We want to see something happening!
Recently I was having a conversation with a group of students who were telling me about Europe. What was fascinating was that these students spoke of countries within Europe, but the concept of physical borders was almost unknown to them. They grouped countries according to different languages, what these countries have to offer in terms of holidays (sun and snow), places attractive for an internship and food. Surprisingly, to some of us, the young Europeans are very much aware of the environmental issues and the need to take care of our planet. A discussion on what we should do with our world went into details of what we should eat, how food production should be reformed, improving healthcare through technology and encouraging ethical business practices.
“We want to see something happening’, one student shouted, without explaining how that ‘something’ should happen. Refreshing!”
European vs. global
However, specific geographical localities did not rank high in the minds of these young Europeans. Immigration crisis, financial crisis or political tensions were not exciting topics. There was a clear distinction between what matters to these students and what is considered ‘Europe’ in terms of European leaders and problems that seem global, but not to these young people. I was tempted to think that the definitions of European integration have probably been so vague that these definitions are not of any adding value to the young European. Maybe European integration has been made too much of a ‘must have’ something with little tangible benefits than a standard way of life. Maybe young and old Europeans are living in different planets. Whatever the explanation might be, it was a fascinating conversation.
“There was a clear distinction between what matters to these students and what is considered ‘Europe’ in terms of European leaders and problems that seem global, but not to these young people.”
At the end of 2018, I joined the Rijnland Instituut as a programme manager. At the Rijnland Instituut, we work towards European integration in the northern regions of Germany and the Netherlands, where we want to make that ‘something’ happen. This involves the integration of activities – not of geographical localities – such as issues of healthcare, entrepreneurship and employment. It is attractive to talk about World issues and what different places on earth have to offer, but we can only understand this if we can understand what is actually happening in our environment and how our local actions are shaping events elsewhere in the World. The shrinking population and economic slowdown in our regions need a regional solution using global ingredients. It is this understanding that encourages us at the Rijnland Instituut to invest more time and resources in improving human capital and being capable of dealing with increasing challenges both in terms of the economy and health. The need to strengthen ties among different stakeholders to produce comprehensive solutions to our society and thus giving a practical definition to the European integration discourse and practices.
“It is this understanding that encourages us at the Rijnland Instituut to invest more time and resources in improving human capital and being capable of dealing with increasing challenges both in terms of the economy and health.”
From the conversation with the young Europeans, I came to realize that, if integration means talking about issues we cannot identify ourselves with, then the European integration will remain a beautiful hymn with lyrics we do not understand. So, let’s make something happen.
Written by Paul Wabike. Paul is a business lecturer specialising in organizations and management as well as research methodology. Paul was born and raised in Tanzania and now lives and works in the Netherlands. He is involved in different research projects that focus on society and development.
At the Rijnland Instituut, Paul is a programme manager. He brings in expertise on education and development for the Euregion and links students and staff of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences with businesses and communities in the region. Paulspeaks several languages fluently including Kiswahili, English and Dutch.