CWES/EUC EU Fellow Ernesto Penas Lado visited Professor Sabine Lang’s EURO 301 class on Tuesday, October 18 to talk about the European Union. Students wanted to know: What is the EU and why was it created?
With over 30 years of experience working within the EU Commission, Ernesto spoke in earnest about the historical struggles faced by Europe. Through wars, economic hardships, and the rise and fall of dictatorships, the EU, argued Ernesto, was developed as a way to provide stability through shared resources and ideals. “For the last 70 years, western Europe has seen the longest period of peace in over a thousand years. That,” he stated, “is because of the European Union.”
Questions from audience members reflected deep concern over the future of the European Union as a whole. One student asked if Ernesto believed the EU was failing in the fight against populism. Ernesto answered by saying that the EU is not failing on this front. “Rather,” he summarized, “the EU fails because we continue to allow ourselves, as a Commission, to be the scapegoat for every countries’ failures. When there are successes, individual nations claim those successes. When there are failures, the EU is to blame. And even within the Commission, we sometimes feel this. This is where we fail, and this is the perception we are giving to younger generations.”
The presentation ended with Ernesto urging young people to pay attention to current events and to not lose perspective. As someone who grew up under the Franco regime in Spain, Ernesto spoke openly about the troubles currently facing the EU. “When I look, as an individual, back at the times, when I was sixteen, I know I could never go back, I don’t want to go back. Yes, Spain has troubles, and there are problems, of course. Of course the EU has problems. But we can never go back to a dictator, and this is something to keep in mind, for all of you. Be active in your push forward, and keep perspective.”