One hundred years ago, the guns which had ravaged Europe fell silent, after five years of a “Great War” which turned out to be only the “First” of two world wars affecting Europe to the extreme limit of self-destruction.
No words can explain the extreme ugliness and sheer horror of those wars — those who lived through it, were appalled enough to look beyond their homes for an effective way to prevent it from ever happening again.
That is where the European Union was born. As both the First and the Second World Wars revolved around the clash between Germany and France, the first focus of European leaders like Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman and Alcide De Gasperi were the strategic resources of Central Europe.
The establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) on April 18, 1951 followed the age-defining “declaration” of the French Foreign Minister, Schuman, on May 9, 1950: a day which has become the “Europe Day” we celebrate every year.
By pooling together coal and steel from the industrialised French region of the Saar and from the German region of the Ruhr, European leaders established a practical way forward to promote European integration.
As Schuman said: “the pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims”.
The establishment of the ECSC laid the conditions on which, the precursor to today’s European Union was founded in Rome, on March 25, 1957.
Through 68 years of relentless efforts, European countries have, since, vowed to deepen their integration, aiming at “ever closer integration” which started with the six founders of the European Economic Community: Belgium, Italy, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Fifty six years later, it reached its 28th Member State on July 1, 2013, with the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union, following the disintegration of the former Republic of Yugoslavia through a terrifying set of wars from 1991 to 1999.
Europeans have abolished war amongst themselves as a means to settle their differences, choosing, instead, to cooperate to address them to the advantage of every one.
No doubt, nowadays, with media insisting on the fragility of such a bold project, many readers might question the sustainability of what is the EU and its very future.
The EU has been declared in a “terminal crisis” already so many times over the last few years, as it is struck by different types of crises, from economic to political. It would be inappropriate to dismiss the seriousness of each of these challenges.
But it is accordingly unwise to exaggerate their impact on the deep foundation of the European Union realities. Without looking back at our past, as far as the 100 years we commemorate these days, European integration would look much frailer that it truly is.
Europeans tend to be very historically minded. We are all born and bred in a landscape which breathes onto us our long common history, every moment of our lives.
Most importantly, the living memory of these last 100 years is, really, family history: it is about our parents and grand-parents. This is how deep those memories walk with us. It is not just the multiple anniversaries of every distant massacre we need to remember to build our future more wisely.
It is also a history that we have witnessed ourselves, as the Cold War — which split Europe at his heart — has itself many events to commemorate, including, this very year, the Soviet tanks’ crushing of the so called “Prague Spring,” in 1968.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990 (nowadays: the German National Day) and the multiple revolutions which gave back freedom from external yoke to the European Union Eastern Members live and breathe very much in each and every one of their representatives and citizens in Kenya today.
Therefore, a 100 years from the end of the First World War that caused the loss of about 20 million lives (not counting the matching number of victims of the great “Influenza” that ravaged Europe right at the end of that war) as well as its destruction, it is well worth to pause for a moment and reflect. Is there any achievement more important than the one the EU has achieved by having abolished war on its soil?
It is only then, that the persistent noise of media about the fragility of the EU can be appropriately assessed, understanding that crises as the one I mentioned above are but passing illnesses.
As such, the EU turned its past of wars and exploitation into trying to be an agent of peaceful values everywhere in the World, axed on the cornerstone of stemming the agents of conflict and help, as much as it is really welcome to, by working together with its international partners to address the roots of conflict.
It is also because of this that our relations with Kenyans, their government and President Uhuru Kenyatta, are getting ever closer, in a genuine spirit of shared partnership. – Dejak is the European Union Ambassador to Kenya.