The EU at 60: a beacon for peace and prosperity in an uncertain world

Carmen Cano recalls how the European Union turned a continent historically ravaged by wars and conflict into one championing freedom and rights. The unique community continues to be an inspiration today amid the drift towards populism and protectionism

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 9:02am

Tomorrow, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, the stepping stone for the foundation of the European Union.

We should always remember that the EU has brought 60 years of peace and prosperity after centuries of wars. The EU has also increasingly contributed to peace and progress in many other regions.

The EU is not perfect, but it has time and again proven that it is the best tool we have to cope with present and future challenges

Since its creation by six states (Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxemburg and the Netherlands) in 1957, the EU has made a successful journey towards becoming one of the world’s most open and prosperous economies, as well as a unique social and political model. The EU is not perfect, but it has time and again proven that it is the best tool we have to cope with present and future challenges.

The EU turned a continent historically ravaged by wars and conflicts into a continent of peace and cooperation. Overcoming our differences and our historical feuds to unite our people was once a pipe dream; and yet, 60 years on, the stage of two world wars has become a cradle for peace.

There are currently some 60 military conflicts around the world, and none of them is taking place inside the EU.

The 500 million citizens of the EU enjoy a common space of freedom and rights: we can travel without visas; we can choose to work and live in another country; our university diplomas are recognised in other member states; we receive the same medical treatment abroad as in our home country; we use roaming without fear of roaming charges; we travel through 19 member states using the same currency, we buy safe food and toys for our children, we do not fear discrimination on the grounds of our race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

China throws weight behind a strong European Union

The Erasmus student exchange programme provides young Europeans with major career and life opportunities, and fosters a real common identity. With 9 million beneficiaries since its creation 30 years ago, Erasmus is the largest student mobility programme worldwide and one of the biggest successes of the EU. Many foreigners, including Hong Kong and Macau students, have also benefited from it.

All these acquired rights, freedoms and achievements should not be taken for granted, especially in these turbulent times

The democratic, social, economic and environmental standards of the EU are the highest in the world. They make the EU and its member states strong and able to promote universal values, such as human rights and the rule of law. Today, the EU has become a global leader on issues ranging from climate change and energy security, to poverty eradication and development. As the largest donor in the world, we provide 56 per cent of development aid worldwide, and promote multilateralism and the peaceful settlement of conflicts.

All these acquired rights, freedoms and achievements should not be taken for granted, especially in these turbulent times of uncertainty, when we are confronted with the dangers of a progressive drift towards populism and protectionism. The further development of the EU remains an ambitious project.

What Hong Kong can learn from Europe’s still-evolving union

We strongly believe that this original and unique community of nation states and their people, bringing together our history, our identities and our strengths, is more needed than ever, not only for Europe but for the whole world.

We will continue to shape our joint future together. United, we will achieve more for our people and the world at large.

Carmen Cano is head of the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macau. This article is co-signed by the consuls general to Hong Kong and Macau from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden