Celebrating Europe's Peace and Unity

Today, May 9th, is Europe Day.

On this day we remember the historical declaration by former French foreign minister Robert Schuman, considered one of the founding fathers of the European Union, that "world peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it."

This was 1950 -- a time when Schuman and other great European leaders looked back at how two terrible World Wars had engulfed the continent and the world with it. And they knew something had to be done.

The creative efforts first led to six European countries sharing their coal and steel resources -- eventually leading to today's European Union of 27 countries (soon to be 28 with Croatia joining) and half a billion people.

Schuman's idea was right; intertwining Europe's economies would help prevent further warfare and bloodshed. It has been over six decades now and Europe has seen its longest period of peace and prosperity. And we have managed to stand as a beacon for peace, freedom and prosperity as we've helped countries in our region transition to democracy.

We should not lose sight of that as we grapple with the problems the European Union faces today. We are weathering the impact of the financial and economic crisis and begin to find ourselves back on track to recovery.

Our current challenges are still considerable. But we need to look at the larger perspective and see how far we have come since 1950. I spent the first 17 years of my life growing up under a dictatorship in Portugal -- it meant a lack of basic freedoms, no democracy and wide-spread poverty. It isn't some distant history -- and yet our free and modern Europe is such a far cry from those days. We need to remind our younger generations of this -- war on European soil is not just an old tale of their grandparents; peace should never be taken for granted.

That was precisely the reason behind the EU receiving last year's Nobel Peace Prize, with the Nobel Committee noting how we have "contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe," and reminding us "what can happen if disintegration starts and if we let extremism and nationalism start growing again in Europe."

The values that united and guided the EU from war to peace have become values we project outside our borders and that others around the world want to embrace. With the United States, we work to promote peace and security in places that desperately need it, promote free and fair elections and fight for human rights.

And we still see the attraction and power of the EU to facilitate peace; most recently with Serbia and Kosovo last month agreeing to normalize relations after six months of talks led by our High Representative Catherine Ashton.

Schuman foresaw that "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity." He was absolutely right, and on Europe Day I'm happy to note that his vision of a peaceful, united Europe is alive and well.