Spending two days in Lithuania this week was a refreshing contrast from Britain. The enthusiasm there for the EU would make British tabloids go beserk.
Lithuanians approved EU membership in a referendum with over 91% voting in favour. It was the first country to ratify the constitutional treaty. It had hoped to be the first eastern European country to join the euro on 1 January 2007, but was pipped to the post by Slovenia. In its national Parliament, a leather bound original copy of its Treaty of Accession to the EU is prominently displayed in a glass case with an array of European flags behind it. (Should I suggest to Jack Straw, as Leader of the House, that the Commons do the same?)
I was there to meet national MPs to discuss what to do about the stalled constitutional reform of the EU, but I was invited to give a lecture while there to academics and MPs. I expected a small group of elderly specialists but found the room full of young people and the event transmitted by video conference to universities across the country, whose panels also put questions to me in the three-hour long session. It was also webstreamed over the internet. Somehow I can’t see the same happening if I gave a talk in Westminster!
Of course, in a town like Vilnius, they appreciate all the more the peace and stability that European integration brings. This town was Russian until 1917, part of Poland until 1940, occupied by Stalin's troops for a year until Hitler invaded, murdering the substantial Jewish community, until the Soviets returned in 1945. It became the capital of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania, and the capital of the newly independent state when the USSR broke up just 15 years ago.
Take something as mundane as street signs: within a single person's lifetime, they have changed from Polish to Russian (in cyrillic alphabet) to German to Russian again and finally to Lithuanian.
We often take the peace and stability aspect of the EU for granted. Yet it was and remains a fundamental motive for the whole project. As the recent Finnish Prime Minister, Paavo Lipponnen, said: "What value do you place on even one hour of peace?"