Europe Day: 70 years of the Schuman Declaration.

In honour of Europe Day, Hans-Gert Pöttering, Former President of the European Parliament and President of the European Parliament Former Members Association (FMA), has written an article on the current significance of the Declaration by the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman 70 years ago, on 9 May 1950, establishing a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).

Robert Schuman’s visionary proposals mark the beginning of the European integration process. Without them, today’s European Union (EU) would not exist. On the surface, these proposals dealt with instruments of economic power – coal and steel – which had previously been the raw materials needed to wage war. Yet underpinning Robert Schuman’s ideas were ideals: faith in reconciliation after the devastation of the Second World War, which saw Europe stare into the abyss; hope for a European legal order based on freedoms; a desire for cooperation and joint action; and a longing for peace and solidarity among Europe’s peoples. And this remains the challenge for us today. We have achieved much, but European integration is still under threat. New tasks now confront us. Fresh steps towards European unity have always been taken by solving specific problems. Our experience with the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that in future we need to find a common regulatory framework at EU level to deal with such crises, in order to rule out unilateral (!) national measures, such as border closures. Measures taken at European, national and local level must complement one another. Above all, barriers must not form in the minds of Europeans.

Yet in spite of all this, we have an opportunity here to demonstrate what the European Union really stands for. The initial failure by the Communist Government in Beijing to report the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan was a factor in the devastating spread of the pandemic. This highlights the value of our liberal, open society. It is not authoritarian or totalitarian regimes which are best placed to confront difficult challenges; no, a liberal, open society which is committed to the truth can offer the most effective response. Remembering Robert Schuman teaches us that we must defend our values: human dignity, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. And these values have to be protected, both within the Union and in our dealings with the rest of the world. Globalisation needs a set of rules. We must not allow Europe to be sold off, neither in moral nor in material terms.

The European Union is a community of law. Differences of opinion and conflicts are worked out by means of discussion and negotiation on the basis of the Treaties on which the EU is founded. The process is often difficult, wearisome and time-consuming. But it is done peacefully. And this is a new development in the history of Europe. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg has the final say on differences of opinion and disputes. Its decisions must be respected and complied with. This cornerstone of European unity must be resolutely defended. This is because might is not right: power flows from the law. The law ensures peace for us Europeans in the European Union.

The EU is not perfect, but it cannot be made the scapegoat when things go wrong. On the one hand, more and more is expected of it, and, on the other, the Member States are withholding the financial resources it needs. The discussions on the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework are an opportunity to remedy this state of affairs. The EU must act in a spirit of solidarity, as it currently is doing in response to the coronavirus pandemic, albeit after some initial difficulties. It is right that there should be discussion about which instruments to employ. And it must also be made clear that, if a Member State cannot solve a problem on its own (as in the case of migration), it is up to the European Union as a whole to address it in a spirit of solidarity.

The EU is no paradise on earth. But when we look out at the world, we can see that it is a privileged community of states, peoples and citizens. And we have Robert Schuman, among others, to thank for the fact that we are privileged. Our task is to live up to his ideals, now and in the future.