I know exactly where I was five years ago, midnight of the first of May 2004, the moment when the European Union was enlarged by 8 Central and Eastern European countries and two countries in the midst of the Mediterranean Sea.
I was in central Berlin, at a special party organised to celebrate the enlargement, and just before 12 we counted down from 10 - and at midnight, a good crowd of mostly young people greeted with joy our new "housemates".
That was a glad moment for Europe and the European Union, and I have to admit, also for me.
As a very francophile person, my eyes and my heart were directed rather to the West at that time. But the enlargement changed this perspective and I used one of the first opportunities to travel trough a number of the new member states. And just some nine month after the enlargement, I even moved to one of the new member states.
This was the start for my Re-Europeanisation, me who was already a convinced European at the time. But I re-centred my view of Europe; I learned to look at Europe as a wider concept, to understand the true meaning of its open space and the ideals of freedom and unity, I realised that Europe and this particular Union of countries were not just a goal to be reached but a potential for more aims to be achieved.
Since the enlargement, I have shared homes/appartments and (new) friendship with Bulgarians, Germans, Ukranians, Finns, Hungarians, Spanish, Estonians, Moldovans, Austrians, Serbs, Russians (the order is random), I've had good relationships to a number of other nationals, and think I have managed to speak to at least one person from almost every country of the continent over the last five years.
The enlargement, no mater what technical problems it might have caused and still causes, was a success, because it opened up perspectives, it enlarged not just the EU but it enlarged our horizons.
Yes, it is sometimes not easy to deal with a larger number of people and countries, because everyone has justified interests, hopes, and visions, every individual and, to a certain extent, every nation. But what we have to understand is that these interests are not really interests of countries and nations, they are, if we take away our national glasses, very similar problems of individuals and groups living in different but still comparable situations.
The average Polish farmer has no different interests to the average French farmer, and the IT specialist from Estonia thinks quite similar to the IT specialist in Ireland. Most people I have met share the wish to have the possibility to move freely - be it for a short trip, for a mid-term exchange, or for a lifetime and be it for 10 kilometres or 2,000 miles - as the potential to realise one's own small and bigger dreams. So we all have a similar story, no matter whether the actors look different and the directors have different styles.
The EU enlargement tells us this story, the story that we are able to integrate the "other" because actually this "other" is a lot like us.
We sometimes get lost in institutional discussions, which are correct because unity in diversity is not always a natural process but the result of well-designed organisational solutions, but the value of enlargement(s) and the perspective for enlargement are driving factors both for those in the club and those who want to join.
Without strong enlargement perspectives, from the Western Balkans, to the East European countries, and, whenever ready also for Turkey, there is no need and impetus to change minds, no need to reform, neither in these countries nor within the European Union. If we remain satisfied with what we have achieved, we lose the vision for what we still can do.
Today, I am celebrating five years of EU enlargement, and I am celebrating it with the hope and wish to soon be able to celebrate the next entries into the Union - also because I have understood another thing over the last years, too:
There is nothing better than to celebrate with fellow Europeans!
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