Oliver H Schmidt is passionate about Europe – Never before in its entire history has the European Union been challenged as today, in 2016. However, the idea of peace, freedom and welfare for all citizens of the Union is still very much worth to be protected.
Something is in motion in Europe.
For several weeks now, thousands of people in Germany have taken to the streets to rally for a united Europe. A married couple from Frankfurt started a citizens’ initiative under the banner “Pulse of Europe”. The movement was triggered by the outcome of the British referendum and the American presidential elections. By now, citizens from almost 40 cities in Germany have participated. And new cities join in each Sunday, now even in the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, Austria and Portugal.
In South-East Europe, in Romania, already hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets over the last few weeks, protesting the new government’s plans to soften laws against corruption. On 26 February, some of them used blue and yellow cloths and the flashlights of their mobiles to adorn the night sky above Bucharest with a vivid Flag of Europe.
Poland, in turn, has already seen several rallies in the past 14 months. Countless Poles are in protest of the numerous of ways in which the new Polish government represses the Polish constitutional court, the freedom of the press and pluralism. The Flag of Europe was waived almost as often as the Polish flag. European core values are at stake in Poland these days.
Meanwhile, in Great Britain, many local citizens’ initiatives have started to fight against a looming hard Brexit. They are planning a protest march on London on 25 March.
In Rome itself, a people’s march of EU citizens is also scheduled for 25 March, the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. Numerous organizations are calling on citizens to participate.
More and more people across Europe seem to realise that the preservation of the European Union and the defence of fundamental European values need their active and visible support.
“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.” These words by Robert Schuman from his famous declaration of 9 May, 1950 are as true as ever!
Sixty years ago, on 25 March, 1957, the heads of state and government of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg signed the Treaties of Rome. It was a wonderful day for the people of Europe – not only for the people of the six founding nations, but for all the people in Europe!
The Treaties included the Treaty on the European Atomic Energy Community as well as the Agreement on the Community Institutions and the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, the latter becoming the grand predecessor of the European Union we know today.
The documents are some of the “concrete achievements” of which Robert Schuman had spoken. They were based on the European Idea, the notion of freedom, peace and prosperity for every European citizen. This idea, in turn, was the right and appropriate response to the barbarism of Fascism and the misery and horror of two world wars.
The Treaties of Rome have lived up to their promises. They have brought stability to the founding nations as well as to the whole of Europe later on. The Treaty establishing the European Economic Community has removed tariffs and boosted the free movement of goods and free consumption. It has strengthened the prosperity of its citizens. Under Article 48, it has promoted the freedom of movement that has become so natural to us, the citizens of the European Union. All told, the Treaties are the birth certificate of the new, united Europe. That is why 25 March should give us so much reason for happiness, even gratefulness and is an occasion of joyful celebration – not only for politicians and the media, but very specifically for each and every citizen of the European Union.
However, on the 60th anniversary of this event, there are great concerns about the inner solidarity of the European Union. The elections in the Netherlands and France will take place very soon. Germany will cast its votes in September. Italy will follow sooner or later; that means that four of the six founding nations will probably elect a new government in the next 12 months. What’s more is that some British want to exit the Union, at least the majority of those who participated in the referendum of 23 June last year. Populists and demagogues are still on the rise everywhere, former and new nationalists are crawling out from under their rocks. The spectre of a collapsing European Union is hunting Europe.
It is uncontroversial that the European Union needs to be reformed. Such reform is essential and urgent. However, the fact that the joint Union needs reform so much does not make it bad. On the contrary: the European Union is a great achievement, maybe even the greatest in European history.
An elementary reform is based on the precondition that the vast majority of the citizens wants the common Union. Only if the citizens actively support the Union in their hearts and minds the Union has a future. Otherwise, it will fail. That is certain. A unified Europe no longer comes for free for its citizens. And it does not come any longer without their commitment and engagement. Today, the Union needs its citizens. Our times have made it necessary that the citizens of the European Union stand up and raise their voices, to show dedication, to defend the common Union and to fight for it. The faster everybody realizes that, the better for Europe!
There are countless reasons for committing to a united Europe! Consider freedom: It has been guaranteed for more than 60 years now, first in the Western part of Central Europe and Northern Europe, then in Portugal, Greece and Spain, and as of 1989 even in Eastern Europe; both the member states and the Union have promoted freedom vigorously. Consider the triumph over European nationalism by the common institutions: stability and peace have been the Union’s gifts to Europe to this day. Consider economic growth, which was mentioned above. Consider the great values of Article 2 of the Treaty or the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Or consider the plain fact that the common Union is the best guarantee and insurance for the assertion of the joint interests of all citizens of the European Union in the 21st century. There are many more reasons… And those who are unsatisfied with today’s state of the Union and its institutions have even more reason to become active. Once again: to become active and to participate in creating a better Europe instead of running away or even trying to destroy the common Union.
Now, just imagine for a moment: in nearly two weeks, on 25 March, everywhere in Europe citizens of the Union are taking to the streets to send out a clear signal. They would do so in the different member states of the Union, but in a common spirit. Because of joy about the occasion and what it means for a peaceful, united and strong Europe! Wouldn’t that be a “de facto solidarity” of these citizens? And which other “concrete achievements” could come from it?
Nine months ago, the European civil society sleepwalked to the British referendum. It is not too late for the citizens to wake up, to preserve unity and to uphold the progress of the Union – but it is certainly high time…!
In the West-Germany of the 1960s, a young generation asked their parents and grand-parents where they had been in 1933 when the Fascists took over power, and what they had done during the 12 years of German darkness, which side they had been on.
Even though history does not simply repeat itself, it does rhyme to a certain extent. Twenty or thirty years from now, a young generation might, once again, ask their parents some questions. Only this time all across Europe.
Maybe that young generation will then ask some of the following questions: Where were you back then, in 2017, when the sheer existence of the European Union was at stake? Where were you when the common Union needed your support because it so urgently needed reform? Where were you when all the nationalists crawled out from under their rocks trying to destroy the wonderful achievement of European unity? Where were you when elections were being held and you would have needed to send a signal? And where were you when those supporting the common European Union in Britain needed an even stronger signal from the Continent? Where were you when the independence of the judiciary, the freedom of the press, pluralism and the rights of minorities were threatened in Poland and Hungary by their very own governments? And where were you when the people of Southern Europe visibly started being fed up with corruption? Where were you back then? Which side were you on?
What would you answer? What would you be able to answer?
And what will you do now on 25 March, 2017?
Whatever you will do, as a citizen of the European Union, do not forget to celebrate. For 25 March is a joyous occasion in the history of a better, stronger and united Europe…