The Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament and human rights worldwide

For many years the European Parliament has championed human rights and democracy, with Members of the European Parliament expressing their concerns on human rights abuses in the world regardless of borders or regime. And it isn't just sentiment: inspired by Andrei Sakharov's constant campaigning for freedom of thought the European Parliament put this commitment into practice, founding the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1988. 

Presented to the Sakharov Prize laureate if possible by the President of the European Parliament at a plenary session in Strasbourg, the Prize endeavours to embody Sakharov's extraordinary work and carry his message forward to future generations.

As the highest honour bestowed by the EU for actions promoting human rights, the prize is not just a symbolic gesture. As well as the 50,000 euro endowment, the media coverage surrounding the event is a chance to name and shame countries violating human rights and democratic principles. In many cases, the awarding of the prize is also a way to protect laureates against possible reprisals by their own countries. Both the prize and its community allow the European Parliament to assist the laureates, supporting and empowering them in their work. 

As an instrument of parliamentary diplomacy, the Sakharov Prize has established itself over time as a powerful testament to Parliament's commitment to standing up to dictatorships and to safeguarding human rights around the world.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union turns 20

Nice, December 2000 - The Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission signing and proclaiming the Charter on behalf of their institutions © European Union

The selection of European Parliament archive documents recounts the history of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and shows the major role played by the European Parliament in 1999-2000 in the drafting process. For years, MEPs had been calling for the civil, political, economic and social rights of citizens of the European Union's Member States to be taken into account more effectively in landmark texts; they therefore welcomed the establishment, in 1999, of a Convention tasked with drafting a new text.

While a traditional intergovernmental conference would no doubt have sidelined the European Parliament's representatives as far as any draft was concerned, the Convention enabled them to make their mark owing to their commitment and political expertise. They were receptive to the notions championed by civil society and carried out what was unprecedented codification work in close cooperation with the representatives of the 15 Member States and with the delegates from the Commission and from national parliaments.

The result was an ambitious document containing 54 articles and written in a clear, consistent style so it can be easily understood by all those to whom it is addressed. The Charter groups rights around a few essential principles: human dignity, fundamental freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizenship and justice.

This is a first-time compilation of original documents in a virtual exhibition enhanced by a host of illustrations that commemorates the 20th anniversary of the proclaiming of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

It was 30 years ago. The European Parliament, the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification

People celebrating German Reunification in front of the Reichstag, 1990 @European Union

In the night from 9 to 10 November 1989, with absolutely no warning, the Berlin Wall opened at the same time as the communist government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) collapsed. The Cold War was coming to an end and a momentous page was being turned in Europe's history. A month later, the Brandenburg Gate officially opened, definitively restoring free movement between the two Germanies. On 3 October 1990, German unification was achieved, effectively transforming the future of European integration. Despite the speed of events, the European Parliament played its role to the full, stepping up its efforts in response to these political developments. For several months, it provided a forum for the European leaders tasked with preparing the reunification of Germany. Concerned with the political, economic and institutional implications of this historic moment for the European Community, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) supported German reunification, increasingly calling for democratisation and respect for human rights in Central and Eastern Europe.

Historical archive documents presented in the digital exhibition

The aim of this selection of archive documents of the European Parliament is to show how, between August 1961 (beginning of the construction of the Berlin Wall) and October 1990 (the German reunification), the Assembly was actively interested in the situation of Germany divided in the context of the Cold War.

Through debates, resolutions, oral or written questions from its members, fact-finding missions, sending delegations or public hearings, Parliament has sought to draw public and media attention to the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the world, not least in countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain. But the European Parliament has also been very involved in the study of the possible consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the German reunification on the European construction process.

For the first time, these original documents are gathered in a virtual exhibition which, together with numerous illustrations, commemorates the 30th anniversary of the reunification of Germany.

70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration. 9 May 1950

Robert Schuman delivering his declaration in the Salon de l'Horloge in the French Foreign Ministry building at Quai d'Orsay in Paris on 9 May 1950 © European Union, 2020

On 9 May 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman made a speech in Paris that would change the destiny of our continent. There is no doubt that this 70th anniversary is a great opportunity to celebrate the initiative that turned the European dream into a practical reality.

Robert Schuman was dissatisfied with the slow pace of progress towards a united Europe after the Second World War. So in 1950 he chose a revolutionary approach in proposing not only to combine the coal and steel industries under a common regime, but also to set up a supranational High Authority to administer the two strategically important industries around a Franco-German hub.

Jean Monnet drafted the lion's share of the Schuman Declaration, which suggested that pooling the coal and steel industries would be the first stage in a wider integration process ultimately resulting in a 'European federation'. With a view to safeguarding peace, the Schuman Plan also sought to make war between Europeans not only unthinkable but also materially impossible. The Schuman Declaration was therefore a basis for negotiations, the outcome of which, several months later, was the European Coal and Steel Community.

With the Cold War in full swing and in the face of opposition from various quarters, achieving a result like that took courage and audacity.

Beyond the economic and social issues, the Schuman Plan also sought to lay the foundations for institutions to help map out a shared destiny. The ECSC Treaty, which entered into force in July 1952, therefore established a Common Assembly, a symbol of a nascent Europe, which represented the peoples of the States of the Community. It was the forerunner of our European Parliament.
So it is an excellent time to stage an exhibition like this one. With the European Union facing a number of challenges, let us hope that this slice of history can remind visitors and younger generations of Europeans just how important the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950 was.

Enjoy the exhibition!

David Sassoli
President of the European Parliament


The Archives of the European Parliament

Robert Schuman Building
Place de l'Europe
L-2929 Luxembourg