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Why We Celebrate the Birth of the EU on May 9th / Photo above: May 9th, 1950, in the Salle d’Horloge on the Quai d’Orsay, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman presents the Schuman Declaration

Every year on May 9th, not only EU Member States, but also people all around the world celebrate Europe Day with many events that commemorate the birth of the EU. On this day in 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman held a press conference to present the Schuman Declaration in the Salle d’Horloge in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs located on the Quai d’Orsay. This plan, hatched with Jean Monnet, which proposed the creation of an organisation that pooled the coal and steel of its members in a common market, had the true intention to ‘make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible’ and to build a lasting peace in Europe. The ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) was born from this plan in 1952, and developed into the EEC (European Economic Community) and the EAEC (European Atomic Energy Community) in 1958.

Europe at the time was divided into small domestic markets, which were economically inefficient. By removing barriers in the form of borders, Europe aimed to create a ‘Europe without borders’ that operated under the logic of economy that allowed for a large market driven by the principle of competition. In 1967, through the Merger Treaty, the ECSC, EAEC, and EEC were united to become the EC (European Community), and in 1968, a customs union (with the abolition of internal tariffs, and the establishment of common external tariffs) was created. What remained, the abolition of non-tariff barriers to trade, took more time to realise, and an internal market, which allowed for the free movement of goods, people, capital and services, was finally achieved by the end of 1992. The following year, in November 1993, the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty) entered into force, and the EU (European Union) was finally realised. Presently, at a population of 500 million, the EU has gone so far as to achieve a prosperous market, with an economic scale that surpasses even that of the US, as well as the creation of the Euro, its very own currency.

 

Consequently, there are many who believe that the EU is an economic community. However, the EU’s successes lie much more in its establishment as a ‘non-war community’ through its peace-building efforts and enlargement. In order to prevent war from ever happening again, not only on a European scale but also on a global scale, conflict between Germany and France, which was the cause of the World Wars, needed to be solved through decisions based upon rules as well as through judicial channels provided through courts. The number of Member States grew from the original 6 to 27 after the fifth enlargement and now includes several states that were found on the other side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War era.

There are beginnings of a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), though it may not always function, as seen in the case of internal divisions caused by the Iraq War. However, the fact that the EU continues to gain influence in its status as a global player in economic, political, and security issues on the international level, cannot be denied. Moreover, many of the rules and directives the EU issues have gone beyond their usual standing as European standards, and have come to define global standards as well. This is particularly notable within the environmental field.

Despite its many successes, Europe has entered into a period of stagnation, with the rejection of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) by referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005 and the Lisbon Treaty by a referendum in Ireland in 2008, along with the effects of the global financial and economic crisis. Nevertheless, the EU and all its successes started on that day in history, May 9th, 1950.

 

Author: Toshiro Tanaka
(Keio University Professor, Faculty of Law / Jean Monnet Chair ad personam)

 
 

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