Europe Day reflections on 20 years of EU enlargement



Picture of Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica
Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica

Deputy Speaker and Member of the Latvian Parliament, former parliamentary state secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Trustee of Friends of Europe & 2017 European Young Leader (EYL40)

Picture of Tomáš Petříček
Tomáš Petříček

Senior Non-Residential Fellow at the Centre of Global Political Economy at the Institute of International Relations Prague (IIR) and 2020-2021 European Young Leader (EYL40)

Back to Europe

Tomáš Petříček, Senior Non-residential Fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, former Czech Minister for Foreign Affairs and 2020-2021 European Young Leader (EYL40)

Twenty years ago, the conclusion of the largest enlargement of the European Union marked a seismic shift in European history. It wasn’t merely about adding a few more countries to an already prosperous economic bloc. No, it was far more profound than that. It symbolised the aspirations of generations who endured the violent division of European cultural, social, economic and political space.

Jiří Dienstbier’s poignant term, “Back to Europe,” encapsulates this sentiment perfectly. It echoes the collective yearning for the reunification of people who shared a common dream—a dream of a better life, freedom, dignity and respect between people of different social or cultural backgrounds within a community founded on shared values and aspirations for the future.

This historic moment wasn’t just about a single market, cohesion funds, or freedom of travelling; it was about tearing down the barriers that had separated us Europeans for far too long. It was about reclaiming what a whole Europe means — a place where diversity thrives, unity can be achieved, tolerance and solidarity prevail over shortsighted self-interest and progress knows no bounds.

As we reflect on the past two decades, familiar clouds and shadows loom on the horizon—challenges we once believed we had overcome. Deepening social injustice, the spectre of war, resurgent nationalism and political violence threaten to undermine the progress we’ve made

After two decades of membership, many are losing faith in our Union’s ability to improve their lives.

Let us recall the spirit of determination and hope that propelled our journey “Back to Europe”. But let us also guard against the emergence of new barriers, physical and even more importantly in our minds, that threaten to divide us once again. Instead, let us cultivate a new ethos—a spirit of “Ahead for our Europe”. We must strive to create a Europe where everyone can enjoy a decent and secure life, where all individuals feel valued and respected in a society built on principles of tolerance, justice and solidarity. It is only by working together that we can overcome the challenges that lie ahead and build a Europe worthy of our collective aspirations.

The strength of Europe

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, Deputy Speaker and Member of the Latvian Parliament, former parliamentary state secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Trustee of Friends of Europe & 2017 European Young Leader (EYL40)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Latvia’s full membership in the EU, a milestone that invites reflection on our journey. While it’s easy to overlook the transformative strides we’ve made, the reality is far from that. Our accomplishments stand as testaments to the collective effort and unwavering commitment invested over the years.

The situation in aspiring countries like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, where the struggle for similar opportunities is evident, serves as a poignant reminder of the significance of our achievements. Their citizens demonstrate unbelievable courage, even risking their lives for the opportunities we in the EU often take for granted. This again underlines that we must appreciate what we have and be capable of defending our values and freedoms even more.

By recognising the fragility of democracy and attack on sovereignty, it is vital to confront aggressor states and stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies. Latvia is a team player—our support for Ukraine not only attests to our allegiance to European values but also affirms our readiness to hold accountable anyone jeopardising European values and rules-based international order.

The power and unity of the European Union has a direct impact on Latvia’s and other EU member states’ security, prosperity and confidence about the future. The strength of Europe is our strength

On Europe Day, let us not only celebrate our achievements but also reaffirm our commitment to defending the values and freedoms we cherish. Standing firm against any threat to democracy and our sovereignty, we will continue to support with any means necessary our allies and partners, actively engage in European initiatives and contribute to the strength and prosperity of the entire European Union.

This article is part two of a two-part series. The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe.

Related activities

view all
view all
view all
Track title


Stop playback
Video title


Africa initiative logo