What you might need to know

This class focuses on the creation of the European Union, why Ireland joined at a later point and the symbols and values at the heart of the EU.

The European Union was called European Coal and Steel Community when it was first created in 1951. On 9 May 1950, the French Foreign Affairs Minister, Robert Schuman, made a declaration which said that “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity’.

Two countries on the European continent had been at the heart of two world wars in less than 30 years – namely France and Germany. In order to try and guarantee peace, rather than putting together great plans with great intentions, the European idea was to try and work together in limited areas first. If it worked, we could then think of being more ambitious. The pooling of coal and steel production was chosen as a way to construct the first European community because they were two materials used to make weapons and ammunitions.

France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux (Belgium, Netherland, Luxembourg) got together and set up the first European Community to guarantee peace. This is why in 2012 the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize, because it had succeeded in keeping peace for 60 years.

Since the Declaration was made on 9 May 1950, 9 May is Europe Day every year across the European Union. It is one of the symbols of the EU just like St Patrick’s Day is that of the Republic of Ireland. In 1957, the European Coal and Steel Community decided to extend its scope to other areas like agriculture and it became the European Economic Community. It is only in 1992 with a treaty signed in Maastricht that it was renamed European Union with the ultra-ambitious goal of a common currency and an Economic Monetary Union. The name EU is quite recent!

Ireland joined the EEC in 1973 together with the UK and Denmark. Its membership marked a shift from a rather closed and protectionist society and economy to an open and competitive one. It gave Ireland access to the Single Market, a large trading area with no tariff barriers (this means tax) of products entering each others’ market. The EU is considered as one big market rather than a juxtaposition of the German market, the French market, the Polish market ,etc.

During this class you might also discuss the other symbols of the EU: the flag which is blue with a circle of 12 stars, nothing to do with the number of states since there are 27 countries in the EU club. 12 is a number which represents balance and harmony; the anthem, which is Ode to Joy, music composed by Beethoven; the EU’s motto which is Unity in Diversity. You can take the example of registration plates across the EU which are all different in how they use combinations of letters and numbers but all have a strip on the left side with the EU flag and the letter of the country the car is from.

Finally the Euro can also be taken as an example of Unity in Diversity. All Euro coins and cents have an identical value face with the amount, the EU map and the 12 stars of the flag. However they all have a different symbol at the back depending on which country minted them. The symbol for Ireland is the harp but you can get the children to examine other coins. It is important to remind them that no matter the symbol at the back, the coin is a Euro or a cent and can be spent in any country using the Euro. The Euro is not quite a symbol of the EU because 19 only out of the 27 member states use the Euro. So for example, Sweden, Denmark or Poland don’t.

The lesson ends on the crucial concept of solidarity, at the very heart of the EU. It means supporting each other and acting with a ‘team spirit’ rather than individually. As an example of poor solidarity, you might mention the migration crisis which saw EU countries fight against each other rather than have a united front.