Today, 9 May, is Europe Day, a celebration of peace and unity in Europe. Exactly 72 years ago, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman presented a document proposing the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. This proposal, now called the Schuman Declaration, was a blueprint not only for economic cooperation, but also for peace. It was a proposal for a new form of political cooperation that would make war between the countries in the alliance impossible: if any member state could not freely obtain coal and steel, it could not start a war in Europe.
“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”
Now, 72 years later, those words are more relevant than ever. After all, the Ukraine crisis is the worst security threat to Europe since the Cold War.
But war alone is not the only threat facing Europe. In many European countries, the population is disproportionately ageing, and Europe is falling behind the competition in the international economy. Not only that, but there is also the ongoing battle against climate change and relentless loss of biodiversity. Few of the biggest challenges of this century can be solved at national level – cross-border solutions are essential if we are to have any hope of a brighter, more stable future in today’s dark and volatile world. Common goals demand common solutions.
But crises do not only cause harm and distress; they can also bring the nations of Europe closer together. From its inception, the development of the European Union has been driven by crises. In many cases, these have been boldly met with reforms that have led to a stronger union. In the face of crises, it is wise to return to the fundamental values and the original idea of Europe. Sharing values makes it easier to negotiate win-win solutions and increase fruitful collaboration. The coronavirus pandemic is another good example: despite some initial floundering, the European response to the pandemic has been more effective than critics anticipated.
Research and freely available and reliable knowledge, education, and training are the pillars of democratic societies and of Europe’s resilience to crises. The student movement must be actively involved in the debate on the future of the European Union. Only by continually improving know-how and skills throughout Europe – that is, by investing in education and research – can we achieve the union’s long-term goals of global competitiveness, environmental sustainability, the digital transition, and social resilience. On several occasions, for example in his address to Sorbonne University in 2017, French president Emmanuel Macron has set out a vision of a common European education network and a European diploma. Europe-wide cooperation in higher education is a further step towards development based on learning, academic freedom and scientific knowledge.
However, true collaboration does not rest on declarations and speeches but on concrete actions. Following the Schuman Declaration, the European Coal and Steel Community was established by the Treaty of Paris two years later, in 1952. Various proposals have been put forward on the best way to develop higher education in Europe. But future collaboration needs money, shared effort and commitment. Ambitious projects amount to little if they are embarked on halfheartedly. University networks and university mobility must be adequately resourced and funded.
“The contribution which an organised and living Europe can bring to civilisation is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations.”
So today let us celebrate the peace movement! In the footsteps of Schuman, let us forge peace and a secure future for all, together, as one Europe, through higher education and greater understanding. A very happy Europe Day to everyone!
Jenna Rautionaho and Tuomas Karvonen