For the Christmas break this year, I drove with my partner from Geneva in Switzerland to Ružomberok in Slovakia. In doing so, we crossed a number of international borders: Switzerland to Austria; Austria to Germany; Germany to Austria; Austria to Hungary (took a wrong turn after Vienna; if you're ever going that way, don't follow the signs to Bratislava on the motorway, they'll take you via Györ, it's a good bit longer); Hungary back to Austria, and Austria to Slovakia. Six borders, and we didn't show our passports once.
This, of course, is one of the most striking advances made by the European Union; and the extent to which it has been consolidated is illustrated by the extent to which those of us from the old EU-15 states at least now take such freedom of movement completely for granted. My experience on the trip to Slovakia did not really strike me as in any way remarkable until an even more recent trip to the US, where the difference could not have been more stark. After some checking to ensure that my passport was machine readable - and I was thus eligible for the visa waiver programme, I still had to have both a digital photograph and two fingerprints taken before I could enter the country.
This is not, however, intended to add to the chorus of voices criticising the US for recent security measures; rather it is to insist that the extraordinary advances made within the EU - so accepted now as to be almost overlooked by those long used to benefitting from them - be accorded their rightful place in any evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of the Union. It has many well-publicised shortcomings; it would be a huge error, however, to allow these to dominate discourse to the exclusion of its incredible achievements. Of course, these benefit, in global terms, only a select few; however, to arrive at this point in a continent so recently divided by two world wars and one cold one, is certainly no mean feat.