Europe’s legion of unknown builders | Opinion

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With the Christmas and New Year festivities over, the waters —the lives— return these days to their usual course. The people who traveled to their homes of origin to celebrate them are already in their permanent residences; those who were able to rest are already working; The purposes —and the doubts— typical of the beginning of the course are already in many heads. It is a widespread phenomenon, but with particular characteristics for a specific group of Europeans: the 13.3 million citizens of EU countries who live in another Member State (Eurostat data, 2020). They represent 3% of the population as a whole and, without a doubt, one of the main forces in the construction of the common European project, either through work or through love.

Many of these Europeans undertake a trip to their countries of origin during the Christmas festivities. With their backpacks or samsonites, shaking hands with their dwarfs or shaking hands with their cell phones, they blend in with other passengers. But, in his case, when he returns, a peculiar question can arise inside, which usually remains intimate and in which one, for a moment, can get lost. Where do you feel from? Still from your home country? From the host? From some lonely, sometimes bitter place, suspended between the two? Of course, not only does each one have their answer: each one sees their answer change, over time.

More than three million Romanians, a million and a half Poles and as many Italians, and a million Portuguese constitute the four largest national groups displaced to other EU countries (the Spanish are in eighth place, with more than half a million) . It is impressive to see that, in some cases, expatriates represent an imposing share in the working-age segment (from 20 to 65): 18% of the Romanian population, 17% Croatian, 10% Portuguese… So much energy, so much life, it went elsewhere. In other cases, the percentage is minimal, 1% or less in the case of Germans, French or Swedes. In 2010 the average was 2.4%; in 2020 it was 3.3%. As a whole, then, the tide rises and with it, the European project grows.

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In short, each one with their history —and their changing responses— these 13 million people are the spearhead in the construction of a European demos, heirs to a lineage of Greeks who settled in southern Italy, of so many who moved within the Roman Empire, and many others before or after. They can feel like them, and like a pillar against certain winds of withdrawal from the common project that are blowing, that howl if the community flag flies on the Arc de Triomphe instead of the French one. The same one that, instead of the Italian, wonderfully wrapped the coffin of David Sassoli yesterday at the state funeral that was officiated in Rome.

The times we live in call for the EU to take a huge leap in integration. From the pandemic and climatic scourges to the questioning of the global order coming from China and Russia —so serious as to make war drums resound on the continent—, the only plausible answer is more union, much more union. This requires popular conviction, to jump decisively and with composure into an unknown sea, as the swimmer from the tomb of Paestum, in that hypnotic pictorial triumph of 2,500 years ago, with a perhaps unprecedented metaphysical message, the fruit of Greek culture, settled on Italian soil and undoubtedly evolved through contact with local traditions.

The lineage of Europeans with a homeland as a mother (which they did not choose and which formed them) and another as a partner (which they later chose) is there, supporting that integrating leap with its own existence. They may have days of doubts or nostalgia, but they can count on the fact that it rains less in a heart with different loves inside and that its heartbeat, without even realizing it, oxygenates the path of European history in the right direction.

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