In cities, Europe Day sparks celebrations and a quest for peace

9 May 2022

Unity with Ukraine, peace, freedom, democracy, justice, human rights, diversity,  trust.

These are some of the words echoing in a Eurocities video with mayors and city officials spelling out what the European Union means to them.  

Local leaders are sending their message on Europe Day, a 9 May annual event marking what seemed unthinkable less than a century ago: a union of European states working together for a more prosperous, peaceful, and just future for all. 

Cities for Ukraine

This year, with the conflict in Ukraine approaching its eleventh week, the beating of war drums across the EU border adds an agonising sound to the cheerful celebrations across the continent.  

As the conflict shows no sign of abating, solidarity is the keyword.  

“On this Europe Day cities stand with Ukraine”, a chorus of Eurocities local officials says in the video. Since the outbreak of war, municipalities have been displaying an unprecedented show of unity: they’re receiving and integrating refugees and, in parallel, sending much-needed aid to Ukraine.  

The Russian aggression comes in close succession to the two-year Covid-19 pandemic that tested once again the European Union’s resilience while proving the value of its united approach. 

Why Europe Day

The idea of Europeans rallying together in search of a common good started 72 years ago with the stroke of a pen. It was 9 May 1950 when Robert Schuman, the then French Foreign Minister, signed the document that gave birth to the European Coal and Steel Community. Every year, Europe Day celebrates this landmark date. 

Coal and steel, that only a decade earlier forged the weapons of war, would from that moment steer the course of the continent’s history.

The creation of a six-members common market for coal and steel paved the way for an economic union, and eventually today’s 27-strong supranational political body.

The Royal Fountain of Nantes decorated in the EU colours
The Royal Fountain of Nantes decorated with the colours of the EU flag. Courtesy: city of Nantes.

From festivals to a national holiday

In cities across the EU, a busy calendar of activities celebrates the Union’s birthday.

In Florence, the week-long Festival of Europe brings together politicians, civil society, academics, businesses and media to discuss pressing issues and the EU’s future. The event is also a chance to take a different look at Florence through a tour of EU-financed projects across town.

Nantes Metropole is emphasising the EU’s cultural richness with  concerts, theater shows, language courses, games, European cuisine and musical tales in different languages. In addition, the French city is distributing a special newspaper with an EU dossier to all its residents.

In Munich, the Europa Mai platform promotes EU activities, a variety of European participatory actions and exchange opportunities.

The panoramic wheel in Munich
The panoramic wheel in Munich on Europe Day. Copyright: Michael Nagy/Munich Press Office

In Spain, Gijon’s celebrations shine a spotlight on the 2022 European Year of Youth and Culture. Meanwhile, blue lights beam on municipal buildings featuring the main colour of the EU flag. Other events across town include the reading of a peace manifesto, conferences, exhibits and movies.

Zaragoza plans to hand out a special “Star of Europe” award to Ukrainian representatives, in a symbolic gesture to recognise peace and European values. Like Gijon, the Spanish municipality is running an essay and drawing competition for school children centred around the European Year of Youth.

Visitors outside the EU Commission celebrating Europe Day 2022
Visitors outside the EU Commission in Brussels celebrating Europe Day 2022

In Brussels, Europe Day started over the weekend with the annual open doors event that grants access to the inner workings of the EU. Visitors can take a tour of buildings housing the EU institutions such as the European Parliament and Commission, participate in debates, bike tours and even visit a Green Deal village to learn about sustainable activities and initiatives.

In Luxembourg, meanwhile, Europe Day has been elevated to a national holiday, the first EU country to make such a move. The day off may inspire some to reflect on the EU as an imperfect yet necessary coalition, a work in progress, an eternal compromise, a masterpiece of diplomacy.


Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer