era, against 97.6% in the previous years. This means that the CPI has been almost three times lower in the Euro era.

So basically, even though prices rose a big deal after the Euro, the inflation has been very low in the years after that compared with previous periods.

To finish this point I must add that the inflation caused in some countries was not a European decision but a phenomenon that took place at a nation-level and at some businesses’ discretion.

Let’s now look at other indicators:

POPULATION  thousands  (1) GDP p.c./market prices           current € (1)
YEAR 2000 2017 gap 2000 2017 gap
EU (28)           487.160       512.530 5,21%       19.800      30.000 51,52%
GERMANY             81.457         82.657 1,47%       26.000      39.600 52,31%
SPAIN             40.554         46.534 14,75%       15.900      25.100 57,86%
FRANCE             60.903         67.106 10,19%       24.300      34.200 40,74%
ITALY             56.942         60.536 6,31%       21.800      28.500 30,73%
POLAND             38.256         38.422 0,43%         4.900      12.200 148,98%
UNITED KINGDOM             58.886         66.040 12,15%       30.400      47.300 55,59%

 

Source: EUROPEAN UNION STATISTICS -EUROSTAT

I wanted to compare population and GDP figures before and after the implementation of the Euro.

Note that the UK is one of the countries having experienced a higher growth, even above Germany.

Let’s now look at a more reliable indicator of economic prosperity which is the p.p.p. (purchasing power parity) in order to compare standards of living across the different countries.

We take as a benchmark for the whole of the EU, this will be 100.

Then we compare the standards of living (p.p.p.) for the same countries as above and also including others outside the EU.

GDP p.c. / p.p.p.                                   comparative Union average (1)
YEAR 2006 2012 2017
EU (28) 100 100 100
GERMANY 116 124 123
SPAIN 103 91 92
FRANCE 109 107 104
ITALY 108 102 96
POLAND 51 67 70
UNITED KINGDOM 116 107 105
SWITZERLAND 150 164 158
NORWAY 181 186 150
USA 155 146 145
JAPAN 111 106 105

On this table we can compare how the big economic crisis which began in 2008 affected the purchasing power of the different countries.

Note that most of them within and outside the EU lost some ppp as a consequence of the economic crisis of this century.

Spain, the UK, the US, Japan and Italy have been the most affected countries on this graph.

The p.p.p of Norway clearly fluctuates a lot with the price of the oil.

Note that the UK still has a p.p.p. above the European average.

In this article the Financial Times elaborates with an excellent analysis on how joining the EU positively impacted the British economy due to the wider competition and to the possibility to sell to a much bigger market.

On the below graph we can see that GDP has grown continually since 1973, the year when the UK joined the common market with the exception of the years of the economic crisis like we have seen in the earlier example.

Did Brexit voters know these facts?

Probably not.

I know we have serious issues like immigration, unemployment rates in some countries, tax justice for big corporations, etc.

But the solution is not separating.

The solution is to plan and be agile.

The problem is that some poorly argumentative politicians are spreading a chauvinist and demagogic speech around trying to convince those who haven’t got access to facts to oppose the common effort.

They use horror stories and woeful arguments to convince some parts of the population that Europe is evil.

They are trying (and succeeding) to make people forget how much our common efforts have helped the majority of the population to receive education, have work opportunities, enjoy a just social system and freedom of movement.

Definitely, the monopoly of the media has done a lot of harm in some countries.

And to illustrate this point I invite you to watch the new film by Paolo Sorrentino, “Loro” and witness the disintegration of a country in 2 hours.

So now it is Europe’s fault?

For these politicians it’s easy to hide their inefficiency and in some cases their corrupt behaviours, behind claims of unjust contributions to the common effort or to big issues like the arrival of hundreds of immigrants to the southern countries.

Like it didn’t happen in the rest of the world.

Europe is not the problem, it can only be the solution.

We need to remain together to face the complexity of today’s reality, immigration, creation of new jobs, limiting the power of big corporations, competing with emerging markets, etc.

Who is so arrogant to think they can better face all these issues alone?

Let’s not forget why we are here and what makes us a beautiful and effective common plan.

It would be very stupid to lose all that we have built with a lot of effort throughout all these years only due to the arrogance and glibness of a few.

Let’s think with our heads please.

Note: This article is the result of the writer’s opinion and research. 

Featured image: Postcards from Prague by Sergio Cabezas (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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