The European Union on Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of its foundation in low-key fashion thanks to the coronavirus lockdowns still in place in much of the continent.
EU institutions had planned to open their doors to the public as per usual on May 9 to celebrate the signing of the Schuman declaration, considered the bloc’s founding document, but had to adapt in light of the health crisis.
Instead, the European Parliament kicked off a series of online events and exhibitions, inviting civil society organisations to participate.
The legislature’s President David Sassoli made a plea for greater solidarity among the 27 EU member states in the face of COVID-19.
“The only thing that can save us from the current crisis and enable us to restore our economies and protect our citizens is acceptance of the need for a common response,” he urged.
The Schuman declaration takes its name from the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, who envisaged in the wake of World War II the creation of a European steel and coal community to make conflict “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”
This year’s subdued festivities take place against an unusual backdrop.
“The pandemic has exposed old fault lines within the EU, with virus-stricken southern countries like Spain and Italy complaining about a lack of solidarity from northern peers such as Germany and the Netherlands.
“The EU is gazing into the abyss of the deepest recession in its history, which is also predicted to hit southern states harder and for longer.
“The economic and financial crisis has led to rising unemployment and widening inequality both between and within nations,” Sassoli said on Saturday.
EU states must mobilize a huge amount of resources for an expansive recovery initiative that “embraces young people and women, who are likely to bear the full brunt of the crisis,” according to the Italian.
The European Commission is due to present its highly anticipated and divisive recovery plan any day now, expected to be worth at least one trillion euros (1.1 trillion dollars) and be anchored in the EU’s next long-term budget.
The former President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said that member states must be willing to shell out more to shore up the union.
“If we forego every European solidarity and keep the budget miserly in size, in a few years the EU will be standing there pretty naked,” the Luxembourger said.
EU capitals will have to sign off any proposal, but some states like the Netherlands are resisting significantly larger budgetary contributions.