What Do We Commemorate When We Commemorate WWI? The Impact of the First World War on Europe Today


One hundred years ago, on 28 July 1914, Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This was the opening act of the First World War, which lasted four devastating years, caused the death of over 15 million people and left 20 million injured and maimed. It was a European catastrophe, which brought disaster upon the rest of the world. Peace lasted only 20 years. It took another even more devastating war before European leaders realised things had to change. When Europeans commemorate the beginning of WWI this summer they should therefore be reflecting not only on the political causes of the war and the human tragedy it caused but also on the start of a new era for Europe: the birth of the European project that began with the Schuman declaration in May 1950, which evolved into the European Union. The EU has been considered a success story for many years; with a high point in 2004 with the “Eastern enlargement”, when the East/West divide seemed to be finally overcome. However, at least since the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2007-8, the European Union has come under pressure with the rise of Eurosceptic, populist and nationalist forces. Are the EU-institutions and the Member States ready to continue and strengthen the integration process, will they try harder to reach out to citizens and re-involve them in the project, which has given them more than 60 years of peace and relative prosperity? Or will European countries return to their nationalist end egoistic past with all the consequences? And, what about Germany? Embedded in the European Union, the reunited country has become the most powerful, stable and wealthy European state. It owes the European project its success, but is it ready to play a leading role in the further integration process?

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Date of Publication
July 2014
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union
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