I had the opportunity to spend Europe Day in Albania thanks to the European Movement in Ireland and in Albania itself. From May 8-10 I saw European unity celebrated in what may soon become the European Union’s 29th Member State.
Even for those of us whose grá for the European Union goes somewhat beyond the average, Europe Day can pass by somewhat quietly. We take the many benefits of European integration for granted. The peace, prosperity and freedom that marks the European Union as an inspiration for progress for so many has become greatly normalised within the Union’s borders. The uniqueness of our way of life has been diminished for many. Witnessing the celebration of European Union in a country that aspires to membership was a stark reminder that we are a part of something special. That we enjoy a way of life worth aspiring to.
The main event organised by the European Movement Albania was a simulation of policy-making in the European Union organised by in cooperation with the University of Tirana Law Faculty. Students from the Faculty played the roles of various actors in the European Institutions and debated a Commission Directive concerning quality standards of chocolate across the common market.
I have to admit that my first reaction to seeing a directive about chocolate standards being discussed was not one of rapt enthusiasm. I would imagine that I am not alone in thinking that the proportion of milk that should be allowed for a chocolate product to adhere to quality standards is not the most inspiring of topics. However, it quickly became apparent that this debate was highly illustrative of the work of the European Union.
If we are to have a common market, then we must have common quality standards. When it comes to tensile strength of building materials, chemical usage in agriculture or customer care in the airline industry, objective standards can be established with comparative ease. However, how can differences in customer preferences be accounted for? Irish people like lots of milk in their chocolate, for Belgians high milk content marks an inferior product. The European Union must regulate the market in such a way that customers in both Belgium and Ireland know what they are getting and have easy access to what they want.
Even in an issue area as far from the headlines as chocolate standards, this is no easy feat. Irish consumers, Irish producers, Belgian consumers, Belgian producers and the consumers and producers of twenty-six other states with differing preferences must be taken into account. On every issue the European Union must bring together an incredibly diverse range of interests and pull together a workable solution acceptable to all.
In a Q&A session with the participating students, myself and European Movement Albania’s other guests, Maja from Slovenia and Liisa from Finland, were asked whether the European Union is often deadlocked due to the difficulty of finding mutually acceptable compromise. What was remarkable was the lack of examples of such deadlock we could think of. We had to look back to the “Empty Chair” crisis of De Gaulle’s Presidency of France to find any long term incidence of significant impact. That the European Union continually operates, bringing twenty-seven different states together to form a workable Union, is a remarkable feat.
Seeing the Albanian students debate (my lack of Albanian rendering “listening” somewhat ineffective) and listening to their questions demonstrated the beauty of European Union. It illustrated the unique ability of our European Union to overcome the odds and work effectively for the betterment of all its citizens.
Tirana is a small, exciting and interesting city. Its people are remarkably friendly and helpful to visitors and I must say that I particularly enjoyed its food.
My time over there allowed me to gain a glimpse of the European Union from the outside and allowed me to appreciate what makes our European Union so unique and so positive. I think I will appreciate Europe Day a little bit more in the future.
Eoin O’Driscoll travelled to Albania as part of European Movement Ireland’s participation in Campaign Europe!, an international project, devised and led by European Movement Finland, which aims to boost awareness of and engagement with Europe in Ireland, Finland, Albania and Slovenia through 2014. Learn more about Campaign Europe! here.