EU Ambassador Highlights Strengths of the Union

David O'Sullivan speaks at a lecturn, with an American Flag and an EU flag behind him

David O’Sullivan, the Ambassador of the European Union to the United States, told a standing-room only audience at the 15th annual EU Day gathering that it is imperative for US citizens, especially young people, to understand the importance of the European Union in order to continue and strengthen a relationship that benefits the whole world. He said, “Agreement between the European Union and the United States may not be the only condition, but it is a necessary condition, for forward movement and positive change.”

Mr. O’Sullivan was invited to campus by the European Union Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Directed by Dr. Carla Santos, a professor in the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism, the Center was established in 1998 as one of ten original EU Centers in the United States to serve as a focal point of teaching, research, and outreach about the European Union. The Center offers a Master of Arts degree program in EU Studies, the first such program in the US.

The European Union has its roots in the European Economic Community, created in 1957 when Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome. It was formally established with the Maastricht Treaty of 1993. Now with 28 member states, the EU has enjoyed a history of outstanding achievements and unique challenges.

Among its achievements, Mr. O’Sullivan noted, is that under the EU, Europe has experienced its longest period of peace in history. It boasts one of the top three wealthiest and biggest markets in the world, and is the largest donor of development and humanitarian assistance. “This demonstrates that the European Union is not an inward-looking entity, interested only in its own growth and prosperity,” Mr. O’Sullivan said. Nor, he emphasized, is it trying to homogenize European identity, which is a criticism he often hears.

 

“We believe that there is unity in diversity,” he said. “Member states retain their own identities while also deriving the benefits of membership in the EU. We work with our member states with full respect for their national identities.”

The benefits of membership include the absence of trade barriers among member nations, a transparent and democratic political system, and freedom to travel or work in any member nation without visas or other restrictions. Mr. O’Sullivan also noted that students are free to study at any institution in any member country and that degrees are recognized across the union. The EU also is working toward a fully integrated energy grid that will guarantee each member nation access to three independent sources of energy.

There have been challenges, of course. The economic crash of 2008 and subsequent recession exposed weaknesses in the financial structure of the European Union that took several years to address. And, of course, perhaps the biggest challenge to date has been the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. While the formal departure will take a few years, Mr. O’Sullivan said discussions about the post-Brexit European Union will begin this year.

“The United Kingdom is tied to the European Union in so many ways, ungluing it all will be difficult,” he said. “But as with every challenge we’ve faced, we’ll find a way.” He is confident the EU will survive, especially with the support, friendship, and alliance of the United States. The US, he said, has a vital national interest in a healthy European Union.

 

David O'Sullivan speaking before a room with 100 seated people