It took off with the vision of Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, political prisoners locked up by a fascist regime on the isle of Ventotene during the Second World War. Their manifesto For a Free and United Europe painted a picture of a place in which allies and adversaries would come together to ensure that the “old absurdities” of Europe would never return.
As a result, our troubled past has given way to a peace spanning seven decades and to an enlarged Union of 500 million citizens living in freedom in one of the world’s most prosperous economies. The images of battles in trenches and fields in Verdun, or of a continent separated by the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, have been replaced by a Union standing out as a beacon of peace and stability. The sacrifice of previous generations should never be forgotten. Human dignity, freedom and democracy were hard-earned and can never be relinquished. Even if the attachment to peace is not one that all of today’s Europeans can relate to in the same way as their parents or grandparents, these core values continue to bind us together.
Europe’s challenges show no sign of abating. Our economy is recovering from the global financial crisis but this is still not felt evenly enough. Parts of our neighbourhood are destabilised, resulting in the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Terrorist attacks have struck at the heart of our cities. New global powers are emerging as old ones face new realities. And last year, one of our Member States voted to leave the Union. The current situation need not necessarily be limiting for Europe’s future. The Union has often been built on the back of crises and false starts. From the European Defence Community that never got off the ground in the 1950s, to the exchange rate shocks of the 1970s, through to aborted accessions and rejections in referenda in recent decades,