Today, May 9, we celebrate Europe Day. May 9 is the day that in 1950 French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman launched proposals that led to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, and eventually to the creation of the European Union.
From the start the European Union has been about sharing: shared resources, shared interests, shared values, and shared sovereignty. It was born out of the devastation of the first half of the twentieth century in Europe, out of the vision that there must be a better way of doing things, a better system of relations between states. The European Union is by no means perfect, but the European Communities and the EU have been the basis for seventy years of peace, for the reunification of Germany and of Europe, for the construction of the world’s biggest trading bloc, and for successes in addressing social and environmental challenges that could not have been achieved by member states acting individually.
The vision of a Union, based on shared interests, shared resources and shared sovereignty remains an essential one. That is particularly true at a time when in many parts of the world there seems to be a reversion to the politics of competition and confrontation. Now more than ever, in a globalised world, we are faced with challenges – climate change, extremism, international crime – that we can only effectively tackle by working together.
The European Union is also based on a vision of the centrality of the citizen, and of the rule of law. The state should serve the needs and interests of its citizens, and all should be equal before the law – “be I never so high, the law is above me”. Internationally, the European Union stands for a rules-based order, one that applies to the strong as well as the weak, to all states regardless of their size or wealth or military power.
Internationally, including in Cambodia, the EU works to support peace and development. Our approach is built around the Sustainable Development Goals, which are commitments for the whole of the global community. They underline not only the importance of development – in the sense of progress that brings people out of poverty and ensures access to health and education, clean water and enough to eat – but also the need to do that in a way that is fair to all and that maintains and protects the natural systems that all life ultimately depends on. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Cambodia on this vital agenda.
We also greatly value our relations with Asean. We look forward to a further deepening of the relationship between the world’s two most advanced regional integration projects. We are preparing for an EU-Asean Leaders’ Meeting in Brussels later this year, which will follow the ASEM Summit – the Asia-Europe Meeting. We welcomed last year’s invitation for the president of the European Council to participate as a guest in the East Asia Summit, and hope we can build on that this year and in future.
The year 2018 has been designated the European Year of Cultural Heritage. It’s a time to celebrate our diverse cultures, in Europe and beyond. Cultural heritage shapes our identities and everyday lives. It surrounds us in our towns and cities, natural landscapes and archaeological sites. It is not only found in literature, art and objects, but also in the crafts we learn from our ancestors, the stories we tell to our children, the food we enjoy in company and the films we watch and recognise ourselves in.
Recognising and understanding our cultural heritage is important because it helps us understand who we are; because it is part of what makes us a community rather than just a collection of individuals; and because it reminds us that there are ideas and values that go beyond the day-to-day and the material. Knowledge of each other’s cultures allows us to better understand what we have in common, and where we differ, in our traditions, in our ways of understanding and dealing with the world.
I hope the coming year will see a further strengthening of the links of all kinds – political, commercial, educational and cultural – that exist between the European Union and the Kingdom of Cambodia. We will work together for development and to address the global challenges that face us all.
George Edgar is Ambassador of the European Union to Cambodia. He contributed this comment to Khmer Times.