There can be no doubt that Europe has made giant strides forward since Robert Schuman made his declaration on 9 May 1950. Emerging from three successive fratricidal wars, Europe has come a long way in 64 years. Much of Schuman's vision has become a reality. Many obstacles have been overcome. But we can't rest on our laurels just yet. We can't blindly pretend that everything is just fine. Because today's Europe appears to be in a state of disrepair. Since 2008, many Europeans have associated the EU with austerity measures and the dismantling of our social policies, which goes a long way towards explaining growing disenchantment with the institutions.
Let us take a look at Robert Schuman's main ideas and how Europe stands with them today, and let's look at how Europe can recover its momentum.
Schuman stated that "world peace cannot be safeguarded without making creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it."
We still have not managed to secure peace on our continent.
Peace in the Balkans came only after devastating wars. Now Europe appears powerless when it comes to the situation in Ukraine. As the Dalai Lama was unfortunately right to say, the EU was not able to reunite all the people of Europe after the wall came down.
There is a risk that a new iron curtain will form on our eastern border and certain European countries' territorial integrity is in jeopardy. The absence of a genuinely common foreign policy and a proper European defence system is undermining the credibility of the European Union. Is it normal that the US is continuing to build up its security systems while the world's prime economic power - the EU - is unable to defend itself alone? Is it acceptable that this economic giant should be a political dwarf on the international stage?
2.The integration process
Schuman said that "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan".
In other words, Europe is a process; a process of integrating peoples with different histories and cultures.
In reality, any attempt at integration that aims to harmonise everything at any cost becomes a process of two steps forward and one step back, where successes alternate mainly with failures. Very often, it is only following a crisis that progress can be made. One need look no further than the banking union or the stability fund.
Still, not all countries can move forward at the same rate. Without going as far as establishing a two-speed Europe, those that want to move faster should be allowed to do so, without preventing the others from sitting round the table and benefiting from solidarity.
It's time to give up the dichotomous approach whereby all Member States must apply the same rules everywhere and all at once or else be excluded. To speed up the integration process requires greater flexibility in implementation.
Why force everyone to integrate at the same pace? Why not let those who want to go faster do so together, without setting up overly cumbersome mechanisms for the others? Why has the enhanced cooperation mechanism set out in the treaties been blocked almost systematically by the European Commission, the guardian of the treaties?
In what way, for instance, do exemptions to the working time directive endanger Europe's integrity if at the same time we all agree on the principles of our social model and the need to combat all forms of discrimination at work?
Surely we can agree on a timetable for fiscal and social convergence without being in conflict with each individual nation's principles and convictions.
To quote Schuman: Europe "will be built through concrete achievements" with action being taken on "one limited but decisive point".
All too often, European leaders take sides in an unnecessary war of ideologies; or launch measures that are completely ineffective. Should we harmonise plastic bags and the size of cucumbers? Or would it be better to make decisive choices on the basis of which Europe can improve its standing?
Let me give a few examples:
Social cohesion is one of the cornerstones of the European project. The European Union should be building it up not weakening it. Why not introduce a minimum income in Europe? Yes, I did say income and not salary. Naturally, this income would not be the same in France as in Luxembourg or Bulgaria. But it would be an income that would generate purchasing power. Not only would a minimum income be of social benefit, in line with the universal declaration of human rights, it would also generate purchasing power, stimulating internal demand and thus contributing to growth, without stifling competitiveness.
The European debate is currently dominated by irresponsible behaviour and competition between Member States. Why not bring our systems closer together around a simple, predictable and reduced tax for example a flat tax? Many European countries have already put such a tax in place. It makes life simpler for companies, especially for start-ups. So why not set up a target that all countries should try to meet within a given period, 10 years for instance? It could be done.
Third example: youth. It is no longer enough to build Europe. We need to make Europeans. The highly successful Franco-German reconciliation was rooted in twinning schemes and youth exchanges. Why not develop a massive European programme to learn the languages of neighbouring countries (like neighbouring Saarland's recent bold decision to make learning French compulsory) and then extend the ERASMUS programme to all young people, school children, apprentices and job seekers, making it much more ambitious in its scope? In 10 years' time, one in two young people should have spent at least one month in another European Union country. The focus should be on under-privileged groups. Erasmus currently benefits largely the children of well-off families.
It is soul destroying that so many young people have been leaving Europe in recent years. The EU should lend its support to joint projects set up by young people of different European countries: start-ups, co-working, associations, cultural projects, etc.
4.Robert Schuman spoke about "solidarity in production"
We all know that Schuman's basic idea was for a supranational authority to manage strategic industries. The ECSC, the embryonic EU, was based on the two industries that were important at the time: coal and steel. Indeed, Schuman was living in this very region, where those two industries were the source of wealth. We can still see the traces of these industries nearby.
European industry's greatest success since the establishment of the European Community has undoubtedly been AIRBUS; yet this was achieved without the Brussels institutions.
Which poses the question: which of today's European champions need support in order to remain competitive? Instead of competing fiercely with each other, why don't European countries put up a common front? Let's work together to develop sectoral policies and stop treating a decent industrial policy as a taboo.
It's clear that automotive production is leaving Europe; if not right now, possibly within 10 years for the highest performers. What is Europe doing about it?
The key to European competitiveness is research and innovation. Commitments were made on this subject as part of the Lisbon strategy. And yet the objective of earmarking 3% of GDP for research has not been achieved. Let's relaunch the idea, with a detailed calendar to back it up and in close consultation with the industrial sectors. We need to develop a genuine European culture of enterprise. This will require an economic policy that is kind to the European industrial fabric, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, without being deflationary or geared exclusively towards exports.
Robert Schuman argued in favour of "the development of the African continent".
And yet this continent has now been totally forgotten by Europe, or reduced to a paragraph in a development policy paper. This failing has enabled other powers, above all China, to infiltrate the African continent, which we know to be the youngest and most dynamic in terms of growth and investment.
Why can't European countries frame an African policy together? These are Europe's natural partners. We should invest more in our relations with Africa instead of running like sheep towards countries that actually bring very little to Europe and do not share our values.
Furthermore, the development of the African continent - including North Africa and the Middle East - is the only effective and proper way to address the modern day scourge that is illegal immigration, with its accompanying humanitarian disasters and terrorism fuelled by injustice and extreme poverty.
6.The way Europe operates
Schuman called for a "High Authority (...) composed of independent persons" responsible for arbitration.
This high authority was replaced by the Commission when the European Community replaced the European Coal and Steel Community. And yet the Commission has largely lost its independence. The president is often a former prime minister, more faithful to former colleagues than to the idea of Europe.
We need to return to the principles of governance and stop treating the European interest as nothing more than the sum of individual interests.
A European Commission made up of genuinely independent figures would be able to go back to listening first and foremost to the European public and civil society, rather than obeying the national governments or private lobbies of all sorts.
The European public should be given power and a voice to redirect and control the European Commission. In this context, European civil society should be given a clear voice.
Having initiated the political agreement signed recently with the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions, the EESC has shown the way towards what could be a citizens' coalition, voicing Europeans' priorities.
Rather than being treated as a gadget, the European citizens' initiative should be placed at the vanguard of a Europe that operates from the grass roots upwards. Europe should be bottom-up not top-down. I recently proposed that citizens' initiatives should be addressed first to the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee, before being examined by the European Commission.
Lastly, while we're thinking big, why not also try to agree on the areas in which Europe should be upholding the principle of subsidiarity and not interfere?
Is there really a need to harmonise everything? Couldn't the European internal market function properly without the harmonising the way we produce goat's cheese?
We need a big debate on subsidiarity. Europe has no right to take sovereignty away from the people! It should be increasing our sovereignty by redistributing powers on the basis of the only criterion that matters: efficiency!
As Schuman's fellow statesman Jean Monnet used to say: do not ask what is possible, ask what is necessary and then make it possible.
The six ideas of Schuman that I have touched upon have lost nothing of their relevance today. Unfortunately, although many important milestones have been reached, the longest part of the journey remains ahead of us. Naturally, in order to proceed, we need to take today's context into account. Europe no longer has only six members, and yesterday's industries are no longer today's champions. What is more, Europe no longer has the position in the world that it had in the middle of the 20th century. But despite that, by applying the six principles mentioned, we could put Europe back on track.
This is the message I would like to send out today, here in Robert Schuman's birthplace. I propose forming a coalition of ideas around his ambitious plan.
I am therefore calling for a new Hague Congress for well-informed members of the public to outline what they want from Europe. Europe has been dominated in turn by the founding fathers, common policies and then technocrats. Let us build a people's Europe of hearts and minds. This new congress will lay the foundations for a new way of governing Europe. It will provide for greater efficiency, stronger solidarity and, lastly, a firmer consensus on what Europe should and should not be doing for its people.