(Translated from German)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
“World peace cannot be preserved without creative efforts commensurate with the magnitude of the threat.”
What might the speaker have been referring to? Coronavirus? No, these words* dating back to 9 May, 1950 were spoken by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman in his historic speech that paved the way for the creation of the European Communities, and eventually the European Union.
He went on, “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.”
Europe does not begin or end in Brussels or Strasbourg. We are all Europe. If now, 75 years after the end of the war, we allow Europe to descend into ‘national orientation’ due to coronavirus while looking away as people cheer on the populists who attack humanitarian efforts on behalf of migrants, we will have no right to turn around and say ‘that was none of my doing’.
With this coronavirus pandemic, we are witnessing not only a special kind of federalism in Germany emerging but also a reappearance of ‘national orientation’. Clearly, Covid-19 poses a very serious threat to each and every one of us and also, as a result of the lockdown measures that have had to be brought in, a serious threat to the prosperity to which we have grown so accustomed.
Yet at the same time, the fact we have seen national borders closing once again is hugely damaging to the idea of Europe. Of course, we may yet see the current crisis also give rise to cross-border solidarity in Europe: crises always bring opportunities as well as challenges.
When astronauts look down on the Earth from space, not only do they speak of the incomparable beauty of our planet; they often remark upon the fact that they can see no borders (except between North and South Korea). How wonderful must that be to behold, or not to behold! This awful virus pays no heed to borders either. It seems absurd to me that if I were to go to my workplace in Paris right now and return from Germany, I would have to go into quarantine for two weeks. Spare a thought, also, for those living on the edges of European states (I prefer the word “edges” to “borders”). For them, since the Schengen Agreement, the border has been little more than a line on a map, and suddenly borders are in place once again.
In a letter, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister, Jean Asselborn, quite rightly calls for borders to be reopened. Then, speaking in a radio interview, Asselborn had this to say: “Germans, French and Luxembourgers have all grown up together here on the borders. They are used to seeing bridges, not borders, so when all of a sudden they see breezeblock barriers installed on the bridges, they just can’t understand it. These barriers have to go and soon.“
The same security measures have been put in place on both sides of the border. “Resentment is growing and when that happens, we start to see and hear things we hoped we would never have to witness again: anti-German and anti-European statements. This is bad for Germany, bad for Europe and bad for Luxembourg,” Asselborn added. “Customs officers are not exactly going to stop a virus by doing border checks.”
I am a convinced European, and my conviction goes far beyond institutional constructions and organisations.
I stand by this simple logic: competition is a driver, but cooperation is an enabler.
In this sense, I hope that WE will not only demand, but work actively towards ONE Europe without borders.
Despite all the current anxieties over coronavirus, the German language offers Future II: “Es wird gewesen sein…”. In other words, one day, eventually, like Europe’s dismantled borders, it too will be consigned to the past.
* The speech that has become known as ‘The Schuman Declaration’ was delivered in French (the above words attributed to him are therefore a translation).