There are few towns or villages in France which do not have a Robert Schuman Square or Street. Everywhere else in Europe it is often like this that his commitment to Europe is illustrated. As for the European institutions! There is not one building, hall, nor a door which does not bear his name. In Brussels, the metro, the station, the European quarter - everything bears the name Schuman and the Foundation which bears his name sometimes feels that it is part of the furniture!
"Your name forms the shadow of a big tree," wrote the great French poet Saint-John Perse ...
So where does this world fame of a French personality who shied away from the limelight come from? It was a rare accomplishment of a lifetime - that of taking responsibility for and carrying politically the European project, of having pacified our continent and of having opened up a new chapter for hundreds of millions of Europeans.
As it often goes in history it was made possible due to an exceptional man and timely circumstances.
"This discreet, modest, good man who found inspiration in his deep belief in God showed that when a resolution was necessary nothing could deter him. A public man, his life followed an internal pace which ignored what was happening outside." This is how President François Mitterrand chose to pay tribute to him in a message addressed to the French National Assembly on 25th June 1986.
At a time when Europeans are in doubt and wonder whether they can rise to the challenge - this lesson remains. Robert Schuman was able to take the opportunity of breaking with a destructive century. The post-war period was dark and threatening. No one might have believed that the scars of horror could just be blotted out - how could we forget the Shoah, the 50 million victims and later the Iron Curtain, but surmounted by an act (which seemed ludicrous at the time) of choosing to cooperate then make friends, to reconcile populations and rebuild a ruined Europe for the duration.
After two suicidal world wars, Europe should have been wiped out of history. But its heart beat on. Even in the crisis it still leads in terms of creating wealth, it is still the world's leading trading power, the first market. It often sets the tone in terms of philosophy, art and literature. It is the continent where one aspires to live because it has been able to combine freedom with solidarity, power with peace, wealth with justice.
European integration is an enormous success which surpasses all expectation. We have to say this at a time when the cold is reaching its very heart, when cynic scepticism is gaining ground - and yet abroad it is the envy of all!
The citizens often say they are disappointed by the European Union. They express their frustration, their expectations, their impatience, their incomprehension, and even their rejection of it. Even our elites seemed to be disturbed by Europe. We should recall how proud we are of what Europe is and what is has achieved. We might try to reassure people by quoting Ernest Renan: "only pessimism is fertile in great things" and God only knows that pessimism is the thing we share best at the moment! I would prefer to recall this saying by the great poet Pierre Seghers: "The impossible is what time demands."
Today with all of Europe, France pays tribute to Robert Schuman.
Indeed the French should be proud of having been the originators of the unification of Europe with Robert Schman but also with Jean Monnet, whose role in the writing of the Schuman Plan we all know of (9th May 1950). And although Europe has changed greatly, its Franco-German base remains the same - its heart as well. It is firstly Robert Schuman who took the initiative of Franco-German reconciliation, then General de Gaulle, who consecrated it with the legitimacy of being the first resistant to nazism. Hence we are doubly proud of being able to say that France is at the heart of Europe, that it is an active, vital motor in the slow construction that has always been the most intelligent response to globalisation.
2014 will witness the renewal of all of the European institutions whilst the crisis is still affecting our continent. Some doubt that we can overcome this challenge. Many fear extremes will vanquish, notably in the election of the EUropean Parliament, thereby weakening the extraordinary successes of the union of Europe. Of course reform has to be undertaken, transformations made. We have to adapt and often we show how impatient we are about this. But the European project will not stop here. It is almost irreversible. We have to feed it, drive it along, constantly improve it. "Ideas are nothing without the men who are the only ones to feed them," said Emmanuel Mounier.
The Robert Schuman Foundation will continue to be a place of work, constructive proposal and it will assume its full role in the work of faith that has to be undertaken. We publish the leading European e-journal which has over 200,000 subscribers. We produce more studies than most think-tanks in Europe. We host one of the most extensive networks of experts and authors on the continent. We do this with a small team and a budget which is as restricted as our ambitions are great. All of those who are interested in Europe participate in its work. Businesses need expertise, private parties need information, militants of the European cause - all are welcome in helping us to support one of the greatest think-tanks that works for Europe.
The European project requires an almost daily commitment. It is vital more than ever before in this century of constant change that disturbs our fellow countrymen and threatens our model. As the Japanese saying goes: "the only permanent thing in this world is change." And that is what we are experiencing.
To master this our nations are no longer alone. We must work together more systematically to help our continent adapt. This requires public leaders and certainly more European commitment. We will help them in this. This requires imagination, creativity - we have this. We need courage. This is the lesson to be learned from Robert Schuman who left us fifty years ago.
de la Fondation Robert Schuman