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Happy Europe Day! As the eurozone crumbles we ask if Europe has lost its way

Kathleen Brooks, director of research UK,

A wave of anti-German feeling has washed over the eurozone. Germany’s insistence on a “Fiscal Pact”, balanced budgets and austerity has been rejected by Greece and France whose citizens elected candidates with a pro-growth and anti-austerity agendas at elections held last weekend.

The timing is significant as the 9th May 2012 is Europe Day, an annual celebration of peace and unity in the currency bloc.

As European leaders gather at receptions across the region to mark Europe Day the possibility of Greece leaving or being kicked out of the eurozone has risen to 75% according to some analysts. So the timing of the celebrations is particularly symbolic this year.

[Related story: Greece moves closer to euro exit]

What Europe was meant to be

On May 9th 1950 the French foreign minister Robert Schuman delivered his proposal for a new way to organise the states of Europe. The idea of a “European community” was born out of the end of the Second World War, as a way to ensure peace in the region for the rest of history.

The “Schuman Declaration”, as it became known, was a proposal to pool together steel and coal resources. Since these commodities were the main basis of military power, the idea was to remove production from national control, which would make another World War in Europe impossible.

This is considered the “birth” of modern Europe and Robert Schuman is considered the founding father of the Union. Although the currency bloc went through various iterations to get it to where it is today, the Schuman declaration remains deeply symbolic.

Without installing a framework for peace by pooling the resources necessary for war, the EU could not have built a Europe that respects freedom and the identity of all the people who live on the continent – its stated mission today. 

Crumbling foundations

However, the election results in Greece in particular, suggest that the eurozone is at a turning point and Europe Day in 2012 could be very different from Europe Day celebrations in the past.

A neo-Nazi party that wants to end all forms of immigration (presumably also immigration from within the currency bloc) and put landmines on the border with Turkey, won a sizable share of the Greek vote on May 6thl. Timing could hardly be less appropriate especially since the Schuman Declaration was all about peace.

But while the EU high command battles calls for the eurozone to break-up, it’s worth taking a look at an earlier speech from Schuman that he delivered in Strasbourg on 16th May 1949.

Schuman called the creation of Europe a “great experiment” and even defined the European spirit as one that is conscious of belonging to a “cultural family”. It was during this speech in Strasbourg that Schuman paved the way for Germany to join in.

There are a few lessons in this speech that are relevant today: Firstly that the experiment remains on-going; secondly that a unified “culture” takes compromise from the different members’ states in equal measure; and thirdly that without the union there would be no “conditional” peace in the region.

What we can learn

Thus the historical context of the eurozone tells us a couple of things – that it is essentially a work in progress and it depends on a nebulous European “spirit” to hold everything together.

The eurozone wasn’t created with a vast list of rules; it was created on a desire for peace and stability.

This is something we may have taken for granted over the years, but as we celebrate Europe Day it is worth remembering the foundations on which the European Union was built and how economic hardship could destroy Robert Schuman’s vision.

[Related feature: How do you leave the euro]

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