Members of the European Union Consul General group gathered on Queen Street to raise the EU flag Monday in honour of Canada’s relationship with its second largest trade partner.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero opened the proceedings in front of the Court House, deftly welcoming the 20 delegates and their guests in 15 different languages. Monday was EU Day, an important demonstration of common values and goals and Canada’s lifelong tie with Europe in trade, she said.
“This day highlights the harmonious relationship that Europe and Canada have had for centuries,” Disero said. “It is truly an honour here in Niagara-on-the-Lake to represent that tie of nations. It is an incredible pleasure to raise this flag signifying the EU’s motto, “United in Diversity.”
The crisis currently faced by Ukraine from ongoing Russian attacks was recognized by each of the speakers who addressed the delegates and guests. Among the visitors to NOTL Monday was Oleksandr Shevchenko, consul general of Ukraine, there as an invited guest of the group.
“The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake stands with the people of Ukraine,” Disero avowed before requesting a moment of silence. “We extend a plea for peace for those imposing harm and violence against your country. We hope that this horrible warfare brought to your country ends soon, and that life in your country can return to normal.”
European Union Day marks the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration of 1950. On May 9 of that year, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman called on European nations to unite in the wake of the devastation of the Second World War. Schuman proposed that the community’s founding members, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, lift import and export duties to create a common market, with the hope that the agreement would reduce the risk of future conflict.
The treaty governing the original six was signed in Paris in 1951, coming into force the following year. Today, the European Union has expanded to include 27 countries. Nineteen of those countries, as well as Ukraine, were represented by delegates at Monday’s flag-raising.
“The European Union is where much of democracy originated,” regional chair Jim Bradley told the crowd. “Democracy really began in many of the countries in the European Union. It’s something for which there were battles over the years, and there is a lot of unity today on behalf of those who treasure democracy as we do here.”
Bradley also went on to express the Niagara Region’s unity with Ukraine, and commended the EU delegates for their support for that country.
Tudor Alexis, consul general of France and president of the Consul General of the European Union, outlined his original correspondence with Disero back in January, that led to the delegation choosing to celebrate the day in NOTL.
As a loud sports car revved past the Court House, Alexis joked that it must have been a European car, perhaps a Ferrari, generating amused laughter from the crowd.
“Canada is one of Europe’s strongest international partners,” said Alexis. “The communities we have here today are the ones that continue to shape vibrant and diverse relations and represent one of the largest diasporas in the world.”
Alexis spoke of the 655,000 jobs in Canada created by European companies, and the strength of the CETA (Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), but stressed the relationship between the EU and Canada is about more than economics.
“It’s very much to do with values,” Alexis asserted. “Europe is a project to promote peace and well-being to its citizens. It’s about offering freedom and social justice. Europe is about offering asylum policy for people fleeing tyranny and oppression. It’s about combatting social exclusion and discrimination.”
He went on to outline as an example of Europe’s relationship with Canada that during the pandemic the first vaccines that Canadians received to combat COVID-19 came from the EU.
Alexis also described the invasion of Ukraine as “an atrocious war of senseless aggression that has destroyed cities and the lives of millions of innocent people. People are desperately struggling to determine what their basic right is to determine their own future. The invasion by the Kremlin today shows us why today we celebrate Europe.”
Alexis spoke of the EU’s unity with Canada to fight oppression and aggression. The inclusion of Shevchenko in the delegation, he added, is a way of showing that the EU’s solidarity must go beyond its own borders to fight oppression and aggression.
“He represents a country that aspires to join our family,” Alexis said. “Our common wish is to continue to work to further strengthen relations with Europe and Canada. It is not enough to just sit in our offices in Toronto and write our reports to our capitals. We have to be here, in this little town, to spread the message of peace, solidarity and unity.”
Petr Burianek, consul general of the Czech Republic, also spoke. He will be succeeding Alexis as president of the consul generals when his term ends.
Burianek’s speech was followed by singing performances from Hannah and Sophia Otta, two young members of Yellow Door Theatre Project. Both girls stepped confidently to the top of the Court House stairs to wow the delegates with selections from the musicals Finian’s Rainbow and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Following those performances, the European Union flag was raised by Alexis and Disero, then the delegates strolled on to the Cambridge Room at the Prince of Wales for a reception.