May is a lucky month for Europe, on all fronts. In fact, we have just experienced an important European celebration sentiment during the first period of the month, reflecting the desire not to forget. Not to forget our common peace, personal and economic liberty, cooperation and commitment.
Remembering these values is obviously the purpose of this article, focusing on two days, the 8th and the 9th of May 1945 and 1950, that forged the basis for the gradual evolution of the “European identity”: the Victory in Europe Day (May 8th, 1945) and Europe Day, commemorating the Schuman Declaration (May 9th, 1950).
“[...] We’ll not forget the sacrifices made by others in our name, they gave their lives so we might live in freedom’s sweet domain.” -Patricia D. Newman
Victory in Europe Day celebrates the formal acceptance of Germany’s surrender of its armed forces on 8 May 1945. This event marked the end of a nearly six year destructive war which broke the lives of millions of men.
On this day, people permeated the streets with parties, dancing and singing of freedom and hope, spreading relief in towns and cities across the world.
History - Not a surprise
30 April 1945: Berlin is surrounded by Allied forces and Adolf Hitler commits suicide. The successor named after him was Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who negotiated an end to the war which arrived through a delegation on May 4th at the headquarters of British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery at Lüneburg Heath, east of Hamburg.
Three days later, on the 7th of May, the Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower also accepted the unconditional surrender of German forces at his headquarters in Reims, France. The paper came into effect the following day, when a further document addressed to the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was signed, too.
“The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 23.01 hours Central European time on 8 May 1945 [...]”
— German Instrument of Surrender, Article 2
However, Germany’s surrender did not come as a surprise, particularly in Britain, where people started celebrating even earlier and didn’t wait for the official surrender day to come.
"We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.", these were the words of the UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, reminding that even though the VE Day marked the victory of Europe over Germany, it did not mark the end of World War II.
However, after five years from that declaration, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, in the Salon de l'Horloge at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris, was pronouncing revolutionary words, still remembered nowadays.
Europe Day: What really happened?
“European Union holiday”, “Peace and unity in Europe”, “Europe Day” are only a few of the various indications attributed to 9th May, but what really happened on this day and in which year?
Least known, is the fact that this day dates back to 1950, when Europe was suffering from the expectations of a potential third worldwide conflict, but that day the press was summoned in Paris at about six in the afternoon at the Office of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Quai d’Orsay, for a communication of the utmost importance.
“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.” These were the words of Robert Schuman and also the first lines of the 1950 declaration, redacted by the French foreign minister in collaboration with his advisor Jean Monnet and aimed to grant a “long-term” peace in post-war Europe. Outlining the idea of a common convergence of basic productions and the institution of a High Authority whose decisions will be binding for the “member countries'', the first ideas for the definition of a supranational union were already marked out, and those are also the ideas that gave birth to the European Community.
Institution and Celebration
In 1985, the report of the commission “for a People’s Europe” chaired by Pietro Adonnino was the starting point for the launch of new “cultural icons” by the European Commission, whose aim was to create an European identity to foster integration: this is the reason for the institution of the blue flag, the anthem, the motto and the Europe Day, which was then extended by Germany to a “Europe Week”, celebrated in Poland with the “Schuman Parade” and officialized by a declaration in the Treaty of Lisbon.
To commemorate the birth of a new European long-term peace and cooperation, every year on this date the EU institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg open their doors to the public, even virtually after the pandemic of 2020, year that marked the the 70th anniversary of the Schuman declaration and the 75th commemoration of the end of the Second World War.
"A day will come when all nations on our continent will form a European brotherhood... A day will come when we shall see... the United States of America and the United States of Europe face to face, reaching out for each other across the seas." -Victor Hugo