I arrived in Maastricht a little over a week ago to speak at a conference celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty.. I wasn’t exactly full of positive expectations. Had spent a rather long train journey due to the trouble of the Dutch railways coping with the winter weather. Wasn’t too excited about giving a talk about the EU and Democracy at a time in the history of the EU filled with discontent and uncertainty.
It honestly felt a bit strange to be gathering here celebrating a Treaty that marked one of the milestones towards Economic and Monetary Union while the same Economic and Monetary Union seemed to be witnessing the biggest crisis ever.
It might sound trivial, but Maastricht actually helped me overcome my scepticism and got me in a better mood. The “distinct character of Maastricht” helped me understand what Europe is supposed to be about and why it’s worth.
Maastricht isn’t just any other Dutch city. It’s a city where being a foreigner is regarded as an asset. A city where foreign languages are spoken with joy and enthusiasm in the streets when you approach the locals. A city which is proud of its foreign cuisine and hospitality. And a city which realizes that if it weren’t for trade and cross border cooperation it would never have been what it is today.
In many ways Maastricht is and aims at being a miniature of “the Europe” the Treaty named after it aimed at establishing. The challenge is of course that Maastricht may not be representative of the wider Europe the Treaty applies to. This makes it challenging to realize the aims of the Maastricht Treaty in practice.
However, for me spending a few days in the secluded hills of Limburg was all worth it. Seeing how Europe could potentially work, helped me get some of the enthusiasm for “the European idea” back, which I must admit that I’d lost along the way…