Some celebrations are ritual, albeit ever joyful, while other reiterated yet low-tone events seem to have lost meaning, thrust, along with the roots that brought them to life. May 9 celebrates Europe Day: the date marks the anniversary of the historical ‘Schuman declaration’ released May 9 1950 by the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, who proposed – after the tragedy of the First World War – a new form of economic and political cooperation with other European Countries (divided by the Iron Curtain) aimed at peace-building and wellbeing. The Declaration, which ushered in the integration process, has led to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, (Treaty of Paris), placing the pillars of the EEC (European Economic Community, Treaty of Rome, 1957) and the ensuing community developments, that culminated with the European Union.
Hymn and flag. May 9 is celebrated with great participation in several EU member Countries, as well in some countries of the Council of Europe, the continental institution with 47 member States instead of the EU’s 28. On this date schools in cities across the EU hold special initiatives on the history of Community integration, remembering the contribution of the “founding fathers”, who naturally include Robert Schuman, with concerts that will resonate the “European hymn”, that is, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
In some cases a ceremonies were marked by the hoisting of the flag showing a circle of 12 stars on a blue background. Initiatives marking the day include sport competitions, role-games, debates and screenings.
Parliament institutions – European Parliament, Commission, Council, EU agencies, local EU offices present across member Countries – open their doors to raise awareness about the EU and EU citizenship.
Educational initiatives. In some cases Europe Day passes unnoticed, sometimes as a result of laziness, other times failing to convey an educational and pedagogical message that such a celebration can represent especially for the young generations. More often than not the anniversary is not celebrated as a result of hostility against Europe, viewed as the cause of all current crises: from the economic downturn to the refugee crisis, from the poor ability to respond to terrorism to accusations encroaching on national territory on the part of the EU.
In short, the decision not to “toast” to Europe is motivated by a detachment vis a vis the unity process of European peoples and States.
A lot could be said about these aspects, starting with a reflection on the responsibility of schools, media and political leaders to “explain” citizens the advantages, beyond objective limits, of the EU. It would lead to a reflection on the extent to which 500 million citizens of the EU are truly aware of what it means to be members of the EU today, which rights it ensures, which added value it brings to daily life.
Schuman’s words. It is especially significant that upon receiving the prestigious Charlemagne Prize, awarded by the Aachen Foundation bearing the same name, on May 6, ahead of Europe Day, Pope Francis amply quoted from the Schuman Declaration, as if indicating its role as a historical cornerstone, and a pillar for the present and the future of Europe. Bergoglio said: “Robert Schuman, at the very birth of the first European community, stated that ‘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.’” “Today – the Pope went on – in our own world, marked by so much conflict and suffering, there is a need to return to the same de facto solidarity and concrete generosity that followed the Second World War, because, as Schuman noted, ‘world peace cannot be safeguarded without making creative efforts proportionate to the dangers threatening it’”.
For the Pope, “the founding fathers were heralds of peace and prophets of the future”
“Today more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls. That vision urges us not to be content with cosmetic retouches or convoluted compromises aimed at correcting this or that treaty, but courageously to lay new and solid foundations.”
The figures of Adenauer and De Gasperi. To prevent his support to the EU from being underestimated or misunderstood, in the same speech Francis mentioned other two fundamental “fathers” of integration, two Catholics, just like Schuman: German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi. Today’s celebration, if appropriately understood, has the force to preserve the value of a major event that invites us to rediscover those roots and to look ahead, to the common future which – for the good and for the bad – awaits our Continent. It is yet another occasion to “feel” European, to give renewed thrust to the “common home”, whose foundations are to be found in that far May 9, 1950.