Intervention of Hon. Erna Hennicot-Schoepges in ILC 2021

As a summary of the 7 decades of peace, I would say it is still a question of learning by doing. It took time, with small and larger steps and a common will to succeed. How did we start after so many centuries of killing each other?

Here are some key dates in this process:

The treaty of London in 1949 brought about the founding of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human rights, which today is a gathering of 47 Member States.

On the 9th of May, 1950, the Schuman Declaration was made. Robert Schuman’s proposal to merge the French and German Coal industries and have them ruled by a common authority, that could be joined later by other nations, represents the start of the European Union.

To have started with the economy and the most important industry gave the participants the opportunity to work together. Schuman, born in Luxembourg and speaking French and German, was able to convince the German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, of this idea. His vision was to have a common defense policy and to create a supranational organization.

In 1954, the French Parliament rejected the Common Defense treaty. Schuman’s personal vision was, and here I quote him, “to unite the citizens rather than to make a coalition of Nation States”. Jean Monnet, who oversaw the details, was the architect of the establishment of the political union, though he was never elected to a public office. I dare say his diplomacy was convincing as it led to agreements.

The Common market with its 6 founding members, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, needed open borders and cooperation in relation to the monetary issues. The first treaty was signed in 1951 with a duration of 50 years. To the executive, called the High Authority for Coal and Steel, was added a Parliament, a Council of Ministers, and a Court of Justice.  

In 1957, the treaty of Rome gave some basic rules to the new structure. Various policies and institutions were established, such as:

  • Abolishing customs taxes between member States, with common rules at the external borders
  • A common agricultural policy and traffic management policy
  • A European social fund
  • The European Investment Bank
  • Investment in research, with the creation of various bodies, including Euratom for Nuclear Energy.

The success of these agreements brought a real boom to the economy in the sixties, called the “Wirtschaftswunder” in German, or the Economic Miracle. The six founding members were joined by others; in 1973, Denmark, Ireland and the UK, in 1981 Greece, in 1983 Spain and Portugal, and after 2004, 10 new Member States, among which some belonged to the former centralized communist structures of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

The common currency

In 1970, Pierre Werner, former Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Luxembourg, was charged by the Council of Ministers to find a way to reduce the volatility of the currency exchange rates. The outcome of the debate was that the Monetary System (EMS) was established in 1979. An exchange rate mechanism was established to handle the currencies in its Member States. This was good for the economy, but had the downside of causing the depreciation of some currencies.

It was a very important step to improve the functioning of the common market. It was not easy to have this done in the beginning, as the economic situation in Germany and France, the most important members, was so different. History records that this was a deal between the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and the French president, François Mitterand. It was a compromise which laid the foundation for the reunification of West Germany with the communist German Democratic Republic later in 1989. For commercial relations between EU Members, it was a success story.

The introduction of the Euro in 1999 was for the citizens a great advantage. The link of the currency to the economic situation in each Member State is regulated by the “Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure” introduced in 2010. A Treaty on the “Stability coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union” signed in 2012 prohibits excessive budget deficits in each of the Member States. There are ongoing debates about financial questions, such as common tax rules and social policies, related to the monetary situation worldwide, and mainly in the US.

Common Boarders

Schuman’s idea of uniting citizens was the dream of so many in the aftermath of the Second World War, when trans-border connections started in economic and other sectors. The free movement of labor from one state to another became an economic necessity. In this respect, there are two separate debates:

  • one about the internal borders between Member States.
  • the other about the external borders of the EU as a whole.

The real success of trans-border negotiations is the Schengen agreement, after a village in Luxembourg straddling the river Moselle, which marks the boarder with both Germany and France. The signing of the agreement between 5 Member states, with Belgium and the Netherlands joining Germany, France and Luxembourg, took place in 1985. Today, 26 Member states have signed this agreement, while other non-member countries are part of the convention, facilitating   travel and commerce. At Airports, the Schengen Area is well known to passengers of the signatory countries. This open space has been well accepted by the citizens, it is one of the main success stories of the EU.

It has also enabled the establishment of common rules for border control, fruitful cooperation between police forces, and EU wide procedures for crime detection.

Concerning the boarders at the external limits of the EU, no common regulation has been provided for in the treaties. The Schengen convention introduced a borders’ code that enables Nation states to close their borders if there is any danger, however it should only be used as a measure of last resort. This is what is happening now during the Pandemic in some Member States.

The agencies, common structures established by decision of the 27, such as Frontex, Europol and others, deal with the day-to-day problems at the external borders. Under the Presidency of Jean-Claude Juncker, Frontex, as the main agency in charge for migration, was seriously upgraded, concerning its technical resources. This was designed to stop illegal immigration and assist those Member States which experience a large influx of refugees.

The EU has handled this question of the borders in respect to the competences of the Member States. Unfortunately, some of them did not always act according to the principles of humanitarian aid and solidarity according to the European Convention on Human rights. Building walls at the borders is not the political goal of the EU.

Social cooperation

The Competences of the European Commission are fixed in the treaties linked to the functioning of the internal market, including the monetary policy. For those Member States that are members of the Euro-Fishery policy, this was one of the main concerns of the Brexit negotiations. Other policies, such as agriculture, social, health and culture are shared, or supported. This is to say that regarding the status of the citizens, huge differences remain concerning their daily lives. Due to the open borders policy, labor force mobility is at a very high level, because of the different economic situations in the Member States. This is a true challenge for individuals as well as companies, or even the Nation States they are leaving.

As a common rule of social policy, there cannot be discrimination based on nationality; social rights are fixed in the treaties. The migration issue within the 27 Member States, and also from non-EU member states, is a highly political issue. It is linked to each country’s economic situation, as well as to its culture: that is to say, the acceptance by the national population of a large number of non-nationals is different in all the Member States, and so many conflicts arose in this respect. Changing demographics, low birth rates and an aging population, while the needs of the economy are increasing: these were the reasons for the German Chancellor to accept a large number of refugees in 2015 and 2016.  

Social common policies are also bound to solidarity between Member States. In 2014, a European Social Policy Network was established to aid Member States on special issues. Nevertheless, a common agreement on quotas for accepting refugees in Member States could not be reached.

Anti-European political initiatives are mainly based on these arguments: there are too many foreigners, whereas the economy is slowing down. This could result in a dangerous reverse of the political situation in the next elections. And this question is strongly linked to the issue of cultural diversity.

The “Soul of Europe is its Diversity”, to quote the German Chancellor, and this a true challenge for national education systems, language learning, religions, and the way of living of the citizens.

Nevertheless, a new generation has grown up with a wider knowledge of diversity. Programs such as the Erasmus student exchange program, among many others, brought young people together. Many of them speak different languages and lived in many different places, experiencing the identities of the others.


As a conclusion, Schuman’s vision of uniting citizens is still the right one for global peace. To unite the 27 Member States, from some 50 on this continent, has taken more than half a century. Governance based on democracy and citizen’s participation is not the easiest and neither the fastest way, but a most challenging achievement.

I am not sure whether there are relevant lessons [for Korean reunification] except the strong will of the founders, the tribute they paid to small entities as well as to big ones, respecting each one’s identity.

I thank you for your attention.

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