The year 2018 is slowly coming to an end and Christmas holidays are right around the corner. Everyone still seems busy trying to finalise urgent matters and run the last necessary errands.
Looking back on the year 2018 from an ITEM perspective, I think we can be content with the results we have achieved in the past months. We have actively participated in many projects, trying to help citizens and institutions in border regions to overcome obstacles they have been facing when crossing borders for work or trying to set-up a cooperation project. Not all problems that were brought to us could be solved directly. However, step by step, we can contribute to practical and sustainable solutions.
During the past months, we have been engaged in many conferences and workshops. Together with the BENELUX, we organised a workshop on the recognition of diplomas. In November, we celebrated ITEM’s 4th annual conference, which we organised together with the European Committee of the Regions and DG Regio of the European Commission in Brussels. We can look back on a successful event where we seriously discussed some of the most urgent problems with regard to cross-border cooperation. For example, when talking about the need for cross-border impact assessments on national levels, there is a need to look into other ways of data-collection. Our annual conference was also a meeting with many old and new friends from all over Europe, who work in border regions on similar problems. The exchange of ideas and solutions was very fruitful. We will continue this dialogue and exchange of knowledge in the years to come.
Finding ourselves in Brussels in November 2018, provided the perfect opportunity to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of WW I. We are living in turbulent times, facing serious international trade disputes, political populism and ongoing discussions and political negotiations on BREXIT. The future looks insecure. However, looking back at the first half of 20th century Europe and the disasters of wars Europe and its citizens have faced, we should be enormously thankful. Not only for the period of peace, we have had in the past decades, but also for the benefits, we can all enjoy from a united Europe. I believe it is very important to constantly keep this in mind in our pursuit of a better functioning United Europe.
November 2018 was also the month in which we celebrated the Maastricht Treaty, the European Union and European Citizenship. 25 years ago, when the Maastricht Treaty entered into force, a provision was introduced into the European treaty system, which proclaimed the institutionalisation of a European citizenship. Initially considered as no more than a symbolic gesture, Union Citizenship has evolved remarkably during the past decades. Since the end of the 1990s, many - sometimes highly controversial - rulings from the European Court of Justice have revealed the considerable potential of this concept. EU citizenship, according to several judgements of the Court, is even destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States.
During two events co-organized by ITEM in October and November, we celebrated the successes of the Treaty, but also discussed challenges for the European Union and its citizens in these days of political difficulties caused by the BREXIT referendum, agitated populist voices against the European integration process and actions by some member states’ governments against established principles of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. In another conference organised by the European Commission on Fundamental Rights, we gave special attention to the position of the European citizen, the democratic challenges we are facing due to misinformation and fake news and the upcoming European Parliament elections in May next year.
In the Maastricht Manifesto, we underlined that the European Union is not only a union of states but it is – maybe even more so - a union of citizens. It is the European Citizen who is building the European Union. In close cooperation with all our partners in the field, we will continue to exchange information and work together towards better cross-border policies and solutions for citizens. Because the citizen’s trust and belief in the union is of utmost importance for the future of Europe.
We hope to see you back on board of our journey towards a better Europe. For now we wish you a peaceful Christmas and all the best for the New Year.