Editorial: On Europe Day, the continent must stand together closer than ever

Ukrainian and EU flags in front of the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels. Photo: Getty© Getty Images


Today is Europe Day (it’s also the 440th day since Russia illegally invaded its peaceful neighbour Ukraine), which is intended to honour the 1950 declaration by French foreign minister Robert Schuman that would eventually lead to the founding of the body that became the European Union.

The Schuman Declaration set out his idea for a new form of political co-operation in Europe. His vision was that such collective efforts would make war between Europe’s nations abhorrent and unthinkable.

The ideal of inter-dependence and unity of purpose, solidarity in the face of aggression and threat still holds. Despite Vladimir Putin plunging the continent back into war, the fracturing of relations that he was relying on has not occurred.

In fact, the bloodshed and ruthless disregard for civilians has, if anything, helped to reassert the primacy of the values and beliefs Schuman aspired to. The pact was driven by the need to rebuild and reimagine a better world out of the ashes of the devastation wrought by World War II.

Although initially a coal and steel pact, its foundations were deep enough to build upon.

Prophetically, it noted: “World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”

Meanwhile, Ireland marks its 50th anniversary as an EU member this year. Noting the milestone back in January, Micheál Martin said: “The five decades since we signed the accession treaty have witnessed Ireland’s emergence as a modern, open economy and society.

“Over the decades our European partners have provided the strongest and most steadfast of support to peace and reconciliation on this island, including through generous EU funding programmes and, more recently, in solidarity with Ireland as we work together to manage the unique challenges for this island resulting from the UK’s decision to leave the EU.”

Support from Brussels was critical in the messy aftermath of former UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s disastrous mishandling of sensitive border issues. The EU’s stability and leadership during the pandemic was also essential to steer us through an unprecedented crisis.

Today, amid the uncertainty and disruption created by Moscow’s disastrous military invasion, Europe must stand together closer than ever.

Last weekend we saw Russian forces evacuating residents from the area near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. More than 1,600 people were forced to move.

The words of the former Russian statesman Pyotr Stolypin come back to haunt us: “In Russia, every 10 years everything changes, and nothing changes in 200 years.” The head of the UN’s nuclear power watchdog has warned the situation around the plant had become “potentially dangerous”.

However, Europe has thrived as a collection of free countries and will continue to do so. Core values such as the right to self-determination, and democratic rules-based systems of government, have become sacrosanct.

No autocrat’s volatility will be allowed to snatch away the freedoms that are the foundations of the continent.