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The story behind 9 May celebrating Europe Day
Robert Schuman

The story behind 9 May celebrating Europe Day

by Faye Peterson 2 min. 09.05.2023
Luxembourg-born Robert Schuman delivered the Schuman Declaration, a speech widely known for setting the foundations of today’s European Union
Robert Schuman
Robert Schuman
Photo credit: Romain Schanck

On Tuesday, Luxembourg will be celebrating Europe Day with a public holiday. Once prime minister of France, Luxembourg-born Robert Schuman delivered the Schuman Declaration on 9 May 1950 – a speech widely known for setting the foundations of today’s European Union. 

Born to a French father and Luxembourgish mother, Schuman grew up and attended school in the Grand Duchy. His native tongue was Luxembourgish but he was a German citizen, swapping sides to take French nationality after the First World War, when the region of Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France. 

By the end of World War One Schuman was actively involved in politics. A staunch catholic, he was elected to the French Parliament as a member of the Catholic Popular Democratic Party. By the time the Second World War broke out he was president of the parliamentary finance commission and under secretary of state for refugees.  

His positions made him a target and he was arrested by the Gestapo after the German invasion of France. Schuman managed to evade his captors and breakaway, narrowly escaping deportation to Dachau concentration camp.  

Unlike many other French leaders, such as Charles de Gaulle, Schuman declined invitations to flee the country and remained in France where he went into hiding. Here he joined the Resistance.

At the end of the war, Schuman returned to national politics and rose swiftly through the ranks. His brief period serving under Deputy Prime Minister Philippe Pétain during the war did little to diminish his popularity and he occupied a number of high level posts - minister of finance, prime minister, foreign minister and minister of justice. 

Schuman’s privileged positions made him a key negotiator in all major treaties and initiatives of the time from the Council of Europe and the Marshall Plan to NATO. 

One man, one vision 

The experience of living through two World Wars heavily influenced him and his politics. In line with many other politicians of the time he sought to implement policies designed to unify Europe. 

The Schuman Declaration was delivered in a speech on 9 May 1950. Largely inspired and written by Jean Monnet, Schuman’s speech put forward Monnet’s idea of placing key resources - in this case the Franco-German production of steel and coal - under one common European authority.  

It was an idea that could be rolled out to include other countries in Europe, encouraging them to share their resources in a show of mutual cooperation.  Cooperation, Schuman realised, was key to the fostering of common interests and shared goals. He firmly believed that "solidarity in production [once] established will make it plain that any war…becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible". 

The project was realised in 1952 through the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community. He followed through with other bold plans like a common European army, but this was vetoed. Yet, his vision had opened a gateway to a new era of political and economic unification that ultimately led to the formation of the EU as we know it today.      

For his role in the unification of Europe he was awarded a number of accolades: the Charlemagne Prize by the city of Aachen, the Erasmus Prize by the European Cultural Foundation, knight of the Order of Pius IX and in 2021 he was posthumously declared venerable by Pope Francis.   

On leaving office as the first president of the European Parliament he was granted the title Father of Europe. 

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