Friday afternoon January 15th. I – together with the 28 other students of the Master in Management (MIM) – have just received the certificate of having brought the European Management Residency in Maastricht to a successful end. We just presented our teamwork assignments concerning our views on the future of the European Union. A well deserved and final lunch – as we have been fed like geese before Christmas for four days now – awaits.
Past Tuesday morning, we crossed the borders between Belgium and the Netherlands. Heading towards the city where leaders of Europe signed the treaty in which they declared to install our common currency: the Euro. The year was 1992 and it is with some nostalgia that we hear the guides elaborate about these days of grandeur of our Old Continent, as some like to describe Europe.
Being a student city and housing 122.000 inhabitants, Maastricht builds its future with memories of the past. In our hotel, le grand empereur (the great emperor), it is Napoleon himself who shares with us his basic ideals of freedom, equality and brotherliness – and that freedom is never a given thing we already notice in the division of the rooms: we did not have any say in who would be our roomies. Luckily, all brothers and sisters of MIM-class can live equally well together.
On a personal note, I was really looking forward to this seminar. As a former student in politics, I could dedicate almost an entire week to my first love: the political organization of our daily lives. After years and months of financial crisis, government debt crises with a culminating catastrophe in Greece and failing diplomacy in the Middle East resulting to an asylum crises that is challenging our basic notions of living together. The thorough debates between students of our class and the clear and sometimes very opiniating input of professors felt like the oxygen needed to revitalize faith. Faith in what we have taken for granted for decades, but are putting more and more on the verge of destruction for months now: the notion that European cooperation, in one way or another, is one of the basic premisses for a minimal level of peace and prosperity.
A most cited problem of the European Union is the lack of a binding idea for its people. Well, the students of our group have proven differently. The future of Europe invigorated our team spirit. Until nightly hours, the hotel lobby was our hub for preparations for our final team assignements we had to present on Friday morning. And on a sidenote: besides the lobby, we also made good use of the hotel’s swimming pool, the bar and the cosy restaurants in Maastricht’s city centre.
Our four days experience could be summarized in a great number of quotes of known and less known people. The first image I would like to use is the one of the first Roman bridge that was built in Maastricht and is still being used and standing there to bridge the river that crosses the city. One of our oldest European legacies – the Roman empire – today still bridges difficulties in our cities. And I would like to couple this idea to a striking phrase one of the students in our group came to mention during our Friday’s presentations: there is a large gap between what we know we have to do and what we actually do.
And as this awareness is motivating. It also is striking. How is it possible that highly educated students are not aware that our mindset is not focused on the underlying difficulties of the common project of living together that we call Europe? How can it be that, after having studied for four to six years, a seminar is still needed to raise awareness? And if we – students, young people – are not even aware of this difficulty, how can we ever come to believe that people who have been away from schools and universities for years now, who have been working and started their families – the people that cast their votes every once in a while and have a final say in the direction where we are headed as a community – how can we ever believe that they àre aware?
And as it is not highly efficient to send every European citizen to a European Seminar, it wouldn’t harm to send our current political leaders to one. And if that doesn’t deliver a wished for snowball effect, the second best thing probably is that we take on the task to put the idea of cooperation into practice – we are used of working together (internationally) at AMS anyway. We are used to seeing the benificial results of it as well. So why shouldn’t we get used of spreading this experience to the outside world. Why shouldn’t we get used to take on the difficulties and bridge the gap between what we know what we have to do, between what we know we can do and between what we actually do.
Can we as well build a durable legacy of cooperation as people before us were able to do?