The EU is much more than the eurozone or Schengen to most young people. If leaders sideline the principles behind the first truly European generation, they will kill the European project, says DW's Sofia Diogo Mateus.
Since European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented a report on March 1 outlining possible paths forward for the bloc following Brexit, Anglophone media and its pundits have been dragging on and on about how a multi-speed Europe is the solution to all of the EU's problems. It'd make the EU more flexible and thus more resistant, they say. It would allow countries to pick and choose policies they want to cooperate on, and to stay out of others.
But, in fact, it would render the European Union pointless; that is what it would do.
Firstly, the European Union is already multi-speed: Britain had more opt-outs from EU policies than any media outlet bothered to write about, and Denmark will now takes its place in that regard. There's the European Economic Area, of which Switzerland and Norway are full members, which allows them full access to the single market without their partaking in other policies that would harm their economies (banking and fisheries are just some of the most pressing examples).
Even within the EU, there are carefully negotiated opt-outs: the UK and Ireland are not in the Schengen area; Denmark and Sweden are not part of the eurozone. But Denmark chose to peg its currency to the euro through the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, whilst Sweden has not. The European Union doesn't lack options or speeds or chances to "pick and choose."
However, what the European Union must not lose is the vision that made it - and still makes it - a successful entity. A vision rooted in human rights, solidarity and unity. A vision that has given us the longest period of peace since the Romans, along with universal health care and schooling.
The founding fathers understood that Europe stands together, or not at all, as our history proves. And loosening the union to fit tastes will only divide it further, ultimately eliminating any reward for compliance or evolution. There's no reason a prospective member state would want to go through the decades-long process of adjusting its laws and economy to European standards to come out at the other end as a second-class member. An enshrined logic saying that some countries are better or "more" than others will only serve to feed the prejudices that underlie Jeroen Dijsselbloem's ignorant comments.
I grew up in a southern country that is far from the center of Europe. And yet, I never felt bound by my borders. I felt as though being European gave me countless opportunities: to study in the UK, Netherlands and Denmark, to travel around the continent unimpeded, and to now work and live in Germany. A reality no longer reserved to those best-off, but available to the vast majority of university students through the Erasmus program.
I felt European, and I cherished and made the most of those opportunities. I'm not alone: My British friends did so as well, as did the French, German, Spanish, Polish, Dutch, Romanian, Lithuanian and Danish friends I have met throughout my "European" life. We have high hopes: We want to be successful, insofar as it means being able to work to live comfortably, with guaranteed health care and a chance to prove ourselves. In our home countries or in one of the other 27 members that make up the EU. We're the embodiment of the founding fathers' dreams - and we're not the Brussels elite. To betray the core principles of the EU - to suddenly and officially cast one of us as less because of the state of our country's economy - would be to destroy the future of the European Union.