Time flies when you’re having fun, and that’s exactly why it seems like only yesterday when I was elected president of our beautiful network. Nevertheless, this is the last message as President of the Charter of European Rural Communities. After five years serving as your president, I will officially hand over the chairmanship by the first of August to my successor, who’s been elected by the Mayors’ Meeting in Romania. My dear friend, ms. Zsuzsanna Lukács from Nagycenk, Hungary, will be the 6th president of the Charter. I am very proud to be able to hand over the presidency to her. Not only will she be the first female and first president from the countries that have joined the European Union in the new century. Due to her experience within our network, she will also be able to take it to a next level. Together with her team, I am convinced will do an excellent job.
Dear Zsuzsanna, I wish you all the best of luck. Take good care of our Charter family, so the true Charter spirit of mr. Bouchet and Frans will stay alive. They would have been more than proud, and so am I.
16 years ago, I went to our town hall to apply for a passport, as I was going to visit an orphanage in Ukraine. Our late-mayor, mr. Frans Ronnes, was randomly interviewing citizens for his annual report, and his secretary, ms. Helma van Drunen, asked me if I had time to talk to him. During our meeting, I asked him how it was possible that a municipality in the Netherlands in 2007 had no international relationships. Because I didn’t know anything about the Charter yet. Well, those who’ve known Frans can imagine how the following hour went. His enthusiasm triggered me as well. A year later, I was asked to join a Dutch youth delegation to a meeting in Bucine, Italy. And that’s when it really happened: the Charter virus caught me and never let go. As president at the time, when the Charter was at the doorstep of its first multi-annual project, Frans asked me to take care of the youngsters part and that’s how I became the first official youth coordinator (we had no team yet). After that, I became chairman of the Dutch Friends of Europe association and five years ago, I became the fifth president of the Charter, the youngest one so far and the first one that was directly chosen by you, our members.
I spent halve of my life as an active member of our network. I travelled all over Europe and visited all your municipalities. I took part in several interesting workshops, had discussions over numerous topics and tasted spirits, wines and liquors I wished I never did. But most of all: I made dozens of friends for life. I am grateful for that, because during those fifteen years I found out that this is the most important thing. Therefore, our motto People meet People suits our family excellently. To my successor and to all of you, I would like to point out that this is exactly what it’s all about. We were founded in 1989 to make sure that the institutionalising Europe wouldn’t drift away from us, it’s citizens. Friendship is in our veins, it’s the core business of what we do. The projects en money we receive from Brussels, are means and not an objective on its own. Even without those, we will survive. Look where we are now; we survived a pandemic, found a solution to Euroscepticism and made sure that our network opened up to countries where the political climate changed over time. Our youngsters are now officially represented in our organisation structure and that’s so important for our future. A future with maybe more than 28 members, with more than 28 different cultures and thousands of habits. If we are united in our diversity and always look at things from a European, international perspective rather than our own, the Charter will be able to keep going on. But most of all, it will if we make sure to put friendship first. People meet people, exactly how our founder mr. Michel Bouchet and my big example mr. Frans Ronnes wanted to.
Live changes and brings new challenges. That’s why I wasn’t available for a second term and decided to hand over the presidency. I don’t want to say I will close the book, it’s just time for a new chapter. I would like to thank everybody I was able to cooperate with: my fellow Presidium members Annette, Joachim, Eucharist, Tomas, Frank, Zsuzsanna and Niall. Members of the YCT, web- & social media team and application team. All mayors, official representatives, hosts, organisers and all volunteers. Of course my dear secretary Hester, who will also say goodbye to our network. Thank you Hester, because I don’t know how I should have been able to do all the work without your help and support.
Furthermore, I would like to thank Friends of Europe Esch, the municipalities of Haaren and Boxtel and my dear husband for encouraging and supporting me. But most of all: I would like to thank you. The citizens from all over Europe, Friends from all over Europe. Thank you for everything and please make sure that we, that you will do this for many, many more years to come.
Merci, Danke, Tack, Kiitos, Aitäh, Gracias, Tak, Obrigado, Grazie, Hvala, Köszönöm, Paldies, Grazzi, Благодаря, Ďakujem, Mulțumesc, Dziękuję, ευχαριστώ, Ačiū, Děkuji dank jullie wel.
I will remain a friend of Europe for the rest of my life and I am honoured that my successor has invited me to join the upcoming annual meetings as former President.
And therefore I won’t say goodbye, but until we meet again. Somewhere in Europe.
5th President Charter of European Rural Communities
In case you want to keep in touch, don’t hesitate to contact me via the new presidium or Friends of Europe Esch.