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EUROPE DAY: A LOOK AT THE PAST AND A PROJECTION FOR THE FUTURE

By Dário Encarnação and Beatriz Mestre
Translated by Carolina Franco

This article was written in a partnership between O Cola and Ágora, the Nucleus for European Studies’ newspaper.


Today, May 9th, Europe Day is celebrated, consecrated at the Milan European Council in June 1985 and that intends to commemorate the achievements reached by the European Union.


On the 28th of June, 1985, the Milan European Council approved the celebration of Europe Day, which from then on would be celebrated on May 9th, with the aim of celebrating peace and solidarity among European countries, serving as a bastion of the union as a whole. The choice of May 9th is due to the symbolism of the date as it was on this day, in 1950, that the Schuman Declaration was presented, when Robert Schuman, then French Foreign Minister, put forward his proposal laying out the foundations of what would later become the European Union. The declaration challenged Germany and France to join forces in the joint production of steel and coal to promote the economic development and modernisation of the two countries, which were at that time recovering from the destruction caused by the Second World War, as well as to strengthen the ties between the two nations in order to avoid a new conflict in the heart of Europe, such as the one that had occurred years before.


Therefore, it can be understood that the European Union, from its embryonic stage, is based on a collective ideal of peace and mutual aid between members, always seeking to avoid the horrors of war and cherishing a sense of belonging and communion; it all began with a project of joint production of coal and steel, but quickly expanded, reaching the moulds of the present.

Robert Schuman's proposal was well received by the European community and the following year France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Paris. They formed an alliance for economic trade cooperation, founding the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), a supranational organisation aimed at promoting a market free of taxes and customs controls and developing cooperation between European countries. This came to be the genesis of the future European Economic Community (EEC) and later the European Union, as it proved a success and led to its members wanting to deepen their relations by extending their scope to other spheres. The European Union we live in today is precisely a result of this deepening and rapprochement: the victories of the past have shaped the energy of the future and made more states propose their applications, adopting similar measures of plurality and democracy and fulfilling the necessary accession criteria.


Currently, the European Union is composed of 27 Member States and plays an active role in European integration and cooperation of countries in various areas, such as political, economic, financial or cultural. It also promotes peace and stability in Europe, one of its greatest achievements, recently under threat, thanks to a serious deterioration of political institutions and subsequent usurpation by anti-democratic groups within the Union itself.


Even so, the EU has played a fundamental role in the economic and social development of its member countries, through the promotion of the common market and the free movement of people, goods and services; by applying these measures, the EU has created a favourable environment for trade, investment and innovation. Another legacy of the European Union is its commitment to protecting the environment and combating climate change. Through international programmes and agreements, the EU has undertaken efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the transition to a green economy, seeking the best solutions to the environmental issue that plagues us.


In the field of justice and human rights, the European Union has also been active in promoting equality, freedom and democracy across the continent through policies and laws that protect citizens' fundamental rights, helping build a fairer and more inclusive society for all. Existing only after the official constitution of the EU, the legal area of European Union Law is fundamental to a thorough understanding of Public International Law, since all Member States must respect the European Treaties they ratify and act in accordance with their position. The prevalence of its Domestic Law over European Law does not detract from the European dynamics of its external relations and the importance of bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights when Domestic Law fails to apply.


Regarding its external relations, the European Union has worked together with other countries and organisations to promote peace, cooperation and solidarity in the world, contributing to the resolution of conflicts, promotion of development and the fight against poverty and inequality.


As an example of cooperation and solidarity among the countries and the people of Europe throughout its existence, the EU has been able to unite different nations around common goals, building a fairer, more prosperous and sustainable society.


However, despite the many achievements, the European Union faces several challenges and problems that threaten its stability and may compromise it at various levels.


One of these main adversities is the issue of migration, which has been exposing the fragility of migration policies and the difficulties of dealing with large-scale migratory flows. Although the EU has adopted several measures to address the crisis, such as the agreement with Turkey to control the flow of refugees, the problem still persists and has been a central topic of debate in European politics - it has even been feeding anti-Human Rights discourses on the benches of the European Parliament and generating trampling on Europe's own humanitarian policies, coming from countries that do not accept to receive refugees or orders from Brussels.


Another problem faced by Brussels has to do with a question of democracy, transparency and a certain lack of representativeness, being seen by many as a bureaucratic and distant organisation, which can be seen in Portugal, for example, through the very high abstention rate of 69.3% in the 2019 European Parliament elections. The lack of transparency and accountability in EU decision-making has also led to a growing disenchantment and distrust of the organisation.


Finally, the European Union has faced internal security challenges, with the threat of terrorism and, more recently, the Russian-Ukrainian war, which has destabilised the region and caused a financial, economic and energy crisis. This reminds us that more than 70 years of peace in Europe are not a given, but rather a process of constant work to maintain it, and that they can quickly be reversed following bad decisions or tactical mistakes by our European leaders.


Far from being perfect, and given the difficulties that beset it, the European Union remains an important initiative for the promotion of peace, prosperity and cooperation in Europe and the world. We are Portuguese and European, so we must be a resonant voice in the European Union so that the European project can be improved and progress, accompanying society.


Happy Europe Day!



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