The European agenda is currently dominated by what we might call “difficult” themes. Many of these are highly technical, many of them which do not inspire the citizen. On the contrary, it is true to say that many of these themes have the effect of creating unease for the citizen.It is therefore important that Europe Day is an opportunity to reconnect with the vision of Robert Schumann and his inspirational declaration in 1950, only five years after the end of the Second World War. Schumann had a vision for Europe, but he knew that this would come into being through addressing practical needs. Such concrete achievements would, he believed, create a de facto solidarity between European countries. In the years which followed his declaration, the concrete achievement was the European Coal and Steel Community. This was the foundation for the new Europe. In 2013, we are again responding to a concrete necessity: we are working to create a Banking Union. This brings with it major challenges. However, it will also entail a new solidarity, as Schumann termed it, a deeper level of integration, as ground-breaking as that achieved in the 1950s.
The European Union has had a different resonance for different groups of member States. For the founding six countries, especially France and Germany, it meant the guarantee of peace between former adversaries. For the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, it has meant the resumption of their European vocation after years of communism. For Ireland, it meant a move from the periphery – a periphery which was not only geographic – to the European mainstream.This is Ireland’s seventh Presidency. We realise of course that there is a much broader agenda for Europe than our six months work programme. There is a wider context and that is the need for Europe to adapt to a rapidly changing world. Europe represents an ever smaller percentage of the world’s population, a smaller percentage of the world’s economic activity. It must therefore develop intelligently, it must innovate, it must remain competitive, it must use its comparative advantages.Let me recall that this is the last time that we celebrate Europe Day for a Union of 27 members. In a matter of weeks we will be welcoming Croatia as the 28th member State.