Europe Day 2020: rethinking the Future of Europe together

The 9th of May is annually celebrated as ‘Europe Day’. This year, Saturday the 9th of May also marks the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration. 70 years ago, Robert Schuman, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, proposed the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community, to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible". His Declaration set European integration in motion. The COVID-19 pandemic makes this year’s Europe Day different, but at the same time more relevant than ever. In addition to this extraordinary occasion, researchers from Utrecht University initiate a series of blogs on the Future of Europe.

Today, 70 years after the declaration, Europe faces a crisis which makes the unprecedented debate surrounding the identity of Europe even more important and complex. By sharing different perspectives and by providing resources for grasping Europe’s history and current fragility, academic experts on Europe and the European Union hope to shed a light on the possible scenarios for moving forward.

The current crisis challenges Europe's resilience and values

Challenging times

While the current crisis is hitting European societies hard, it places European cooperation in the limelight. EU Member States have adopted different strategies in dealing with the outbreak of the virus. Countries, organisations and people are trying their best to cope with the impact of the pandemic. European governments are struggling with the balance between protecting their citizens and responding to the cry for solidarity and aid from other countries. Aside from the current pandemic, Brexit, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, also reshapes the future of Europe significantly.

With Europe’s rules changing, questions arise about the resilience of the Europe we know. Can the European Union still serve as the strong collective it was meant to be? How do the current developments change Europe’s identity? What measures may be necessary to protect the values which are at the heart of Europe, such as safety, freedom, democracy and openness? In the present circumstances and on this Europe Day, 70 years after signing the Schuman Declaration, it is time to reflect on that.

Now is the time to reflect on the future of Europe

To achieve a more efficient and democratic European Union, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen implemented the idea of a two-year long conference on the Future of Europe. The conference should offer the opportunity for EU institutions and civil society to work together in a joint effort to give Europeans a greater say on the future of the Union. Although the conference, which was to be launched on Europe Day 2020, has been postponed due to COVID-19, Utrecht University still wants to take the opportunity to shed light on the matter.

Everything the European Union has been promoting for decades (openness, collaboration, freedom), has been reversed in a matter of days.

Professor of Global History and Sustainability Transitions

Interdisciplinary research on Europe's history, identity and politics

At Utrecht University, Europe is a theme that is broadly studied by many researchers from various perspectives. The history of Europe, European integration, and European culture, identity and politics are important focus areas in our often interdisciplinary research. Various ideas and perspectives exist on Europe, its institutions and citizens, how Europe was ‘made’, and on what the future holds. The current COVID-19 crisis both challenges and fuels the ongoing research, inviting researchers to reflect on the implications for Europe's future. In several articles and blogs, our researchers recently shared their thoughts on the challenges Europe is facing.

Groep mensen volgt social distancing

Sybe de Vries, full professor of EU Single Market Law and Fundamental rights, for example, assesses EU’s legal matters and the endangerment of Europe’s Single Market in relation to the health crisis Europe is facing. In a recent blogpost for RENFORCE he states: “Within the context of the EU one may expect a common approach to fight Covid-19. However, some even argue that Corona rather reveals the relatively poor status of European cooperation." The Covid-19 crisis seems to visualize tensions between the EU’s Single Market and the protection of public health. 

Johan Schot, Professor of Global Comparative History and Sustainability Transitions at the Utrecht University Centre for Global Challenges, acknowledges this division among EU member states as well. In his blog he addresses the implications of the pandemic for the future of Europe. From his point of view, Europe is faced with unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, because “everything the European Union has been promoting for decades (openness, collaboration, freedom), has been reversed in a matter of days.”

Liesbeth van de Grift, Associate Professor in the History of International Relations, discusses in newspaper De Volkskrant how conflicting values threaten connectedness within the European Union. She worries that the current crisis could be misused to increase political power in certain European countries.

Rethinking Europe: exchanging ideas on Europe’s future

Following Von der Leyen’s initiative, more scholars from Utrecht University hope to share their thoughts on the Future of Europe, offering different perspectives and covering different fields of studies. Dr. Koen van Zon, specialized in the history of political representation in the EU, kicked off by elaborating on the past and future of democracy in the EU. In the second blog, Marij Swinkels and Jorrit Steehouder show the value of adaptive leadership in the European Union. MA student Dawid Aristoteles Fusiek wrote a third contribution about Europe's North-South division.  

Are you interested in sharing your (academic) perspective on the Future of Europe as well? You are more than welcome to contribute to our blog series.

Contact us about a contribution to this series
Read more about our Europe-related research