On the 25th March, exactly 60 Years after the signing of the Rome Treaty and just a few hundred meters away from Val Duchesse were the Treaty was drafted, Friedrich Naumann Foundation and ALDE Party invited the liberal community to celebrate the occasion which paved the way and laid the foundation of what is now the European Union.
Challenges of today compel us to look for a way ahead, but experience teaches us that it is also important to take a look back, in order to be able to move forward.
Even though there were no founding mothers of the Treaty, important women did decisively shape the path on which the European Union has been able to make its major achievements. Thus the centre of stage at the Commemorative Ceremony for the Signing of the Rome Treaty, was given to two Grand Dames of European liberal Politics, Mechthild von Alemann and Annemie Neyts
Remembering the early days of the EU
Voted into the European Parliament in the first direct elections in 1979, former librarian and German politician, Mechthild von Alemann, served as a Member for two consecutive terms. She was vice chair of the committee of inquiry of the situation of women in Europe and, in her second term, was vice chair of the liberal group in the Parliament.
Annemie Neyts, after a career in education and national politics in Belgium, firstly got elected to the European Parliament in 1994. Later on she served two more terms, focusing on Foreign and Defence Policy. She served as Vice President of the ELDR Group, she was President of Liberal International and President of what was then called the ELDR Party and now is ALDE, from 2005 to 2011.
Reminiscing about the most memorable moments of European history both point out to two key elements: coming together and moving Europe actively forward. In this spirit Annemie Neyt’s key memory is connected to the fall of the Berlin Wall: a true moment of hope and unity for Europe. Mechthild von Alemann remembered even more vividly the discussion erupting afterwards: what will happen to Europe after physical divisions are overcome? The European Parliament was the first platform to hit off the discourse on how Europe’s future could look like and it is proof to her, how important this institution is in setting the agenda. As a Member of the first directly elected European Parliament, she pointed out to the importance of a democratic backing as well.
When asked to define their role in the development of the European Union, both saw their mission in re-building a peaceful Europe, based on democratic principles. Europe is, as Mechthild von Alemann put it, a ‘peace project’. Annemie Neyts continued this train of thought: “70 years of peace is not something to dismiss so easily” she said. It is a miracle that people from different cultures and political backgrounds come together in order to solve common problems. For her Europe’s role is to prevent war and provide peace to as many as possible. Therefore the EU needed to play a more active role in the world.
The future and the way forward
The two of them could have never imagined how Europe would look like now, but it was a hope for a better future and the enthusiasm to move forward and not backwards that made them commit to ‘Project Europe’. But both are also afraid that this ‘Project’ is endangered by recent developments. What is needed to get Europe back on track is to start working on an accurate assessment of the EU’s current status and achieve a common diagnosis of where it stands, according to Neyts. Brexit is a good example of how people on both sides have neglected the seriousness of what is at stake. Mechthild von Alemann continued by saying that there is a major difference between reasonably evaluating what is currently going wrong and just opposing anything related to the EU. “Those with this kind of plain negativity must have no imagination otherwise they would think of something else” she states
Imagination is something that, many still have. Guests of the ceremony had the opportunity to visit the exhibition on Animate Europe, to look at Europe from a different angle. FNF Europe had invited artists and graphic novelists from all over the world to share their ideas of what Europe means to them and what it might look like in 50, 100, 200 years and has launched its third round this year under the title ‘Re-Animate’ Europe.
Bringing history into our today’s perspective, this gathering has served as a reminder of what Europe has achieved in the past 60 years and sets the motivation of what is still possible for the generations ahead.
Daniela Oberstein ist Programme Manager / Media Officer beim Europäischen Dialogprogramm der Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit in Brüssel.