European Union — Where did it all start and what will the future hold?

Europe Day is celebrated annually on 9 May. The date marks the anniversary of French foreign minister Robert Schuman’s declaration in 1950, which laid the foundation for European cooperation. The ‘Schuman Declaration’ was made against the backdrop of the devastating World War II and cooperation was meant to promote peace and security on the continent.

European integration would not have been possible without the aim of connecting the economy and politics. The first step towards integration and securing peace was the European Coal and Steel Community, founded by six countries in 1951. These countries — France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg — are the founding states of the European Union.

The Union has enlarged over the years and currently has 27 Member States. Following the reform of the European Treaties, the Member States are cooperating in an increasing number of sectors.

Differences in the culture and circumstances among the Member States have not always made coexistence easy. A major setback was suffered in the Brexit referendum in 2016, when the Leave campaign managed to convince British citizens that the country would benefit from a separation from the EU. This process has been repeatedly recognised as a triumph of misinformation over facts. The sole positive aspect about Brexit has been that the remaining 27 Member States stood united during the withdrawal negotiations.

This unity was necessary and is even more so now that Russia has launched its absurd war on Ukraine. Today, as in the past, the economy and politics need to be balanced. EU countries are hit hard by soaring energy prices and energy availability issues. It is still to be seen how food availability will be affected by the problems of Ukrainian grain production. These problems will have impacts beyond Europe and its citizens.

For now, the most important goal is to end the war quickly. A unified EU action is important and the jointly agreed sanctions make a difference. The EU needs to strengthen its security policy. Nearly all EU Member States are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization NATO, which was founded in 1949. Both Finland and Sweden are currently discussing a bid for NATO membership.

Europe Day 2022 is celebrated in circumstances that are in many respects different from those in the previous year. Europe is part of the global world, and external factors can pose risks and threats to us. Few of us expected a war of this scale in Europe.

"For the sake of the European Union’s common values, democracy and the rule of law, it is of paramount importance to maintain mutual trust and confidence between the Member States and thereby the unity of the Union."

For the sake of the European Union’s common values, democracy and the rule of law, it is of paramount importance to maintain mutual trust and confidence between the Member States and thereby the unity of the Union.

Trust must be built at all levels of society. We cannot take democracy for granted. It takes hard work, every day, to guarantee people's freedom. We must ensure that future generations understand the importance of democracy, and the local level has a crucial role in this.

The war in Ukraine has proved the strength of the EU’s unity and mutual solidarity. At this time of crisis, assistance and support have been generously given. Finnish cities and municipalities and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities have been part of this effort.

Let’s raise the flag to celebrate Europe Day and have faith that in a year's time we will mark the day in happier circumstances.

Author

Minna Karhunen is CEO of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities.

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