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Celebrating Europe Day

, by Alexandros Apostolidis

In a period when the gap between the European Union and its citizens seems to widen, in times when euroscepticism and populism are on the rise, as the distance between popular feeling and political elites is getting bigger, it is exactly now that we need to know why European integration is so crucial and how it has improved our lives. The 5th and the 9th of May serve as commemoration dates for the achievements of Europe during the last 6 decades, for those facts and events that once seemed undreamed-of, just like the future European accomplishments seem unimaginable at the moment.

Big European flag at Strasbourg – Source - Wikimedia Commons

We celebrate 6 decades of peace and security.

In what once was the most belligerent region of the world, people are never afraid of being bombed anymore, and they never feel the desire to “resolve” bilateral or multilateral problems by military conflicts. Since our generation has had no war experience, we often forget to appreciate how better our life is in comparison to most of the world and in comparison to our ancestors, thanks to that peace-producing process. However, it is not only war among Europeans that has been avoided, but we have also created an alliance of high status, whose members have never been challenged to war by foreign countries. Even though Europe does not dispense of a common army and despite the excessive dependence from NATO, no territory of the EU has ever been attacked, with the exception of the Falkland Conflict in Southern Atlantic in 1982. European citizens are safer than ever.

We celebrate the victory of democracy and human rights.

The full democratisation of Europe is a lengthy route that starts after World War II and is yet to be completed. In fact, participation in the European procedures has been largely viewed as a collateral for a democratic regime, as fascist governments lost their power in the aftermath of the War, as dictatorships in Spain, Greece and Portugal fell in the 70’s, as communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed in the 90’s, as far-right parties rose stronger during the current financial crisis. The 10th article of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU states that “in defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union shall aim to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.”. Also, according to the Presidency Conclusions of the Copenhagen European Council (Copenhagen Criteria) “membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”. Those values run the European integration and make it worthy of respect and admiration. Most importantly, those are not the undertakings of politicians, as it sometimes seems, but of the determination and patience of every single European citizen – those who made it possible are the ordinary people.

We celebrate diversity – nous sommes unis dans la diversité.

Ethnic cleansings, closed borders, and intense cultural imperialism are ghosts of the past that seem absolutely irrelevant with modern European reality, even if they were the historical canon until a few decades ago. A Union of 24 official languages, supporting the largest exchange programme on the world, Erasmus+, and subsidising the most diversified network of audiovisual media – this is what the EU is. As multilingualism proceeds and while citizens and goods enjoy an almost absolute freedom of movement, we broaden our horizons and strengthen our identity.

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Europe Day event in Berlin 2011 - (© picture-alliance/ dpa)

We celebrate unity and cooperation.

One should not forget that Europe Day is not an exclusivity of the European Union – while the EU celebrates it on May 9th, the Council of Europe does so on May 5th. This international organisation of 47 members has enhanced the respect of human rights, the rule of law and the mutual understanding among countries that used to be enemies for centuries. Hence, the Council of Europe aims at preserving the common European heritage and stimulating social progress, while the European Court of Human Rights contributes to the promotion of the value of the human life in Europe. Furthermore, on the occasion of Europe Day, we should take the chance to transmit and circulate information regarding the Council of Europe and the European Union, so that people have easier access to it – by articles, by festive events, by everyday conversations. On 9 May 2015, when Europe Day is celebrated in EU, we will be honouring 65 years since the Schuman Declaration. As the current circumstances of the financial crisis have sometimes put trust to the EU at stake, we should refer back to the wise words of that declaration, which underlines that “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.”

We celebrate active citizenship.

Festive events and information-spreading activities carry out various themes and the topics vary from year to year. European, national and regional authorities benefit from the occasion in order to raise awareness on numerous aspects of citizenship including social, environmental and cultural affairs. For 2015 Europe Day events are organised under the themes of urban development, healthy lifestyle and interaction among cities. Furthermore, Europe Day events in recent members of the EU, in candidate states or in neighbouring countries are widespread and popular, as they reminisce everyone of the European identity of those peoples, of their “Europeanness”. The Schuman Parade in Warsaw and educative events and sport happenings in Ukraine and in Turkey constitute some characteristic examples. Many citizens across the continent are really proud of being European and understand themselves as true contributors to all those European attainments.

Of course, these facts and events don’t mean that the European integration is not susceptible to criticism. Exactly the other way around, we should be strict and objective judges and point out every injustice, irregularity and weakness in Europe, but in a productive and useful way, avoiding populism and intransigence, and aiming at Europe’s amelioration. Unequal treatment of states, democratic gaps, limited redistribution of resources, shortage of an effective social policy, mismanagement of the financial crisis, an incompetent foreign policy, complicated immigration issues, exhausting bureaucracy, and the necessity of institutional reforms – they are all certainly true, and especially Federalists and Europeanists should take them into consideration. However, we should all ask ourselves as Europeans: weren’t Europe united, where would we stand today?

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1. Schuman Declaration (May 1950), Official Website of the European Union http://europa.eu/about-eu/basic-information/symbols/europe-day/schuman-declaration/index_en.htm 2. Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (December 2007), EUR-Lex http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:12012E/TXT&from=EN 3. Presidency Conclusions of the Copenhagen European Council (June 1993) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/enlargement_new/europeancouncil/pdf/cop_en.pdf 4. «Το Δίκαιο της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης – Συνθήκη της Λισσαβώνας», Παναγιώτης Κανελλόπουλος – Εκδόσεις Σάκκουλα (2010) 5. Delegation of the European Union in Ukraine http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/ukraine/index_en.htm http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/ukraine/press_corner/all_news/news/2015/2015_04_30_01_en.htm 6. Official Website of the Council of Europe http://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/homen

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