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Spotlight: 25 years of Maastricht Treaty celebrated with local-level reflections on Europe's future

Xinhua, February 8, 2017 Adjust font size:

With reflections on how to rebuild trust in the European Union (EU) with the help of regions and cities, the Dutch southern city of Maastricht on Tuesday celebrated the anniversary of the EU's milestone treaty that bears its name as it hosted the signatories on the same day 25 years ago.

"Twenty-five years old, usually this is the time when you normally are really energetic and you have sufficient wisdom to work on your future. And that is what it should be like today, 25 years EU: energetic and wise. Unfortunately, we have to say that this is not the case," said Annemarie Penn-Te Strake, mayor of Maastricht.

"The optimism and positivism surrounding European unification has not disappeared, but diminished, or more accurately, the EU is experiencing really turbulent times," the mayor told a commemorating ceremony held in the the provincial building of Limburg where the Treaty was signed.

Calling her city "Europe's laboratory" and "the ideal place for discussing the future of the EU", the mayor stressed that "for people living in border regions, Europe is a reality".

From Maastricht, Belgium is only three kilometers and Germany is 30 kilometers away. Paris, Frankfurt and London can be reached in three hours by train. The province of Limburg, of which Maastricht is the capital, lies in the heart of the Meuse-Rhine Euro region, which is "a cohesive and cooperative part of Europe," according to the mayor.

"The solution for revitalizing the EU can be the best solved in the border regions, where European cooperation is a daily fact of life, and not just in national capitals or in Brussels," she concluded.

The Maastricht Treaty, formally the Treaty on European Union or TEU, signed on Feb. 7 1992 by the foreign ministers of 12 members of the European Community (EC), led to the creation of the euro.

It also created the pillar structure of the EU -- one supranational pillar created from three European Communities (the EC, the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community), the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) pillar, and the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) pillar.

With a Union now "calling for help and unity", Europe should reflect on its "raison d'etre" and needs "new narratives", said Theo Bovens, governor of Limburg. "Border regions can connect people better than nations."

Markku Markkula, president of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), also advocated for more integration and strong synergy at local and regional level.

"We could bring the message to Brussels about where the real needs are and what can be done. We need more pioneers, pioneering cities and regions, forerunners who want to make things to happen in a new way," the Finnish politician told Xinhua.

"We should not look that much on the official structures or how the national levels collaborate, but really more to the level where the action is and the action can be much more."

Created in 1994, the CoR as the European Union's assembly of regional and local representatives, has 700 mayors or regional councilors as members.

Markkula believed that integration and synergy at the regional level is a strong force to combat populism. "This is one of the strong reasons that the European policy makers have recognized that we need to have more real-life, real-case activities so that citizens see what is the added value coming out of the European instruments, funding and knowledge instruments as well."

When being asked about the multiple challenges defying Europe, Markkula kept an optimistic tone.

"Now in many parts of Europe, the GDP has started to grow, unemployment among young people has started to go down, but too slowly. We need to have an action," he said, "and Brexit we can use it as a renewal process, especially on the local and regional level."

"We need to increase our commitment and flexibility for renewal, speeding up the innovation process in Europe. That as well opens then the collaboration with other parts of the world," he told Xinhua, adding that many European local and regional authorities have started to collaborate with Chinese counterparts and a joint force between Europe and China can make a big difference.

An event branded as "Generation Maastricht Youth Opinion FESTival (YO!Fest)" was also held on the birthday at the birthplace of the modern EU and the euro.

Young people between 18 and 25 (Generation Maastricht) were invited to have debates, meet and greet with EU administrators, have workshops, live music, theatre, and sports in the city's Sphinx quarter, all of which aim to spark a discussion on key topics regarding the future of Europe. Endit