During the 20th century, the European continent was ravaged by several wars. However, a new kind of hope emerged from the rubble of the Second World War; people were determined to put an end to international hatred and rivalry in Europe and create lasting peace.
Between 1945 and 1950, a handful of courageous statesman, Robert Shuman, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi and Winston Churchill, began to lay the foundations for a new Europe, based on shared interests and founded upon treaties guaranteeing the rule of law and equality between all countries.
On 9th May 1950 Shuman proposed establishing a European Coal and Steel Community. Whereby raw materials of war were being turned into instruments of reconciliation and peace.
The European Union encouraged German unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Afterwards, when the Soviet empire crumbled in 1991, the countries of central and Eastern Europe, were released from the ‘iron curtain’ and freed to choose their own destiny. Eight of them joined the EU in 2004, the same year in which Malta joined, and two more followed in 2007. The process of EU enlargement is still going on. Croatia, for example, will be the 28th member state of the EU in May 2013.
Security, Economic and Social Solidarity
Europe in the 21st century still faces security issues and has to work constructively with the regions just beyond its borders, like the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East. The fight against terrorism and organised crime requires the police forces of all EU countries to work together closely. Making the EU an ‘area of freedom, security and justice’ where everyone has equal access to justice and is equally protected by the law is a new challenge that requires close cooperation between governments. Bodies like Europol, the European Police Office and Eurojust also have to play an active and effective role.
From an economic point of view, European countries must continue pulling together if they are to ensure economic growth. No individual EU country is strong enough to fare alone in world trade. To achieve economies of scale and find new customers, European companies need a broader base than just their national home market, and the European single market provides it, a market of 500 million consumers.
Another important pillar is Europe-wide solidarity. This has clear tangible benefits for European citizens. The “Structural Funds” encourage and supplement the efforts of National Authorities to reduce inequalities between different parts of Europe. Such funds are used to improve the transport infrastructure, invest in renewable energy sources, education and training, etc… The global financial crises in 2008 required for the EU to provide financial assistance to the hardest-hit countries. In 2010 the EU led Member States to make a concerted effort to reduce their public debt. The big challenge of the EU countries is that in the years ahead together they will stand to face the global crises and find a way out of the recession into sustainable growth.
According to its values, the EU seeks to ensure that humankind is the beneficiary, rather than the victim, of the greater global changes that are taking place. The EU stands for a model of society that the great majority of its citizens support. Europeans cherish their rich heritage of values, which includes a belief in human rights, social solidarity, free enterprise, a fair distribution of fruits of economic growth, the right to a protected environment, respect for cultural, linguistic and religious diversity and a harmonious blend of tradition and progress.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union sets out all rights recognised today by the EU’s Member States and their citizens. Shared rights and values create a feeling of kinship between Europeans. To take just one example, all EU countries have abolished the death penalty.
In the long run however, all EU countries benefit. Sixty years of European integration has shown that the EU as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts and this is an added value in acting together and speaking with a single voice. Working together does not mean erasing the distinct cultural and linguistic identity of individual countries. On the contrary, many EU activities help promote regional specialities and the rich diversity of Europe’s traditions and cultures.