500 millions of Europeans are celebrating Europe Day today. By doing so, we mark the anniversary of the historic speech of Robert Schuman, Foreign Affairs Minister of France, in which he called upon European nations to engage in an unprecedented integration process.
This year in particular, we also celebrate 70 years since the end of World War II, to the horrors of which Mr. Schuman’s initiative intended to be an ambitious but pragmatic response – perhaps the brightest ever.
Indeed, at a time when European leaders wished for an alternative to war, Robert Schuman simply showed that there should be no alternative to peace, provided of course that European nations accepted to work together and to share what they had been used to fight for: coal and steel first, assets and commodities later. No doubt he was right: 65 years after Robert Schuman’s declaration, the European Union is still enjoying the longest peace and progress period for centuries, and continues to be a land where democracy, freedom and prosperity flourish.
Yet for many people today, this close link between peace, stability and European integration seems now less obvious than it used to be just a few decades ago. 9 Europeans in 10 were not yet born at the end of World War II. In Eastern Europe, the younger generations who were born after the fall of the Iron Curtain have no direct recollection of what it means to live under dictatorship. It comes natural to some of us to take peace, democracy and prosperity for granted and to ignore the enormous role that the European Union played in getting us all here.
But this is a dangerous temptation: throughout the history of humanity, achievements such as peace, democracy and prosperity should never be taken for granted. The current international state of affairs reminds us that these achievements are not the rule, but the exception, and we should all be grateful to those who, before us, laid the foundation on which today we can enjoy a peaceful and prosperous European Union.
I would like this 9th of May to give us pause for thought: to imagine, for a second, where we would be all today, if there had been no European integration, no structural funds, no internal market, no cooperation across borders, no Erasmus. And if we find that we are far better off today than were our grandmothers and grandfathers in 1950, to remember to give thanks to Robert Schuman and to the architects of the European Union.