By Guy Tegenbos, translated by Mathieu Soete
Original publication: De Standaard, 22-01-2013
‘We the people.’ This was president Barack Obama’s message at the inauguration of his second term in office yesterday, four years after his hopeful ‘Yes we can’.
‘We the people’ is also the name of the website of the White House where citizens can put their signature under the president’s projects they would like to support. This website suggests that the people are being listened to. The presidential inauguration suggested more. ‘We the people’ says that the policy of the president voices what ‘the people’ want. The speech suggests that what the president stands for, is also the only possible translation of the ancient American values. The projects of the president—from equal rights and chances for gays and poor people, over climate measures, to restrictions on arms sales—fit within those American values.
There’s a certain truth in that statement. American society is politically extremely divided. But the American values firmly stand ground.
Implicitly there exist equally strong European values, but these are not quite so profiled or articulated. As a European one can only dream of such a compactly formulated set of values which are so eloquently phrased.
‘We the European people’; it would be nice.
Not nice as such, but nice because it could move this continent a little faster than it is now. The democratic deficit of Europe is mainly located in the political structures, but also in the lack of ‘pronounced’ common values.
The Erasmus project—young people spending at least one semester of their tertiary education in a different member state—contributes to this. A study published yesterday by the University of Antwerp on this topic, gives both good and bad grades to this policy.
But two points are beyond doubt. Students ‘returning from Erasmus’ have a European attitude, although some of them already had this before leaving. Second, after their Erasmus they all have a network of friends all over Europe. They can go in this continent wherever they want, having friends in every place where they can even stay for free. This entire continent belongs to them. This is how you build ‘We the European people’.
Completing a part of your studies in another European country, it should almost be made mandatory in Flanders, especially in higher education. The system of scholarships must be enlarged for this aim. But even more important is this: young people learn how to finance this investment in their future themselves. In Flanders we still don’t realise enough that working and studying is more rewarding than just studying.