Sixty-one years ago, on 9 May 1950, the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman i appealed to European nations to pool their coal and steel production at supranational level, therewith laying the foundations of what we know as the European Union.
Out of the devastating experience of the Second World War, there was a growing awareness of politicians and citizens that cooperation at European level and the creation of institutions and rules that govern this cooperation were the only way forward towards a peaceful, democratic and prosperous common future. These and subsequent steps towards European integration, prevented the wheel of history turning backwards.
So far, the path of European history was indeed marked by many successes and achievements that enabled citizens and businesses to reap concrete benefits from Europe and its freedoms to make the choices that are most conducive to their well-being and prosperity. At the same time, the Union has expanded from six to 27 Member States, and progress is being made in preparing the accession of further new members. At global level the European Union has become a credible political and economic actor and is shaping globalisation for example through the G20 leaders' process, through its bilateral relations and in the United Nations.
But the past 61 years were also marked by periods of crises. Right now, the European Union is slowly recovering from the worst financial and economic crisis since the 1930s. It has to tackle the debt crisis of some member states and its spill-over effects. In its Southern neighbourhood, developments and transitions are taking place, translating the democratic aspirations of the peoples of the Southern Mediterranean, that shake up entire societies and of course also affect the EU: The European Union has always been able to cope with crises and emerge from them stronger. I believe the Union is proving to do so once again in the face of the current challenges: 27 Member States, based on Commission proposals, were able to adopt an ambitious strategy to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. We are completely changing the way we coordinate economic and budgetary policies. We are complementing monetary union with further steps towards a genuine economic union. We are re-launching the Single Market in view of its 20th anniversary to fully exploit its potential for growth and jobs. We are committed to support democratic transitions in the Arab world in a spirit of partnership for democracy and shared prosperity. We are adjusting the way in which we ensure border-less travelling within the Schengen area and better migration management, while neither going back on the Schengen principles nor on the underlying values of freedom and human rights. These are examples of how the European Union has maintained and increased its capacity to act despite or thanks to the various challenges it is facing, with the European Commission continuing to drive forward solutions and advances of our European Union
Robert Schuman was a visionary pragmatist. He knew that Europe would not be built in one day, but in different steps and through concrete achievements. We owe it to him and the other founding fathers, to cherish our achievements, to preserve them and develop them further in a spirit of mutual solidarity and responsibility and for the benefit of our citizens.