🇪🇺 What Europe Day means to Europeans
Marking the anniversary of the historic Schuman Declaration on 9 May, Europe day celebrates peace and unity in Europe. But why do we celebrate it? and what does it mean to Europeans?
Today, Tuesday 9th May 2023, is Europe Day.
Celebrated yearly, Europe Day marks the anniversary of French foreign minister Robert Schuman’s speech on 9 May 1950, where he outlined his idea for a new form of European cooperation intended to make war between European nations unthinkable.
One of the 11 founding fathers of the European Union, Schuman proposed what has now become one of the pivotal building blocks of the European Union with the help of another founding father, Jean Monnet.
While Altiero Spinelli had previously written the ‘Manifesto for a free and united Europe’ (a.k.a the Ventotene Manifesto) in 1941, it was the Schuman Declaration that launched the development of the institutions that we fight for today.
So let’s find out what this declaration is and why it matters.
The Schuman Declaration
Europe was still struggling in 1950 after the devastation of World War II. Even after five years of picking up the pieces and the beginning of the US Marshall Plan, there was no end to the reconstruction required to rebuild the continent.
It is for this reason that a certain French Foreign Minister made a proposed a radical plan that would cross national boundaries and would be used to prevent war between two nations that had a long history of conflict.
The Schuman Declaration is considered one of the founding acts that led to the modern European Union, proposing the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) to pool the production of these key industries.
With six founding members (France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg), the ECSC was the first of several supranational European institutions that would eventually merge to form what we know as the European Union.
However, what was said as part of the Schuman Declaration? Thankfully, due to the excellent European Parliament archives, this important, ground-breaking speech is available to us all today, and you can read the speech below:
And if you won’t want to read the whole thing, I summarised the main points below and won’t be offended if you scroll down to it
World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.
The contribution which an organized and living Europe can bring to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations. In taking upon herself for more than 20 years the role of champion of a united Europe, France has always had as her essential aim the service of peace. A united Europe was not achieved and we had war.
Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany. Any action taken must in the first place concern these two countries.
With this aim in view, the French Government proposes that action be taken immediately on one limited but decisive point.
It proposes that Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organization open to the participation of the other countries of Europe. The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims.
The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible. The setting up of this powerful productive unit, open to all countries willing to take part and bound ultimately to provide all the member countries with the basic elements of industrial production on the same terms, will lay a true foundation for their economic unification.
This production will be offered to the world as a whole without distinction or exception, with the aim of contributing to raising living standards and to promoting peaceful achievements. With increased resources Europe will be able to pursue the achievement of one of its essential tasks, namely, the development of the African continent. In this way, there will be realised simply and speedily that fusion of interest which is indispensable to the establishment of a common economic system; it may be the leaven from which may grow a wider and deeper community between countries long opposed to one another by sanguinary divisions.
By pooling basic production and by instituting a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries, this proposal will lead to the realization of the first concrete foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace.
To promote the realization of the objectives defined, the French Government is ready to open negotiations on the following bases.
The task with which this common High Authority will be charged will be that of securing in the shortest possible time the modernization of production and the improvement of its quality; the supply of coal and steel on identical terms to the French and German markets, as well as to the markets of other member countries; the development in common of exports to other countries; the equalization and improvement of the living conditions of workers in these industries.
To achieve these objectives, starting from the very different conditions in which the production of member countries is at present situated, it is proposed that certain transitional measures should be instituted, such as the application of a production and investment plan, the establishment of compensating machinery for equating prices, and the creation of a restructuring fund to facilitate the rationalization of production. The movement of coal and steel between member countries will immediately be freed from all customs duty, and will not be affected by differential transport rates. Conditions will gradually be created which will spontaneously provide for the more rational distribution of production at the highest level of productivity.
In contrast to international cartels, which tend to impose restrictive practices on distribution and the exploitation of national markets, and to maintain high profits, the organization will ensure the fusion of markets and the expansion of production.
The essential principles and undertakings defined above will be the subject of a treaty signed between the States and submitted for the ratification of their parliaments. The negotiations required to settle details of applications will be undertaken with the help of an arbitrator appointed by common agreement. He will be entrusted with the task of seeing that the agreements reached conform with the principles laid down, and, in the event of a deadlock, he will decide what solution is to be adopted.
The common High Authority entrusted with the management of the scheme will be composed of independent persons appointed by the governments, giving equal representation. A chairman will be chosen by common agreement between the governments. The Authority's decisions will be enforceable in France, Germany and other member countries. Appropriate measures will be provided for means of appeal against the decisions of the Authority.
A representative of the United Nations will be accredited to the Authority, and will be instructed to make a public report to the United Nations twice yearly, giving an account of the working of the new organization, particularly as concerns the safeguarding of its objectives.
The institution of the High Authority will in no way prejudge the methods of ownership of enterprises. In the exercise of its functions, the common High Authority will take into account the powers conferred upon the International Ruhr Authority and the obligations of all kinds imposed upon Germany, so long as these remain in force.
From the get-go, Schuman calls back to the destruction the war had wrought across the world and calls for creative solutions that would allow responsible actors to at least attempt to build lasting peace not only in Europe but globally.
However, he’s also very cautious throughout the speech to remind the listener and those who would come after that this was far from simple and that there was no easy answer.
Schuman highlights that constructing a more peaceful and safe Europe would not be done “all at once” or with “a single plan” but would be built over the long term through the strengthening of solidarity between Europeans.
This would require “the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany” and that the construction of Europe could only be achieved if the right actions were taken, which “must in the first place concern these two countries”
For this reason, Robert Schuman proposed pooling French and German coal and steel production, managed by a common High Authority, which other states could join. However, there is one key part of this speech.
“The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims.”
Robert Schuman wanted to see Europeans cooperating and working together to overcome a history of violence and warfare and to instead put the key European industries to use in building something positive that would repair our collective wounds.
And the rest, as I’m sure you well-read folks know, is history.
But what does Europe mean to you?
While The French Dispatch is here to help in everyone’s education on political matters, and while it’s important to know our history, Europe is a human project that is built on what we as Europeans want for our future.
It’s therefore logical that we listen to what Europeans from across the continent feel about Europe, what Europe Day means for them, and why they support the European Project.
And as you all know, we atare a democratic bunch who like to share what we think and feel about what is important to us, so...
In keeping with my very democratic tendencies, I asked you all to share what you think about the Europe project and what Europe means for you and boy, did you guys deliver.
Chapeau, mesdames et messieurs.
Sadly, as much as I’d love to, I cannot share what every person sent me as this article would end up taking 40 minutes to read.
To simplify things somewhat, I should note that, for the majority of respondents, Europe = the European Union, and this is also a definition that I will be sticking to, for the most part.
Your responses made it very clear that Europe / the European project are seen as emancipators. The common thread throughout the responses was the European Union being viewed as a project promoting freedom, peace, democracy, and life across open borders between sovereign, allied states.
And this was a common theme running through the responses, with the same words being mentioned constantly: “Prosperity”, “freedom”, “democracy”, “hope”, “progress”, “potential”
The European Union, was described as “a sovereignty Enhancer” by Labour Councillor for West Kensington Florian Chevoppe-Verdier, and for others, it was highlighted as “another identity”
These have all been supported by what the pro-Europeans and even the Eurosceptics have said. Ciarán Ó Drisceoil, the Policy and Research Officer at European Movement Ireland, had this to say
“A route to achieve things together that cannot be solved alone, the results of which will benefit the people of Europe. And provide an anchor and shelter for smaller Member States, such as Ireland.”
Dr Charles Tannock, a Former Conservative MEP, saw the EU as being the unifier of Europe and the vehicle through which European nations could resolve the issues they cannot handle individually.
, a strategist from the European federalist party, Volt Europa, agreed, saying that the Europe symbolised "The realization that nation states can’t hack it alone on the world stage".
“Peace, prosperity, security and a crystallised vision of diverse peoples united in a sui generis unique polity, the EU, against the great global challenges of the future, which European nations acting alone cannot solve.”
Often, we look purely at the current and former EU member states, but there’s a lot to be gleaned from how future members think about Europe. A good Ukrainian friend of mine had this to say, for example:
“As a Ukrainian: a pivot to the future and inclusion after three decades of insular eastwards refusal to relinquish the shackles of Russian influence that has gripped us for centuries. An understanding of what has been experienced and a refusal to repeat toxic mistakes.”
For many, however, Europe isn’t necessarily political or geopolitical, but something far closer to home and more important: a safe home to go to., for example, shared this as she works on her move to Europe.
Helen shared how Europe means the ability to have a home anywhere you would like, and being able to move and work easily:
“We lived in Spain, Germany and Belgium and I loved being able to move to those places and work there so easily. Culture - *old* culture - of all sorts too - the first thing I visit in a new city is either a church or a museum.”
For others, it’s as simple as the ability to experience life freely across the continent, to study and grow, and to fall in love and create families. As Iggy shared, he met his partner through an Erasmus exchange, and their “3 children would not exist, were it not for the EU”
Peter likewise said very similar, sharing that his “brother is in Finland, my in-laws are Spanish. I’ve worked and lived in Paris,” and Louise Rowntree, a former Liberal Democrat candidate, describe the European Union in a way that many would agree:
“My country. My team. My identity. My children’s future.”
However, because we’re fair here, we must also look at the more conflicted or ‘negative’ points of view on Europe, as nothing is perfect and we don’t live in a utopia.
Connor Allen, a communications expert and good friend of mine, had one of the more interesting and nuanced points of views on this:
“Beautiful ideals tainted by bitter disappointment. People like you and I fought long and hard for my country to remain members of the EU. But the union bears at least some responsibility for Brexit. It has failed its neighbourhood and often fails its members.”
And he’s right. While I didn’t wasn’t from the UK, I still fought for several years across several campaigns for the UK’s position in the European Union, working with all parties to try to support the right causes and defend citizens’ rights.
And while the vast majority of the blame for Brexit falls squarely on the United Kingdom and its political leaders, there European Union also made several mistakes over it’s history that directly fed into the crisis and made it possible.
Many of these are, naturally, the result of a system that requires consensus between states that may not have always had the same immediate concerns at the beginning of the project, and which led to some acrimonious situations.
And this is sometimes missing from our discussions and imagery of Europe and the EU: many choose to brush our failures under the carpet and try to ignore the fact that when we fail, we fail collectively.
Nothing is ever perfect, which is why so many of us are working to help the European Union to achieve its potential, and why some of the fights over the end goal can be so violent.
Of course, some people go completely another way, with Rory removing the EU itself from the equation entirely:
“Europe’s a continent with shared cultural, political and military history. We share not just that but, for most of us, our DNA. Doesn’t mean we need to buy into centralising political super-state that rejects enlightenment values. Europe is not EU!”
Which is also a valid view of Europe. It’s perfectly valid to view Europe, and even celebrate Europe Day, without making a connection to the European Union.
Even if the European project is being constructed around a political pole, there is still far more that connects us through our culture and history.
However, I would still make the argument that our shared political and military history is exactly why we have found ourselves travelling towards this point in our collective history, and why our countries have chosen to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.
What do we do with all of this
So, we know how this all started, we know what idea fuelled the initial launch of the European project, why it’s been so important, and what Europe and the European Union means to its citizens.
But what do we do with all of this information? I mean, sure, learning about our history and how it makes us feel is great and all, but what can we actually do with this?
To cap this off, and to make one final point, I want to share one final idea about Europe that I agree with, and which represents a mentality that personally fuels all of my work, courtesy of Gabriele:
“To me, Europe it's about hope for the future. We can show the rest of the world that a free, democratic, inclusive, fair and sustainable society can exist – no matter the cultural differences –and that they can aim for that too.”
I would argue that this mentality, this hope, is essential not only in how we view Europe, our European Union, and how we fight for it but, most importantly, in how we engage in politics and our lives more broadly.
As you undoubtedly read from the entirety of the Schuman Declaration, the hope for the future that it represented brought Europe out of an immediate political and industrial darkness. This hope drove the development of the ECSC and the subsequent institutions that, eventually, formed the European Union.
To bring it down to a more human level, hope is that drives us across our lives. We are sent to school in the hopes that we become more educated. We go to university in the hopes of learning more about ourselves and learning the essential skills to make it in life.
We work in the hopes of earning what we need to live happy, fulfilling lives, where we meet new people in the hopes of making new friends and finding new, fascinating ways of viewing the world around us.
We vote because there’s something that we care about and which makes us hopeful. We protest, we argue, and we debate because there’s some cause we want to fight for, something that we want to raise up out of hope or tear down before it destroys hope.
Ultimately, hope is what is necessary in politics and daily life. Without hope, we have no reason to get up in the morning, to engage in politics at any level and in any state.
Unless you’re hell-bent on aggressively forging and profiting from some Kafkaesque kleptocracy or oligarchy, that is, in which case, please unsubscribe from this newsletter.
Without hope, none of what has been fought for throughout the history of our civilisations would have been won: voters’ rights, women's rights, an end to slavery; scientific and cultural progress would have been far slower, if existent at all.
This is what we celebrate on May 9th. This is why we celebrate #EuropeDay, whether you think it as a celebration of the European Continent or the European Union (or, soyons fous, the Council of Europe for you madmen out there)
Europe Day is a celebration of the hope that lifted Europe out of its darkest period of history, that transformed the lives of millions, and which has, undoubtedly, made the world a freer, fairer, safer place.
I would love to hear more about what you all think below in the comments, so please don’t hesitate to share how you feel!
And on that note: Happy Europe Day, and long live the European Union.
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I've always felt that Europe and the European Union are wholly different things. Europeans might love Europe, but if the EU elicits any real emotion it's connected to material gain or material security. Free money trumps free markets and free movement.
I spent a decade in Poland, seeing how it transformed under EU membership - it lost a generation of young people and ended up an economic colony of Germany.
I spent 5 years in Italy, a country whose economy has been stagnant since adopting the Euro and replaced democracy with theatre when they realised the policies people wanted would never be allowed by Brussels.
I've come back to the UK now, a country which should never have joined a political and legal union with countries whose legal and political systems work in such an utterly different manner and on such a different basis to its own.
My friends in Germany are rather pessimistic about the whole project now - as Germany rapidly deindustrialises the whole need to keep propping up other countries as markets for middle class German goods becomes an anachronism.
I'll always love Europe, but it's not a synonym for a bureaucrat or politician's centralised vision.
Thanks for the mention! 💙🇪🇺