Permanent Mission of the European Union to
the World Trade Organization (WTO)

Europe Day Speech by Ambassador Marc Vanheukelen, 9 May 2019

Geneva, 10/05/2019 - 00:00, UNIQUE ID: 190510_19
Speeches of the Ambassador

Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, Every year, on May 9th, we celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration in 1950 of the then French Foreign Affairs Minister, Robert Schuman, a declaration that is generally seen as the conception of the European Union.

This Declaration was a set of bold ideas that were fleshed out over several decades in a succession of Treaties among an expanding group of Member States.

Plenty of books have been written about the genesis of European integration. However, reduced to its core, the rationale for countries to develop the EU into what it is today has rested, and continues to rest, on a few simple but powerful considerations: first, that in order to tackle common problems that individual countries cannot cope with on their own, it is necessary to adopt common, enforceable rules. EU Member States decided therefore to pool part of their sovereignty. They did so as they realised it was an intelligent use of their sovereignty, and not a loss. Second, people, however brilliant, come and go. Only institutions have staying power. To withstand the highs and lows of national political majorities and preferences, robust institutions to defend and develop the common good are essential.

The reason why I highlight these tenets of European integration is that they are much akin to what lies at the root of multilateralism. I do not need to tell you that multilateralism is going through a difficult period. For that reason, it is wise to recall some simple truths: that global problems call for global answers, and that common rules can only be sustained if they can be enforced.

Even the biggest countries in the world ultimately need a functioning multilateral order. Some problems can just not be fixed unilaterally or bilaterally. That holds evidently for some pressing environmental problems. But it also encompasses trade, the international financial system, and more generally, an open global economy, which has been an engine of a great deal of growth across the world.

The challenges Europe faced in 1950 are, of course, totally different from those lying ahead of us at present. But what has not changed is that there was and is a dream, an ambition to shape a brighter future, offering more protection, opportunities and prosperity for all. And so it is that today, whilst we celebrate Schuman day, the Leaders of the European Union, united in the so-called European Council, are together in Romania to map out the strategic priorities for the coming five years. The priorities they will distil will no doubt nourish the agenda of the new European Parliament that will be elected in a fortnight, and the new European Commission that will take office in the autumn. The reflection in Romania will centre on how to make Europe more protective, more competitive, more sustainable, more influential, and fairer.

No matter the specific goals, a vast building-site will emerge for EU policies, which can only be achieved with enough drive and unity from our Member State governments, and with the trust of Europe's citizens that a common future is a better future. As to this trust, the surveys of recent years give us grounds to be upbeat. Paradoxically perhaps, but since the referendum in the United Kingdom, there has been a steady rise in the majority of Europeans who think that being a member of the EU is a good thing for their country. It is actually at the highest level in 30 years!

To be sure, euro-scepticism and euro-pessimism have not faded out, but the public debate has moved on, focussing more again on what concretely we should do together to tackle common problems.         

As a consequence, and to conclude my last 9 May speech as WTO Ambassador in Geneva, I, for one, take heart and believe that, far from being at the end of the road, European integration holds much further promise.


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