Seventy-three years ago, the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, proposed to defeated Germany and other willing European nations a new form of cooperation that would prevent any future recourse to war.
It was a bold gamble. It succeeded.
Within the borders of the European Union, no one can now imagine resorting to force to settle a dispute with a partner or neighbour. There are treaties, institutions, procedures, places where points of view are exchanged, where compromises are made, and joint decisions are taken.
Many people dreamed of a federal Europe. Robert Schuman invented a progressive method that respected national identities because, five years after the end of the fighting in Europe, it was the only way to bring together yesterday's enemies.
This is the meaning of the rather non-declaratory formula: "Europe will not be built all at once, nor in an overall construction; it will be built through concrete cooperation creating a de facto solidarity".
And this is how, for 73 years, the integration of Europe has progressed, sparing the nations, but offering them solutions to face the challenges that they can no longer face alone. Step by step, sometimes too slowly, but always in the same direction.
Solidarity between states is stronger than they themselves admit. The difficulties of conducting public affairs force them to come together on most of the issues that concern them: currency, finance, economics, health, environment, etc.
There is no longer any area in which national governments completely ignore the European dimension. And when they hesitate to share their competences, they fail, as for example when faced with the difficult question of migration. Because in the 21st century, size matters and we are so small on a global scale!
On the international scene, Europe is present and influential, but its promise of peace is being challenged. The return of war to the continent reminds it that there is no power without credible strength. It is therefore struggling to build dissuasive armies to preserve peace.
Economic competition obliges it to make greater use of its immense assets in terms of knowledge, know-how, technology, exceptional technical achievements and accumulated culture.
Its values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights are recognised throughout the world, where they are questioned and now challenged because they shine and fascinate.
This European history, which is already long, is unprecedented in the history of humanity: there are no other examples of the peaceful unification of a continent. This construction is therefore still fragile.
It bothers dictators because it attracts their citizens; it embarrasses ideologues because it is more humane and pragmatic than their dangerous speeches; it takes nationalists by surprise, whose promises are no longer credible. Europe has enemies and rivals and must adapt more quickly. It is moving forward, sometimes hesitantly, but always growing stronger.
It will need to make a great deal more effort to face this surprising century. It must now win hearts after having conquered minds. To become a real project shared by all its citizens.
On 9 May we can celebrate an exemplary success; above all, we must show that we are ready to complete it, so that Europe remains in the trio of great powers, what it is: a continent of plenty!