The vital role of citizens and the importance of engaging them in building a better Europe is the key message from Europe’s local leaders on the occasion of Europe Day on 9 May. Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of the Regions, stressed that the European project has brought and is bringing also in the future so much good for the citizens that it must be defended even during turbulent times when it could be easy to succumb to populism. President Markkula spends Europe Day on the ground in Innsbruck, Austria, meeting students, citizens and policy-makers as well as visiting different projects.
In his speech at the University of Innsbruck Markku Markkula reminded that the Brenner pass between Austria and Italy is a symbol for the construction of a unified Europe – a project which has to be continued and defended every day. “Too many lives were lost in Europe’s divisions and wars. Too much blood and tears shed. It took decades of hard work until we reached the level of freedom, welfare and peaceful unity which we enjoy today and which wasn’t possible for our parents, grandparents and the generations before.”
“Currently we are facing major challenges in whole Europe. The largest wave of migration of the Second Republic requires courage, tact and especially humanity. We are required to build bridges to those people who ask for protection and help and to assist them in their new lives in our communities. In addition, it is up to us to deal and respond to the fears and anxieties of the population appropriately. Only if we tackle these issues united we will succeed in accomplishing them”, said Christine Oppitz-Plörer, the mayor of Innsbruck.
Facing the economic, social and political problems of today, Mr Markkula warned against populism and extremism: “We need a stronger Europe to renew the economy towards sustainable growth and new jobs, to make the living conditions and welfare better, to protect the environment and to safeguard national borders as well as to tackle the challenges of demographic change and the refugee crisis. In most cases the real action is local, Europe will help to solve these issues – sometimes with difficulty. Europe is part of the solution, not the problem. The solution can only be reached through solidarity”.
The Committee of the Regions as the EU’s assembly of local and regional representatives has an important role in creating back trust in Europe and building a Europe for the citizens. In prospect of the citizens’ dialogue in the evening Mr Markkula stated: “Our CoR Members – regional presidents, mayors or councillors – are the ones the people have chosen to decide on the issues closest to them. Because of this close connection to their everyday lives it is important that they also bring their wishes and demands to Brussels. This is why listening to citizens has always been a high value for us and citizens’ dialogues are at the heart of our institution and Members”.
The future of Europe will be decided in the hearts of the citizens. “We can go far in Europe but only if we work together, with our citizens and beyond borders and levels of government. This is what Europe Day is all about.”
Europe Day held on 9 May every year celebrates peace and unity in Europe. The date marks the anniversary of the historical ‘Schuman declaration‘. At a speech in Paris in 1950, Robert Schuman, the then French foreign minister, set out his idea for a new form of political cooperation in Europe, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable. His vision was to create a European institution that would pool and manage coal and steel production. A treaty creating such a body was signed just under a year later. Schuman’s proposal is considered to be the beginning of what is now the European Union.
Compliments of the European Union Committee of the Regions