Ladies and Gentlemen, mark your calendar because on 9 May it is Europe Day! You may not have known and wondered why such an event exists? Let me then briefly introduce you to some of the many reasons there are for celebrating Europe Day.
First of all, why not? On the 9 May we also celebrate the World Migratory Bird Day and the Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation for Those Who Lost Their Lives During the Second World War. Nevertheless, this date has been chosen for marking the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, which was delivered on the 9 May 1950. The speech the basis of what has evolved to become the European Union of today, originally outlined for renewing forms of cooperation and institutions in Europe, which would, in the long-term, make it unthinkable for European nations to launch a war amongst themselves.
Is not such an aim of strengthening peace and unity in Europe as legitimate as the ones behind the European Heritage Days, the European Day of Languages, the World Day of Social Justice or even the International Jazz Day and the International Day of Yoga? Why would anyone deny the European Union the opportunity to create momentum, once a year, for advancing such aims and to catalyse the efforts made at promoting, raising awareness as well as celebrating those goals? After all, the institutions, policies and even the existence of the Union itself are driven towards these goals, which is something we want to remember when thinking of the way the EU impacts our daily lives, be it by regulating banks to avoid a financial crisis; by making it easier for us to shop in another country; by enacting common rules regarding the environment that will prevent (cross-border) pollution and catastrophes; or by establishing high health and safety standards for our food and drinks. Ultimately, all of these actions bring Europeans together and ensure they cooperate around complex problems, rather than fight with each other over them.
A day of remembrance and celebration
A second good reason for organising Europe Day is to look back and be thankful, at least once a year, for what has been achieved so far by these policies and institutions and be mindful of those who contributed to this European vision becoming a reality. One should not easily forget the benefits brought by the European Union.
The list is long but we can underline a few of the many benefits, such as 60 years of peace on a continent that used to be ravaged by recurrent conflicts; reinforced cooperation among former enemies and blocs that are now more often than not facing the world with one voice; more democratic countries now respect European rules on discrimination, on independence of the press and the judiciary, as well as on the safeguard of the basis of a democratic state; freedom of movement across the EU to a degree never seen before that allows citizens to work, live, or study wherever they want in Europe; solidarity between countries, for example with the European Structural Funds, aimed at helping deprived regions in Europe, a value that ensures no one is left behind or that economic gaps do not widen, reducing fears and resentment between people; a common stance on the world stage when negotiating with other countries and blocs, for example at the World Trade Organisation or during summits on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; or even, thanks to the Single Market, with cheaper prices for the goods and services that we as citizens need in our daily life.
All of these are often taken for granted or disregarded by the media coverage, yet they do represent the results from battles hardly won over national fears and prejudices, successful compromises between politically opposed leaders and acts of courage on behalf of previous generations of inspired Europeans. As a perfect example of such courage, this year is a year for celebrating a victory of more democratic institutions and a greater say for European citizens at the European level.
Indeed, the European Parliament has finally been successful in its fight against the European Council on the process for electing the new President of the European Commission, instead of a candidate chosen at the discretion of the European Council as the result of a backroom deal, it is Jean-Claude Juncker, the official Spitzenkandidat from the European People’s Party (EPP) who, after the EPP, won the most seats in the 2014 European Parliament, and was elected by the European Council to head the European executive. This direct link between the results of the European Parliament’s elections and the choice for the head of the European Commission was thus made for the first time, proving that the votes of European citizens’ do count when choosing who will lead at the European level. So cheers to everyone, and let’s hope this was the start of a precedent that will be upheld at every European election.
A day for looking forward
Thirdly, although it is all good to celebrate, the EU and its policies are far from being perfect, as recently shown by the work of the Troïka in European countries under programmes. So much still needs to be realised in order to correct these situations and to address the endless list of issues that have risen on the European agenda. If it is true the Eurozone has avoided melt down thus far, a deal on the Greek situation is still very much needed. The same goes for the spectacular lack of a genuine European migration policy for countering the countless deaths of migrants trying to reach Europe as well as the ageing of the European population. And of course, let’s not forget to mention the current situation in Ukraine, where the Union struggles to develop a foreign policy that is consistent and respected by all its members; nor shall we forget the potential troublesome In/Out referendum on EU membership to be held in the United Kingdom. Yet again, this is only the tip of the iceberg as plenty of other issues are simultaneously developing precedent, such as: the establishments of the Digital Single Market, of a Capital Union, of an Energy Union, and of a Defense Union; or the implementations of the Banking Union and of the ambitious positions which need to be defended at the world climate negotiations.
This is why spending a day focusing on the EU, its weaknesses and not just its benefits, concentrating on how to find solutions that can be useful to the future of the European project. Particularly as the European Union has such a tremendous impact on the life of European citizens, who expect in turn that the EU policies adopted will be both effective at answering concerns as well as solving the challenges that have emerged in these policy domains.
A day for a genuine European vision
However in order to achieve this, it is not enough to be aware of the problems. We need to act decisively at the European level to create solutions, and that means to consider them from a European perspective, away from both national and partisan considerations, but rather in a way that ensures the best outcome for all European citizens, one that is fair and democratically sound, one that is reached despite monetary interests, personal interests and national prejudice or fears.
Beyond such a realisation that more needs to be done, a third argument strongly in favour of this event is that Europe Day should be a sounding board for the future, in favour of a strong and genuine European vision.
When would there otherwise be a better opportunity for reaffirming “Yes, I am pro-Europe. Yes, I believe that although the current policies and institutions are definitely not flawless, however we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and instead we should fight for improvements through changes made within the European Union for the greatest good of all European citizens.”?
Far from retreating into our national borders and communities, we should continue to defend a strong vision for our European continent. Not just a loose coordination of national decisions at the European level, or a Europe made of intergovernmental deals, but rather a future that empowers the institutions of the European Union, one that applies the subsidiarity principle in a positive way, freeing the European Commission and the European Parliament to truly act as an honest broker, as well as the voice of European citizens’ in every policy domain. A future that permeates true solidarity among Member States at the European level, even when it comes to transfers between countries or the development of a European budget having its own resources instead of national contributions.
This message is still relevant today, as one needs only to look at the British elections last night or the Greek ones, to see how the theme of Europe can be an influential factor and how we desperately need people to realise that the answer to current problems is definitively not less Europe, but more Europe.
Instead of doing nothing until we eventually agree on a new treaty, we can already achieve a world of difference within the current framework of the Lisbon Treaty, if we actually use all opportunities it contains in a genuine, European and transparent way, which is true to the original European dream of unity in diversity, instead of being satisfied with ourselves when the proposed solution is the lowest common denominator between national positions.
So for all these reasons I wish everyone a Happy Europe Day. Don’t forget to remember, celebrate, look forward, as well as reaffirm your commitment for a strong and genuine European vision!