Europe Day: Leaders call for sustainable, peaceful future

EU’s past mistakes reveal importance of social cohesion, says Michael D Higgins

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech during the Future of Europe conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Sunday. Photograph: Jean-Francois Badias/EPA

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech during the Future of Europe conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Sunday. Photograph: Jean-Francois Badias/EPA

 

Heads of State from across the EU have called on European countries to show strength and leadership in moving towards a sustainable, climate neutral future while continuing to advocate for peace and reconciliation.

President Michael D Higgins joined European leaders on Sunday in calling on people to continue advocating for a “a Europe that is whole, free, united and at peace” to mark Europe Day.

Held on May 9th each year, Europe Day celebrates the union’s peace and unity and marks the anniversary of the Schuman declaration - a speech by former French foreign minister Robert Schuman in 1950 where he laid out his idea for a new form of European political cooperation.

The following year, the treaty of Paris set up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), while the European Economic Community which followed went on to become the European Union. Ireland joined the community with Denmark and the United Kingdom in January 1973.

More than 20 European presidents signed Sunday’s letter which calls on member states to take part in a broad and inclusive discussion on the EU’s future priorities. It notes that this year’s Europe Day also marks the beginning of the Conference on the Future of Europe - a citizen-led series of discussions on how to shape the future of the union.

Climate change

The pandemic has reminded European citizens of “what is truly important in our lives: our health, our relationship with nature, our relationships with our fellow human beings, mutual solidarity and working together,” the letter reads. “It has opened up questions about the way we live our lives. It has showed the strengths of European integration, as well as its weaknesses.”

New methods and solutions are needed to face the challenges of climate change, to balance the increasing competition among global actors and the digital transformation of our societies, it adds.

While the EU may have seemed ill-equipped to deal with the financial crisis and the ongoing pandemic, “we are aware that it would be much harder for each of us if we were alone”, it reads.

“We need a strong and effective European Union, a European Union that will be a global leader in the transition to sustainable, climate neutral, and digitally supported development.”

Disenchantment

In his own message, Michael D Higgins urged people to reflect on the current circumstances facing Europe, including “the sources of disenchantment that have produce a sometimes raucous, angry and disappointed discourse”.

He underlined that recent years had shown what can happen if proponents of European co-operation make the case for growth and development “in purely economic and monetary terms”.

“Too often, as we engage in the important and necessary debate on how to improve and strengthen the European Union, we neglect to refer to the many benefits of EU membership,” said Mr Higgins.

He noted that European citizens were still reverberating from the 2008 economic disaster and ensuing austerity policies that “reduced cohesion and widened inequalities”.

The mistakes of the past have done “untold damage to the social fabric” of the EU and should hold an important lesson on the need to focus on social cohesion as countries emerge from the pandemic, he said.

EU member states must draw on the “indomitable instincts of solidarity and ingenuity” that have emerged during the pandemic, and reflect on the the weaknesses of the current model of existence, to embrace a future “founded on universalism, sustainability and equality”, said the President.

Also marking Europe Day, the European Movement Ireland group tweeted a video of John Hume speaking in Strasbourg in 1998. In the clip, Hume says that the EU was “the best example, as we have learned, in the history of the world of conflict resolution”.

“The philosophy that created European Union and the peace of Europe is the philosophy that is at the heart of our (Belfast) agreement,” said Hume. “Respect for difference and for diversity.”