With the European Union the subject of political debate at the moment it is good to be reminded of how and why it was created.
Today is Europe Day, held every year to mark a speech that Robert Schuman made on 9 May 1950, the Schuman Declaration. This invited all European countries to manage their coal and steel industries jointly and democratically in Europe’s first supranational community. A year later six founder members signed the treaty that set up the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner to the European Union.
Robert Schuman was a man of many cultures. Born in Luxembourg, he obtained his law degree in Germany, fought for the French Resistance in the Second World War, and rose in 1947 to become Prime Minister and later Foreign Minister of France. He was also instrumental in creating NATO.
A deeply religious man, he trained in law, economics, political philosophy, theology and statistics. He was a strongly independent thinker, and having experienced at first hand the atrocities of war, his vision was to create “an organisation putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace”, drawing on the “ingenious and generous” thinkings of “audacious minds” such as Dante, Erasmus, Abbé de St Pierre, Rousseau, Kant and Proudhon, and avoiding impractical systems as outlined by Thomas More in Utopia, “itself a work of genius”. “The European spirit signifies being conscious of belonging to a cultural family and to have a willingness to serve that community in the spirit of total mutuality, without any hidden motives of hegemony or the selfish exploitation of others”. (Quotes from a speech he made on 16 May 1949)
To mark the day the European Parliament opened its doors to the public on Saturday 4 May. Over 20,000 visitors were able to experience the Parliament’s electronic voting system, see an exhibition about the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and a debate between MEPs about a citizens’ Europe.