Tomorrow is Europe Day, and let us be honest, there are, in most people's minds, more important events to be recalled today. It is, for example, Billy Joel's birthday, according to one calendar. Also, no less a source than the History Channel tells us that on 9 May 1998, "Sex change singer Dana International won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel with the song 'Diva'."
Wikipedia does however note that on 9 May 1950 a French Minister announced to the press a plan for managing coal and steel production between Germany and France. To those people with a passion for mineral and industrial management (you know who you are) this was very significant, but for the rest of us...
The man was named Robert Schuman, and he had looked at Europe, devastated by war, and decided that there had to be a better way. But how? They could try to ban weapons, but that rarely works. The winners don't want to give them up, and the losers tend to get bitter about not having any. So instead, Schuman thought that if the leaders of Europe could not control who had weapons, they could control what makes weapons. Steel. And what do you need to make steel? Coal. Pooling production would make any war between France and Germany impossible according to Schuman.
It was a visionary plan, and it began the process that created today's European Union.The EU now has 27 member states. Two generations of Europeans have grown up without knowing what it is like to have a war in their country. (And this on a Continent which played host to two world wars and innumerable others over the centuries). I look around Europe today and ask myself, what happened to all those authoritarian governments that there used to be? Where are the dictators, communists and colonels? They have gone, hopefully for good.
So what? Many people say. They see a blue flag with 12 stars. Does it evoke passion? In a small minority, perhaps. Some see it as a symbol of good, a tiny minority detest it, but to most, it is a symbol that is just not relevant to them. The EU is a bit like the insulation in your house – it's good to know it's there but the average person does not go around thinking or worrying about it all the time. And yet, maybe that is its greatest success.
The EU doesn't really do passion. If you tried to market the EU as an aphrodisiac, it would rate up there with a nice pair of socks. If anything, the EU flag stands for boring reason over passion, for doing boring things like setting acceptable chemical levels in herring or discussing cross border iPod warranty issues.
And yet the EU does stuff that is highly relevant to us. Like reducing the cost of using mobile phones abroad. Like creating millions of jobs via the single market. Like paving the way for cheaper air fares by opening up Europe's skies to competition.like enabling students to study in another country.
So, this is my Happy Europe Day card. No need to wave a flag. But when you think about the positive and useful everyday work that European countries now do together, maybe it's a nice idea to remember the day in 1950 when one man, looking out over a continent that had been the world's greatest battlefield only five years previously, suggested that he might have a way of making sure it never happened again.
The writer is Vice-President of the European Commission