Illustration: A human in space is bend like a question mark over planet earth.

Education Plus Critical Thinking

The challenges of the Corona pandemic have revealed a number of vulnerabilities, both in the health sector and at the social and economic levels. The European Union needs to consolidate its strategic resilience, both domestically and in its immediate neighbourhood.

The values and principles of democracy and of European unity represent the foundation of the Union, the binder of the Member States. They are the essence of this continent, the source of the well-being, security and safety of our societies. While, throughout history, European unification has been achieved through arms – and this was true of most of the attempts to achieve European unity that took place before the Schuman Plan – today it is a project of solidarity based on our common will to work together for the peace and prosperity of the European Union and its citizens.

Today’s challenges confirm that we need a stronger and more resilient European Union.

The history of our continent and the intellectual heritage of Europe provides us with examples that have inspired contemporary action as well as the processes of European integration in the post-war period. Centuries of violence and destruction radically shaped European history before reason prevailed, and the realisation that unity can be achieved through the free will of participation in common projects by those who share the same values.


The Invisible Enemy

Today’s challenges confirm that we need a stronger and more resilient European Union. I would, therefore, like to stress the value of European common action, unity, education and European democracy at this time. A time when Europe and the entire whole world are facing important choices, with difficult moments, caused by a sudden derailment from everyday life, in front of an invisible enemy: a virus whose spread has generated the current pandemic, and which has brought about the need for new answers, solutions or common tools at European and global level.

In this special framework, the ten commitments highlighted in the Sibiu Declaration of 9 May 2019 remain fundamental, as the Union now needs more than ever unity, solidarity, cohesion and a pragmatic, action-oriented approach and concrete results. Today we live in a Europe united in its common pursuit of democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and a free market economy.

The fact that the European Union’s most significant achievement has been to secure peace and prosperity on the European continent is a reason to be proud and to work to further promote this model, based on common values and principles. Throughout its history, the European Union has been tried many times. We have gone through various crises together.

Each time, however, the Member States have found the resources and capacity to turn trials into opportunities, to overcome difficulties and to strengthen our Union. This transformative and adaptive capacity makes the Union a solid and sustainable construction.



Illustration: Two handcuffed hands holding each other.
In times of global challenges, the European Union needs unity, solidarity and cohesion more than ever, Illustration: CDD20 via pixabay

There were also times, such as during the pandemic we are still going through, when we, as a Union, could have acted better and offered a prompter response to the European citizens’ expectations. In Romania’s view, we can live up to the expectations of our citizens only together, more united, more cohesive and not through retreats or narrow circles of European integration. Despite all the difficulties at the beginning of this period, the EU Member States have identified solutions and – most importantly – have shown solidarity.

The strength of the Union has helped us to overcome the most difficult moments. I believe that the decisions that were taken at European level in 2020, starting from those that proved indispensable to the management of the crisis, but especially the approval of the European Recovery Plan, are a concrete reflection of the interpretation once given to a united Europe by Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer: ‘European unity was the dream of a few. It became the hope of many. It is now a necessity for us all.’

The challenges posed by the pandemic have revealed a number of weaknesses both in the health sector and at the social and economic level. These is clear proof of the need to strengthen the European Union’s strategic resilience, both internally and in the immediate vicinity.


Free Movement Area

The European Single Market is the link between the EU Member States that defines the essence of the European project and brings concrete benefits to the citizens of Europe. It is our duty to ensure that all our efforts guarantee the maintenance of this common good – the Single Market and its four fundamental freedoms, whose importance has been highlighted by the health crisis.

In order to achieve the goal of consolidating the Single Market, a fully functional and efficient free movement area is needed. And in order for the Schengen Area to become fully functional and efficient, it is necessary for all Member States that meet the conditions to be part of it. Romania is one of the states that has been acting as a de facto member of the Schengen Area for over 10 years.

The completion of this integration process is not only an objective for Romania, but it should be an objective for the European Union.At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that joint, coordinated action is essential, including in areas of national competence such as public health.


A European Health Union

The health sector is essential for consolidating the resilience of the European Union in the face of potential future crises. This is why the European Health Union must become a reality as soon as possible. In terms of foreign policy, the European Union’s resilience can only be sustainable if we also ensure it in the Western Balkans and in the eastern and southern neighbourhood.

Therefore, the European Union must ensure long-term strategic investment in this region. We must be active on the ground, both the European Union as a whole and the individual Member States, and we must also offer a wider range of cooperation that places greater priority on security.

In order for the European Union’s actions to be more resilient, but also in order for it to be better able to defend its own principles and objectives at global level, it is necessary to reflect on how we can prepare ourselves to be more predictable. If we are to prepare for the accelerated transition to a green and digital economy and find answers to hybrid and asymmetric security threats that will make extensive use of new technologies, we need to develop the ability to build models for the future.

For this reason, the debate on the development of the European Union must devote more attention to forward-looking governance in the medium and long term.

In this sense, the Conference on the Future of Europe represents a unique opportunity to listen to the citizens of Europe in order to understand their expectations of the European Union and better assess the challenges of the future. At this point I would like to renew my plea for European unity and solidarity. It is true that today certain decisions can be taken more quickly in smaller circles, but the real strength of the Union, especially in an increasingly interconnected world in which the EU is also increasingly subject to criticism, does not come from concentric circles or different speeds.

If we are to prepare for the accelerated transition to a green and digital economy and find answers to hybrid and asymmetric security threats [...], we need to develop the ability to build models for the future.

This strength is given by an inclusive approach: by the ability of the European Union to move towards democracy and prosperity for all its citizens and partners who share our values, principles and goals. Among partnerships, the EU-US relationship certainly remains the pièce de resistance and the dimension in which Europe must continue to invest the most. Europe needs the continuation of the US commitment to ensure its security, stability and common prosperity, just as the United States needs a strong Europe, capable of managing crises in its neighbourhood.


Pillar of Global Democracy

In his memoirs, Jean Monnet wrote: ‘Europe and America cannot ignore their problems and need each other to solve them. Separately, they cannot contribute effectively to global peace.’ This statement by one of the architects of the European Union is still valid today, more than half a century later, not because the problems and the context have not changed, but because the US and EU undoubtedly remain the cornerstones of global democracy. 


At this point, I would like to mention the importance of education, even though the European Union can only act in a supportive capacity to national competences in this area. I also do it to emphasise the role of education in consolidating democracy and the civic spirit. A genuine democracy cannot manifest itself without the capacity of the citizen, of the new generations of European citizens, to participate in the public sphere, to make their voice heard. This capacity must be formed through European education, so as to provide opportunities for all to develop critical thinking, to develop resistance to manipulation, misinformation or propaganda.

Illustration: A human flying through space with a tree growing from his chest.
The European Union needs to provide opportunities for all to develop critical thinking, Illustration: CDD20 via pixabay

I believe that there is room for reflection on the way tools such as Erasmus+ can be used more effectively to respond to the need for education in order to develop critical thinking regarding the risks associated with informational aggression, but also for strengthening participation in democratic processes. Even if young people must remain the priority group in this endeavour, it would be extremely useful if these efforts related to democracy and citizenship become part of lifelong learning plans.

For Romania, joining the European Union means returning to the family whose values and principles it shares. Freedom of speech and democratic values are cherished by Romanians precisely because they have lived for decades in a society in which freedom of expression was not possible.

A genuine democracy cannot manifest itself without the capacity of [...] the new generations of European citizens, to participate in the public sphere, to make their voice heard.

For us, the European project is a political, economic and social project that has enhanced Romania’s modernisation. In our turn, today we make an important contribution to the European construction. Supporting the European project, avoiding divisions, getting involved in EU decision-making represent an intrinsic dimension of the deeply pro-European profile of Romania.

The spirit of the Sibiu Declaration of May 9, 2019, the spirit of Sibiu – fully demonstrates this profile. We have the duty to consolidate this project, which remains the only viable option for a democratic, prosperous and stable Europe. As people of our time, we have a moral duty to continue to promote the European Union as a project of peace and development.

About the Author
Photo of Klaus Johannis in front of a microphone.
Klaus Johannis
President of Romania

Klaus Johannis, born in 1959 in Sibiu, is President of Romania. He belongs to the Romanian-German ethnic group of the Transylvanian Saxons and was elected mayor of Sibiu in 2000. In June 2014, he became leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL) and subsequently ran in the presidential election, emerging as the winner on 16 November 2014. In 2019, he was re-elected to the office and also received the Charlemagne Prize of Aachen.

Culture Report Progress Europe

Culture has a strategic role to play in the process of European unification. What about cultural relations within Europe? How can cultural policy contribute to a European identity? In the Culture Report Progress Europe, international authors seek answers to these questions. Since 2021, the Culture Report is published exclusively online.