6 February 2019 • Gideon Wille
Dissertation about the ‘founding father of Europe’ turned into a children’s book
No, Robert Schuman is not a German racing driver, as some students think, but the founding father of the European Community and his ideas continue to be relevant today. Researcher Margriet Krijtenburg was looking for a way to acquaint younger generations with Schumans’ ideas and reworked her dissertation into a children’s book.
Schuman, who spoke German and French perfectly, grew up in the border area of Elzas-Lotharingen that passed from German to French hands following the First World War. In the French parliament, he worked on among other things the harmonisation of the German legislation in force in Elzas Lotharingen with French legislation. He wanted to keep the good aspects of German legislation in the area of social security. During the Second World War, he was the first French parliamentarian to be imprisoned by the Nazis. He managed to escape and went into hiding. Despite the high price on his head, he argued for reconciliation with Germany because this was the only way he believed that peace could be achieved in Europe.
This is the attitude, emphasising social and mental aspects, that Margriet found attractive in Schuman as a person. Margriet: “For Schuman, the economy is there to serve people and not the other away around.” This notion seems to have been forgotten in the present-day EU. Schuman carried that idea with him in the European collaboration project which he argued for after the Second World War.
Schuman occupied important positions; he was Finance Minister, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. His ideas gained shape in the Schuman Declaration that was published in 1950 and written with fellow founder Jean Monnet. This paved the way for the European Coal and Steel Community, the predecessor of the EU. Its major guiding principles were conciliation with Germany, alliances as equal partners and supranational decision-making.
Students who took part in the Annual International Schuman Student Congress & Essay Competition at the European Studies department where Margriet lecturers wrote an essay about a contemporary EU theme from Schumans’ perspective. Margriet noticed that students found his message inspiring. “Then I thought, why don’t I make that message accessible for children too?” Arjen de Wit, a researcher at VU University Amsterdam, based the initial structure for the children’s book on her dissertation.
Journey through time
The book talks about a Syrian father who fled the civil war and gained asylum in Germany and his 10-year old daughter, Amira. In order to learn about Europe, they go on a journey. They take a train that seems to be able to travel through time. They meet Robert Schuman at various stages of his life, learn about the amazing history of Europe, the need for reconciliation and solidarity and putting people at the centre of the economy and politics, and the importance of peace.
The message and the design of the book have had an impact – it is now being used by The European School of The Hague (primary school), the Oranje Nassau College in Zoetermeer (secondary school) and the Volksuniversiteit (adult education centre) in Rotterdam. Margriet: “It was worthwhile disseminating Schumans’ ideas. The book shows the essence of the European project and is about what brings people together, not what separates us.”
‘The father of Europe’ was written for everyone aged from 9 to 99 and can be purchased at the Studystore and Boekhandel Douwes, both located in The Hague. The book is available in six languages, Dutch, English, French, German, Spanish and Italian and is priced at 12 euros.
Margriet Krijtenburg: “For Schuman, the economy is there to serve people and not the other away around.”