But the European project needs support if we want to preserve our values, economic strength and international security. The equation we have in mind is fairly straightforward: a stable and internationally successful Europe needs public support; public support can only be generated through popular acceptance and European identity-building from the bottom. Collecting international experience is one of the best ways to develop this European identity.
Interestingly, young people have followed this strategy for a long time. When you go out and ask young Europeans what they like most about Europe, almost everyone responds: travelling and the plurality of different cultures so close to one another. Even if knowledge about European politics is important, we all agree that the really important thing is knowing each other. This argument is hardly a demand for political action. Politicians can set incentives (for example, why not extend the concept of Erasmus to young people not studying, as Umberto Eco suggested?). But it is up to young Europeans themselves to take the opportunity. Students who have spent a semester abroad with Erasmus tend to be more ready to express solidarity on a European level. People who learn foreign languages have a more widely reflected concept of what the driving political, cultural and social movements are. So there are good reasons to encourage the upcoming generation to further this kind of grassroots integration.
Overcoming the debt crisis is certainly crucial to regaining confidence in Europe's capacity to act. But unless young Europeans grow closer together through genuine international exchange, every ambitious vision for further integration is flawed: without profound knowledge of one another, any crisis like the current one will make us likely to fall back into nationalist prejudices again. To get to know Europe in all its fascinating dimensions rather than by reading dry EU directives we advise you: travel, Europeans, travel!
The author of this article is co-organiser of the Euroskop project, a travel blog about today's Europe.