Enduring values of the EU cannot be taken for granted

Vincent Piket says, post 2008, the union is stronger and healthier

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 2:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 2:53am

On May 9, 1950, in the wake of the second world war, Robert Schuman, the then foreign minister of France, called for the unification of Europe in order to make war on the continent impossible and to spread peace and prosperity globally. Schuman's declaration drew a positive response from five other European countries, including Germany, France's erstwhile foe.

This kicked off Europe's gradual integration. And May 9 came to be called Europe Day - the day to celebrate how the European Union overcame age-old differences to shape a common future.

Around the globe, whether in Cairo or Kiev, people want what we have in the EU: personal rights and freedoms, democratic governance, rule of law and a decent living. Events in Ukraine show we cannot take these values for granted.

In today's Europe, we see that democracy is a constant work in progress; we share a responsibility to safeguard and nurture it. And we will stand by those who call for it.

The EU created a common foreign policy to ensure our voice is heard. In the face of big problems such as fragile states, pandemics, energy security, climate change and migration, we are more effective together than individually. Through the work of the European External Action Service, led by Catherine Ashton, we promote EU values and interests around the world, with human rights as a silver thread.

The EU also plays an important role in regional security issues. Ashton leads the talks of the "EU3 plus 3" (Germany, France and Britain as well as the US, China and Russia) with Iran. These talks resulted in an interim agreement on Iran's nuclear programme last November - a crucial step towards de-escalating an emerging crisis.

Take also the Horn of Africa, where, thanks to a combination of political dialogue with the government of Somalia, our naval mission Atalanta, and targeted aid, piracy has been reduced by 95 per cent. Today, the young men who used to man pirate ships are going to school.

This is a special year for the EU. Ten years ago, 10 new members joined our union; eight were previously behind the Iron Curtain. The 2004 enlargement thus marked the end of decades of division on our continent. Since then, three more members have joined: a testimony to the continuing attraction of the EU.

This year is also special for European citizens. From May 22-25, they will vote in the elections for the European Parliament; a parliament whose say has become decisive in most areas.

For sure, boosting growth and job creation will remain at the top of our agenda. We have exited the financial crisis and confidence has returned to our markets. Translating economic confidence into jobs and rising income will take time.

One thing stands: the EU union is stronger now than in 2008 when the financial crisis hit. The many analysts who predicted the EU's and/or the euro's demise were wrong. The EU is better equipped for its task now than before. For those who have never lived inside the EU, it is hard to realise how strong the interdependencies are. Such interdependencies create a common destiny, a common future and solidarity - by nurturing the differences and diversity.

Sixty-four years ago, Schuman called for the set-up of what today is the EU. But he always understood this as a union in diversity. "Unity in diversity" is now the motto of the EU, a key ingredient of its growing strength at home and abroad.

In 2014, the world commemorates one century after the outbreak of the first world war. The EU, which was the crucible of both world wars, is today striving to achieve peace and prosperity through trade, investment and deeper people-to-people exchanges.

Vincent Piket is head of the EU Office to Hong Kong and Macau