Together since 1957; 50 Years of the European Union

Article excerpt

Byline: BENITA FERRERO-WALDNER (European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighborhood Policy)

FIFTY years ago six European countries came together to create a unique form of regional organisation. The objective was to ensure war would never again ravage the European continent, leaving a trail of death and devastation in its path.

It has undoubtedly been a tremendous success. For fifty years its members have enjoyed unprecedented levels of peace, prosperity and stability. And so they have pushed it to go further. Over the years it has evolved to be much more than a simple trading bloc coordinating members' trade policy and setting common tariffs. Now numbering 27 members, the European Union today is a political organisation active in all the areas that pose the greatest challenges to society in the 21st century.

For countries around the world that means we are no longer just a trading partner. Now we are a strategic partner for issues as varied as international terrorism, climate change, HIV/AIDS, and resolving the world's most entrenched conflicts.

In our relations with our international partners we project the values we believe have contributed to our own success. Our prosperity has grown out of a particular form of regional cooperation which has developed hand in hand with a deeper commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is this experience, the secret of our own success, which we seek to offer to others.

The European Union acts in many different ways on the world stage, but a common EU foreign policy is a relatively new addition to our activities which we are still developing. We realise that sometimes makes it difficult for our partners to understand how to work with us. But even though we are not the most straightforward of international partners, we are certainly one of the most influential. And our ambition is to contribute even more to the international community and to our partners around the world.

One frequently forgotten fact is that the European Union is already the world's largest donor of international assistance. We currently provide 60 percent of the world's official development assistance, the Commission alone providing over C7 billion. We aim to tackle poverty and provide humanitarian assistance wherever it is required.

We also deploy our resources to provide prosperity and stability to others. The EU has developed a unique set of skills in assisting countries in transition. Our expertise has been crafted by our experience at home helping the countries of Southern Europe and then Central and Eastern Europe make the transition to market economy and an open society. …