For peace in Europe 

February 17, 2024

We are waking up these days to the shift from the post-war era of peace and prosperity to a pre-war phase in a new Cold War.

This is new terrain for most of us. For two generations now – over seven decades – we have taken our peace for granted. Yet those of my boomer generation, born after soldiers returned from war zones to marry their waiting sweethearts, were raised on war stories. My father’s generation, and both his father’s and his grandfather’s generations were all involved in wars: World War 2, the Great War and the Boer War respectively.

During the first two years of my grammar school in New Zealand, all one thousand of us schoolboys were involved every Tuesday afternoon in military exercises and training –  learning to dismantle and reassemble machine guns, clean rifles, courtyard drill and map reading. And that down-under, on the far side of the world!  We were all conscious that we could one day be called up for military service, following our forefathers’ generations. I remember celebrating over drinks with a friend when our birth dates had not been drawn in the conscription lottery.

My sons however have never entertained the notion of being conscripted, though raised in the heart of the continent where most of history’s battles have occurred (see the Wikimedia map above showing where battles have taken place since 2000BC).  


Yet peace in Europe has not been the norm. And when the guns fell silent in 1945, peace did not automatically follow. Europe was suffering a severe case of post-trauma stress disorder over the five fearful, bitter and anxious post-war years. Nations, cities, communities and families had been divided, disrupted, uprooted and destroyed. The threat of a new nuclear war with the Soviets hung like a heavy cloud over the continent. 

Only when Robert Schuman, a devout believer, tabled a concrete plan for rebuilding Europe on the basis of forgiveness, reconciliation, shared sovereignty and solidarity, was there a blueprint for lasting peace, one that continued to spread across the continent. That inspired the hopes of those under the yoke of oppressive autocratic rule, bringing democracy and rule of law firstly to Spain, Portugal and Greece, then to former communist Central and Eastern European lands, and currently stirring the lands now fighting or resisting Kremlin control.

That is why we should pause each year to thank God for what happened on May 9, 1950. For in a speech of a mere three minutes on that day, Schuman as the French Foreign Minister laid the foundation for what has become the European Union. He announced a plan to pool the coal and steel industries of France, Germany and the Benelux, thus making impossible the development of a war machine by any one of those nations. This plan began a process to break the old cycle of vengeance and violence, and a movement to build a community of nations. That’s also why May 9 is officially recognised across the EU, including Ukraine, as Europe Day (although shamefully ignored here in the Netherlands).


We started the Schuman Centre for European Studies on the 60th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, May 9, 2010. Since 2011 we have held a State of Europe Forum on or around this date in the capital of the country holding the presidency of the EU. Christians from all denominations and disciplines from across Europe – within and beyond the EU – are invited to reflect together on how peace came to Europe and what our continent’s state is today in the light of Schuman’s vision for ‘a community of peoples deeply rooted in basic Christian values’.

This year, on May 10 (Friday evening) and 11 (all day Saturday), we will gather in the historic Carmelite Church in Brussels for the 2024 State of Europe Forum. The Anglican bishop in Europe, Rt Rev Robert Innes, and the former prime minister of Slovakia, Eduard Heger (whom I recently interviewed), will be among the various contributors helping us to discern where God is at work in our divided and polarised Europe. 

On Europe Day itself, Thursday May 9, which happens also to be Ascension Day this year, the Schuman Centre will hold a European Study Day in the Chapel of Europe. Morning and afternoon sessions will explore how the Christian faith has shaped European identity and culture, and inspired the European integration process. 

On Friday morning (the 10th), we will hold a Walk through the European Quarter of Brussels, explaining the functions of the various European institutions, and give opportunity for participants to visit the Parlementarium and the House of European History

With the European Parliament elections coming up in June (6-9), these events will help prepare us to vote with understanding. We invite you to reserve these dates and join us in Brussels to better understand what we as God’s people should do in these crucial days for Europe. 

(Watch this space for further information about the European Study Day, the Walk, the Forum, and how to register).

Till next week,

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