By Jimmy Jamar
May 9 marks traditionally the celebration of the Schuman Declaration, a visionary short statement given by the French Foreign Minister exactly five years and one day after the end of the Second World War.
Since then, the European project has, sometimes enthusiastically and sometimes painfully, followed a course which, in retrospect, is totally unique in the history of mankind – a voluntary devolution of powers from 27 countries to a joint set of institutions, decision-making powers in some respect, and more diluted coordination in many others. Rereading the Declaration 70 years later, amidst the worst crisis in Europe since World War II, brings about a strong feeling of resilience, despite the many failures and scepticism as a result of the pandemic.
One of the most stunning developments since 1950, which was amplified in the past decade, is indeed the perception that we’re living in a different world in terms of communication and the immediacy of common perceptions. The explosion of social media has triggered new feelings of emotion and reactivity that sometimes also causes over-reactions that can divide the world into two camps. When it comes to leadership, the emotion turns ever more into a search for scapegoats, blaming someone for what we can’t control. The European project, in this respect, has become easy prey for this sort of attitude.
And yet, amid the two-month confinement of the whole of Europe, people have more than ever turned to the European Union for a response to the anxieties, fears, job losses, and economic recessions that are sweeping the bloc. “What is Europe doing?” was an oft-heard question in the first weeks of the pandemic, a reaction by people that most often did not know that Brussels’ decision-making power when it comes to the health sector is extremely limited.
The European institutions, whether we admit it or not, have responded to the multiple challenges that this health crisis has imposed on us. The May 4 pledge drive led by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to raise € 7.4 billion for vaccines, diagnostics, and other treatments met its objective in only one day.
This says a lot about the EU’s mobilising capacity. The anticipation of the economic consequences, notwithstanding the initial difficulties, will also most probably enable the 27 members of the bloc to, in the end, identify common instruments to face the recovery phase appropriately.
But there’s a missing element. The European project is not just an economic endeavour. During the peak of a crisis, such as that was witnessed at the beginning of this year, people were affected in that they survived the pandemic and are coping with its economic and social aftermath.
To answer these issues, something must be added which touches on the very reason for the European project, the nature and weight of its core values and the elements that provide human meaning to the EU’s economic and financial landmarks.
The uniqueness of the project lies precisely in the fact that it has a daily impact on the lives of 450 million people. This means that, whatever the economic successes, the human component is equally paramount. It is this aspect that is evidenced by the core values of solidarity, tolerance, democracy, equality, and the rule of law that singles out, whatever the current shortcomings, Europe’s place on the geopolitical scene and accounts for its attractiveness. This positioning is due to several factors, among which is the impact of culture and cultural heritage.
The aftermath of the health crisis and the challenge of crucial economic and political choices might be, in this respect, a topical moment for Europeans to rediscover their cultural heritage as one of the healing elements during a foreseeable traumatic period that will follow the end of the coronavirus pandemic. This will be a time when many people are reconsidering their way of life and priorities. It is when culture and heritage appear as a soothing element for enhancing their individual well-being.
May 9 is, consequently, a good moment to reflect individually and collectively on what brings us together, where we come from, ad what made this continent special in terms of beauty and creativity, as well as how we can benefit today from this long tradition of passion and commitment.
This is why it would be a good sign when people meet in the streets or on their balconies to send a message of appreciation to Europe’s health workers that they also include the millions of artists and tens of thousands of people who work in museums, theatres, cinemas, festivals, and historical sites to honour them as living symbols of our common culture and multi-faceted identity. It is a simple gesture, but a very symbolic one.
Happy Europe Day
Jimmy Jamar is Former Head of the European Commission in Belgium
Source: New Europe