I am from Lapland, Finland. I am European, and Finnish, among other identity-building constructs. Becoming European wasn’t necessarily something that occurred at birth, although Finland has been a part of the EU since I was born in 1995. I think of it more as something that happened over time, with access to ideas and experiences.
It’s a mix of the practical, cultural and political — voting in the EU elections, the bliss of no borders in the Schengen area, getting acquainted with Baudelaire, Nietzsche, and Dalí, or learning the ins and outs of the Eurostar routes. I am part of the European generation — my age group has grown upwith the privileges of a borderless Europe, Erasmus, Interrail, and access to universities across the region without international tuition fees. We have had opportunities to interlace our lives with the European experience, helping us cultivate our European identities.
The future of Europe is something I care deeply about. It’s a theme that has been an active part of my life both professionally and personally. I’ve been empowered to feel I can have a small contributing voice in the European Project, which has made me feel even more passionate about ensuring we keep taking strides towards a united, culturally diverse, and effective Europe. During my International Baccalaureate years, I wrote an amateur research paper on European financial harmonization having been curious about where the limits of EU integration lie. I have been given the opportunity to chair a committee on European social integration at the Parliament in Strasbourg as a part of a union-wide school programme, and taken part in the thrill of MEP election campaigns.
In my personal life, the notion of Europe has been geographically driven. I’ve lived in Finland, Sweden, Portugal, France, the UK, and my family in Spain (all thanks to our open borders). I’ve studied German, Spanish, Italian, and French aside from my native Finnish and English. During these experiences, I’ve found comfort in discovering shared sub-cultures across cities, feeling like there are pockets of people to be found who share the same ways of living, interests, habits, and ambitions.
Today we celebrate Europe Day, marking 70 years of solidarity. Robert Schuman, considered to be one of the founding fathers of Europe wrote the Schuman Declaration on May 9th, 1950, effectively establishing the European Project.
“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it,” he wrote.
This rings true now more than ever, as we face the consequences of Covid-19, a looming recession, and waves of anti-EU sentiment that have, among other developments, led the UK to withdraw from the union. Even beyond our collective borders, we face the threat of growing superpowers in other areas of the world that no European country could counterbalance as a single voice. However, together we can have the ability and strength to ensure there will be a European voice, now and in the future.
We’ve progressed from a war-torn region just seventy years ago, into a domain where a large aggregate of its citizens, especially the youth, identify as being European and Finnish, European and Italian, or European and German. The thought of this accelerated accomplishment fills me with pride and hope. However, to Schuman’s words, the challenges we face still require equally proportionate creative effort to overcome — and our challenges now are no small feat.
I have confidence we can keep creating culture and making policies that allow future generations to assume their right to a European identity. I have faith that the European people can realize the strength we hold together and find solutions that support, protect, and advance our common goals. Let’s celebrate Europe and what it means to be European, and encourage active expressions of solidarity, especially tonight.