What has EU done for you and why should you vote on the next European Elections
On 9 May 1950, just 5 years after the World War II, Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister at the time, presented the so called Schuman Declaration. He proposed to place French and German production of coal and steel under one common High Authority. Schuman believed that if countries had incentives to cooperate at the economical level, this would allow them to achieve the political goal of peace and prosperity.
“Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.”
One year later the founding fathers (France, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Belgium and Italy) would come together to create the European Coal and Steel Community, the first step to European integration.
69 years of unprecedented peace have passed ever since. We need to remind ourselves that Europe started as a peace project, with solidarity at its core.
However, when we look into the way Europe dealt with the financial assistance to countries such as Portugal and Greece after the 2008 crisis, the way Europe has been managing the refugee crisis or the passivity in which Europe accepts anti-democratic actions undertaken by countries such as Poland and Hungary, we seem to forget why did we start this project in the first place.
Brexit provides a great example of the dangers of forgetting the role of peace in European integration. Let’s take a look into the case of Northern Ireland.
The case of Northern Ireland
In 1992 the Republic of Ireland was officially recognized as an independent state by the UK, which maintained governance over Northern Ireland. An international border was thus set between the two countries of the island. This soft border meant all traffic was subject to inspection, which caused some inconvenience, but passport check was not required for the Irish.
However, between the 1960s and 1998 internal conflicts of political nature between the “unionists,” who were largely Protestant and identified with the United Kingdom, and the “nationalists,” who were mostly Catholics, identified as Irish, and sought a united Ireland intensified in Northern Ireland which in turn provoked a spillover effect in the Republic of Ireland. These events lead to the creation of a hard border, with watchtowers, checkpoints and military presence. This unfortunate period where more than 3,500 people were killed, of whom 52% were civilians, is called The Troubles, and was officially put to an end on the famous Good Friday Agreement.
Since then, the physical border between the two countries disappeared, which brought peace to the regions, allowed for families to reunite and businesses to prosper across the island and with the rest of Europe.
Once the UK decided to leave the EU, one question emerged: where do we put the border? Technically speaking, if the UK leaves, Northern Ireland will also leave the single market which means a border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland would be needed. This scenario would threaten the fragile peace which the Irish have been enjoying for the past 20 years.
To avoid such a terrible outcome, the so called Irish Backstop clause was agreed between the EU and the UK. This clause basically ensures that no hard border will be created. The matter is a little bit complex than this, but it goes beyond the scope of this article.
This example illustrates how important the EU is in keeping peace among its 28 member states, something we really cannot take for granted.
The European Economic and Social Committee is also paying close attention to this issue and therefore decided to draft an own-initiative opinion called “The White Dove Way — Proposal for an EU-led Global Peace-building strategy” which “is a metaphorical and physical route map pointing the way forward. It proposes a dynamic new EU-led Global Peace-building Strategy focusing on conflict prevention, civil society involvement, and effective communication using education and information, and a European Path of Peace, stretching from Northern Ireland to Nicosia, to physically engage citizens so they are included in the EU peace process and empowered to achieve its goal.”
Time to vote
Portugal is the 4th most peaceful country in the world according to the Global Peace Index. What a privilege to be able to say this in a list with 163 countries.
Europe is the most peaceful region in the world but we cannot forget about our role as citizens to protect this invaluable condition.
Why did we lose Brexit? Why, because 60 per cent of youth didn’t believe they needed to go and vote.
Jose Angel Gurria, OECD Secretary General
Defending a peaceful, democratic, open, tolerant, free Europe starts with your vote.
The next European Elections will take place on 23–26 May and the EU needs your vote more than ever. About 50% of the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) are likely to change this term. Populist movements are on the rise all over Europe which means that voting is the best way to defend it. Last elections, only 40% of European Citizens voted. In my home country, Portugal, only 1 in 3 Portuguese voted.
This year we can do better. This year you can do better.
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