Europe Day – 70 Years of Peace!

Address by Ambassador Juan Fernández Trigo, Head of the European Delegation to Uruguay,on the occasion of the 2015 Europe Day

Dear friends,

On this very day of the 2015, it’s the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. And on the 9th May we celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Declaration of the French Foreign Affairs Minister, Robert Schumann, a declaration which is considered the founding document of the present European Union. These two dates are intimately linked, as the European institutions emerged from the desire for peace and harmony that swept Europe at the end of a conflict that ravaged the continent.

Indeed, the French Minister proposed in 1950 that two essential productions for the military industry such as coal and steel stayed under the control and supervision of a common supranational authority. It was a way to avoid military rearmament, and that's how the first of the European communities emerged. From this point they would expand the fields of cooperation and institutionalization until our days, in which 70% of the legislation that applies in the 28 member countries was adopted by the common institutions.

For centuries the Europeans have been harming and killing each other for religious, territorial, prestige reasons or desire of annihilating what they deemed different in conflicts such as the 100 years’ and 30 years' Wars, the succession to the crown of Spain or the Napoleonic wars. In the sole XX century, we’ve suffered fierce combats in the Balkans war, the war of Irish independence, the First World War (with more than 30 million dead), the civil war in Finland, the Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Soviet conflicts, The Spanish civil war, the Greek Civil War and World War II (with more than 50 million deaths and the atrocious attempt to exterminate the Jewish people) and more recently, the wars in the former Yugoslavia … not to mention the Cold War, which – despite being "cold"  – left behind a trail of purges, torture, murder and suffering that can level out the hottest conflicts.

Therefore, it is because we are afraid of our own past, that what has happened in Ukraine is a particular concern to us: for an European changing a border it like opening Pandora's box and bringing about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, to paraphrase Spanish writer Vicente Blasco Ibanez and Italian-American director Francis Ford Coppola. It is also due to our warrior past, that we were eager to deploy a special role in the negotiations with Iran to ensure that the country's nuclear program is developed for peaceful purposes.

Until 1950 all generations of Europeans sent their sons to war. They got used to living with a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Losing one child in war … living with maimed and crippled children … Living with the anxiety of never seeing again the adolescents who had left the family home to fight in a battlefield used to be part of everyday life for many centuries. Do you see yourself nowadays bidding farewell to your children on a railway platform? Fortunately not, and that gives us the measure of how much things have changed. All our ancestors have fought and yet, none of our children have been forced to do so. 

We have celebrated the Europe Day with the embassies of Germany and France, in two of this city's cemeteries, we have paid a tribute to the soldiers of World War II interred in the Uruguayan soil. We wanted also to pay tribute to the reconciliation between the belligerents in this conflict. While a great number of countries have fought during this war, I think Germany and France are a symbol of states that have successfully overcome their ancient rivalry; they have worked hard to put their differences aside and cooperate to change the battlefield into an area of prosperity. 

In this region, in the European Union, we wanted to give shelter to all those who were leaving a dictatorship and wanted to flee the danger of a military coup; those who wanted to escape ideological oppression and military tutelage; those whose development was lagging behind; those who expected to learn from wiser peoples; those who had fought for their children to have better opportunities in the future and those who wanted their elders to live with decent retirement wages.

Europe Day

Let me quote some data that give an idea of the dimensions of the European project: EU GDP is 13.5 billion Euros, ahead of the first world economy; We harbour 7% of the world population, but represent 20% of global trade (we are the leading importer and exporter); if you consider the countries that joined the EU in the two major expansions of 80-86 and 2004 to 2007, we can say that the result of their incorporations brought a further average GDP increase of 12%; between 1992 and 2005, i.e. fifteen years, the foreign investment in the EU rose from 23 billion euros to 159 billion euros, which gives an idea of the level of confidence in European economies. And more importantly: not one of the conflicts that existed between countries before they joined the Union still exists: the former Yugoslavia is a good example of it. We are committed to defending democracy, the Human Rights and the rule of Law. We allocate half of the ODA worldwide to mitigate the effects of backwardness and inequality.

By the way, I cannot avoid mentioning the sad images that we have seen in the media about the humanitarian crisis which is now unfolding in the Mediterranean sea. We cannot be proud that so many people put their lives at risk to reach our shores in search of a better future. We know the answer to this drama is not easy, but it is precisely for this reason that it demands the collaboration of all. We have an obligation to address this problem with generosity, while helping to combat despair where it arises.  But without forgetting that we must act resolutely against those who strive trafficking human beings and playing with their dreams.         .

In Europe, we have built integration mechanisms based on solidarity, and we must say it with pride, now that so much is being said about our crisis: even in the fiercest debates about how to rescue a given Member State, we still talk about aiding them and granting them credit when no one else does… about giving payment deferrals, sometimes impossible to fulfil … and providing urgent monies to pay salaries and pension benefits. We are all aware that this crisis has lasted way too long, but it can't be denied that we have achieved a great deal too: among other things, in the European Union no one has been abandoned to their fate and, despite disagreements over how to tackle the problems, we keep on negotiating, because if we have learned anything over the last sixty-five years, it is the art of negotiating.

In this spirit of compromise and negotiation, I do wish to recognize the exemplary value of our Uruguayan partners in their desire to reach agreements with the European Union. We have always been the witnesses of the pro-Europe trend in the Uruguayan society and its desire to get the best out of their products, from a foreign trade pragmatic view. Europe agrees with such vision: the reconciliation of mutual interests can generate significant wealth and we want the negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between EU and Mercosur to reach a successful conclusion as soon as possible. We are confident that the ideas recently expressed by the Uruguayan government, through the Minister Nin Novoa, regarding the need to clarify this negotiating process can be especially useful.

EU Delegation

Within a few months, in June, we will have the opportunity to host in Brussels the EU-CELAC Summit, an unique occasion to strengthen our special collaboration between two continents so close in their values and common interests. And in November the COP21 conference on climate change will take place in Paris, a summit in which the European Union has high hopes regarding the commitments to be undertaken by the international community on restricting emissions of greenhouse gases and the adoption of obligations to keep the increase in global temperatures below two degrees. Knowing the commitment being made by Uruguay in favour of renewable energy, we are confident in the positive influence of this country to reduce the effects of climate change.

I would like to make amends should the tone of this address happen to be overly self-complacent. However, I have found it necessary to point out, especially in this day, that the Europeans have been able to replace a historical legacy of death and destruction by one of peace and collaboration. Leaving the horror of World War II, we have dreamed that we would be able to create a political region grounded on economic integration. We have dreamed that meeting common economic interests, through trade and investments, could promote an ongoing dynamic of cooperation that would make political unity inevitable, a political unity capable of setting limits to national sovereignty in favour of a supranational entity deeply ingrained in democratic values and permanent negotiation.

Negotiating implies a mutual enrichment in every sense of the word. We have understood that accepting compromises is always positive. The benefits of the agreement outweighs the inevitable concessions, while imposing things may ultimately bring about misfortunes. Sovereignty at any cost is dangerous and that the importance of geography should not be used to set international law. Our project is to make everyone feel at ease because we negotiate rather than intimidate. We listen to each other and we do business; there’s no better antidotes against the temptation of autarchy and the impoverishment it entails.

For all these reasons, today I would like to pay tribute to all those who have fallen in combat, and also for all those who didn't have to, due to the irreversible peace process in Europe.

Thank you for your attention.