One might assume that a lecture on trade tariffs and intergovernmental organizations wouldn’t be very appealing to high school sophomores on a Wednesday morning a few weeks before the start of summer vacation.
One would be wrong.
Washington-Lee High School students sat enraptured earlier this month as they heard about those topics and more from the Swedish Ambassador to the United States, Gunnar Lund.
Lund was on hand at the Arlington school to talk about the European Union and the many issues it faces. The occasion was Europe Day, a holiday that commemorates the inception of the E.U. after the Second World War.
Ambassadors and dignitaries from throughout the continent visited Washington-area high schools on Europe Day to talk to students about what the E.U. is and the myriad issues it currently faces.
Lund gave Natalie Root’s A.P. U.S. History sophomores some background on how the E.U., which now consists of 27 countries, came to be.
After WWII — "The most devastating, bloody conflict the world had ever seen," Lund said — many Europeans wanted to put an end to the constant pattern of wars and upheaval.
"People were saying to themselves, ‘Enough is enough,’" Lund said.
European leaders believed that, if their countries’ economies were completely interconnected, there could be no motivation for conflict. They sought to create a common market in Europe where goods and services could flow freely across borders without the fear of tariffs.
On May 9, 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed that France and Germany’s coal and steel industries be combined under a single institution. From there, the idea of a united and peaceful Europe blossomed and people still celebrate May 9 as Europe Day.
"Gradually, [the goal of a common market] has been realized," Lund said. "I hardly have words enough to express what a big success European integration is."
THE WASHINGTON-LEE students were able to ask the ambassador several questions after his introductory lecture.
One asked how the E.U. deals with the language barrier of all 27 of its members’ native tongues.
Lund replied that it is dealt with very delicately. He said that there is an unspoken rule among member countries not to bring up the language issue because it could create a domino effect of countries demanding that their language be given more importance.
Currently, Lund said, most official E.U. business is conducted in French, German or English.
Another student asked Lund what qualifications the E.U. looks for in determining which countries can be members.
He quickly replied that a democratic form of government is non-negotiable when it comes to E.U. membership. Lund cited the examples of Spain and Portugal who changed their forms of government from dictatorships to democracies to join the E.U. in the 1980s.
Lund also said that the E.U. considers a country’s human rights record when determining membership. He said that this has been a point of contention for Turkey, which is seeking to join the E.U.
Another student asked Lund about the controversy over the E.U. constitution, which was put up to a referendum in several countries last year. Many were shocked when France and Holland, two of the original E.U. member states, rejected the constitution by wide margins.
Lund said that he did not feel the voters in those two countries were rejecting the constitution itself but, rather, that it was a "protest vote" against the countries’ unpopular governments.
However, Lund said "People are less convinced today that the E.U. is a fantastic project… [They] are worried that [it] is becoming too powerful."
Root was impressed but not surprised by her students’ insightful questioning of the Ambassador.
"These are pretty bright kids," she said.
Diana Hasuly, director of Washington-Lee’s social sciences department, said "The students were well-prepared," having studied a packet about issues currently facing Europe prior to the Ambassador’s visit.
"They’re also well-trained," Root added jokingly.