What can we learn from the Schuman declaration? Is a document that was written 66 years ago still relevant in today’s world? And what does it tell us about the state of Europe’s peace agenda? By Andreas Mullerleile

On 9 May 1950 French foreign minister Robert Schuman presented a few powerful ideas that would change Europe. But the Schuman declaration is not only about building European structures – it is also an example of an unconventional idea how to build sustainable peace and rethink reconciliation.

History is key to understand the significance of the Schuman declaration. 1950, five years after WWII. Europe lies in ruins. Traumatised from one the most destructive wars in history, Europeans struggled to picture a positive future. It is also worth remembering that WWII was the third war between France and Germany - within one generation. Proposing anything connected to reconciliation was a brave thing to do.

"World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it." – Robert Schuman

With Europe in ruins, unconventional ideas were desperately needed. The boldest idea of all came from French Foreign Minister Robert Schumann who suggested to put Franco-German production of coal and steel under a common High Authority. Remember that coal and steel were the cornerstones of any war economy at the time. Schumann’s ideas were bold and innovative. He thought that joint control over war resources would make future war between France and Germany impossible. And he was right. Today, the Schumann declaration is widely seen as a starting point for economic cooperation in Europe and it represents one of the founding documents of the European Union.

"The pooling of coal and steel production... will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims." – Robert Schuman

Reimagining Europe’s peace agenda

But what can we learn from the Schuman declaration? Europe’s current crisis seem far away from coal, steel and Franco-German reconciliation. However, the essence of the Schuman declaration remains valid. It is a document that imagines a peaceful future. Europeans experienced how painful and time consuming it is to build sustainable peace and invest in reconciliation. It takes time but it pays off.

Creating sustainable peace sometimes needs a bold vision that finds supports in different political arenas. It works best if conflict parties create a win-win situation. We all know that working together in a group can create a sense of community. Europe is not much different. So, abandoning the idea of having a win-win situation will not help to solve the current set of crisis – be it the euro crisis or the refugee crisis. Accepting compromises is at the heart of the European project. 

The Schuman declaration could also help us to reimagine Europe’s foreign policy and how we deal with conflicts in our neighbourhood. For example: can regional projects help to find a solution for the various wars in the Middle East? Is regional cooperation a way to create bridges in Eastern Europe? How can we help conflict parties around the world to learn from Europe's experiences? The Schuman declaration is a bold proposition for peace. But it is not enough. We need similarly unconventional ideas to solve today's conflicts - in Europe and in our neighborhood.