Marianne Van Steen | The European Union of the future

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TRADITIONALLY, MAY 9 is observed as Europe Day because it is the anniversary of the signing of the historic Schuman Declaration in 1950, which is the foundation of peaceful cooperation and good neighbourly relations in Europe. The cornerstone of the declaration, calling for the establishment of a ‘European Coal and Steel Community’ (ECSC), committed the founding members – France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg – to pool the management of coal and steel. These were the most essential ingredients for war at that time. The underlying idea was not only to avoid any future war on the European continent, but also to make it ‘materially impossible’.

The ECSC was not just one of the first post-war ‘supranational’ institutions, it kick-started the very long and complex process of building the European Union (EU) we know today. The process has been incremental, with various and alternating phases of enlargement and deepening. We were six when we started and with 27 now, we have become a unique economic, monetary, banking and political union. In addition, we are well on the way to forming a defence ‘union’, a process that started in 2009 and which became even more pertinent in light of Russia’s military aggression on Ukraine. We remain imperfect and we are often challenged, but we have gradually become a key player on the international scene.

UNITED IN DIVERSITY Similar to the motto of Jamaica, ‘Out of Many, One People’, in the EU it is ‘United in Diversity’. We are 450 million people, we have 24 official languages, some of us used to be part of the same country, and some of us fought against each other. We have different religions and different cultures, we eat different foods and live in different ecosystems. With all this diversity, it is hard to overstate that we could never have achieved what we did without embracing a common set of values. While the world continues to evolve, the binding glue that keeps us together is our strong belief in democracy, the rule of law, freedom, equality, human dignity and human rights. These values are not exclusive to the European Union but are enshrined in many other post-war multilateral endeavours, not least among them, the United Nations.

Unfortunately, in the 21st century, competing visions and agendas are more and more at play. They challenge our most fundamental values, our binding glue. Thus, this year, Europe Day is all about the Union of the future: a Union reaching out to those countries that share the same beliefs. These are countries that can be brought together to speak out with strength, such as what we witnessed on March 2, when 141 member countries of the United Nations strongly condemned Russia for its unprovoked, brutal invasion of a peaceful country, Ukraine. This act of aggression is likely to figure in future history books as the most blatant violation of our post-war, international rules-based order.

Our values and global challenges strengthen the European Union’s intention to reach out, to establish alliances, and to call for more, not less, multilateral governance and rules-based international cooperation. In this spirit, we are intensifying efforts to build and strengthen partnerships with like-minded countries such as Jamaica and other CARICOM countries. These states have not hesitated to speak out to defend their values in multilateral fora. They believe, just like the European Union, that keeping silent when confronted with challenges of this magnitude is not an option. Might does not make right, only the international law does.

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