Peace is something worth fighting for every single day.

The primary raison d'être of the European Union is always said to be that the EU has secured peace among its members for more than seven decades. Another compelling argument for Europe is how it has helped countries of the former Eastern bloc to re-integrate with the West something that would never have been possible in such a short time without the Union. The European Union gives people a sense of belonging and fosters a European identity.

But peace is not something to be taken for granted; and war is the most terrible experience human beings can go through. For people like me, born in the 1960s, war is still very present. We remember our grandparents' and great-grandparents' stories of wartime cruelty and our parents' tales of post-war poverty, which made us feel shamefully privileged compared to them. When we didn't want to go to school, they would say they wished they had had a chance to get an education like us.

It has taken two generations to build Europe as we know it. Now all of us – to different degrees – are reaping the benefits of Europe.

Today war seems a remote prospect in the European Union. But the impossibility of war cannot be assumed. War does not come like a bolt from the blue. We only need to look back in history – to the 1930s financial crisis that triggered the Depression, plunging millions of people into poverty, and then the Nazis seizing their chance to blame the Jews for all of it. Any resemblance to real events taking place now is …well, something to think about.

Peace is fragile. Poverty, or the fear of it, can make people receptive to the false messages of seducers.

All of us have a duty to stand up to these demagogues, xenophobes and illiberals: to call their bluff, but also to provide real answers to the challenges ahead, the challenges of digitalisation, robotisation, climate change and migration.

Finding solutions requires a culture of compromise. Seeking compromise involves listening and speaking to each other, understanding each other's point of view and countering arguments with better arguments, but also making concessions.

In the Committee we have put compromise at the centre of our work. This guarantees that the opinions and concerns of all citizens – employers and workers – are respected.

Politicians in the Member States and at EU level also need to promote what unifies, not what divides, and to seek compromises that can be accepted in their countries and at European level. This requires a culture of mutual respect and respect for Europe's values.

I am convinced that we can reach good compromises that are consistent with our European values, whether in relation to internal EU issues, our neighbourhood policy or our stance in the world. 

Without peace, there is no growth, and without growth there is no sustainable development. Let us not take peace for granted, but work together to preserve it by building bridges: everybody wins when we live in peace.

Luca Jahier

EESC President