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BRUSSELS: The EU threw open the doors of its institutions to the public on Saturday, just ahead of May 9 celebrations marking Europe Day, when the bloc marks its 72nd anniversary.

This year, the Ukrainian flag fluttered alongside EU ones in Brussels to symbolise the solidarity the 27-nation bloc is showing to Kyiv as its forces battle invading Russian troops.

“We dedicate this year’s Europe Day to the people of Ukraine,” the ambassadors of the EU member states said in a message tweeted by the European Council.

Europe Day commemorates a 1950 declaration penned by then French foreign minister Robert Schuman that set out an idea of a European coal and steel union binding former foes France and Germany into durable peace.

That union evolved over the decades into today’s European Union, the world’s biggest free trade bloc, a global standard setter for industries, and — spurred by Russia’s war in Ukraine — an increasingly firm player in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The EU has taken in more than five million Ukrainians who have fled the conflict, set aside 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) to funnel weapons to Kyiv, and has imposed a multitude of sanctions to punish Moscow for its invasion.

Saturday’s open day in Brussels saw thousands of people visiting the buildings of the European Commission, European Council and the EU’s foreign policy service to learn more about what they do. Entertainment included musicians — among them some Ukrainians — as well flag-throwers from the member states and sports and games.

An Irish visitor to the European Commission, John Gavin, said the EU was a progressive force. “It means unity, it means inclusion, a Europe for everyone,” he said. A Belgian visitor also lining up, Nicolas Van der Meeschen, said that, to him, the EU represented “culture, the economy and security”.

This year’s Europe Day comes as a two-year consultation of randomly selected EU citizens wrapped up with panels recommending 49 changes to the way the bloc works, including boosting defence coordination and streamlining its notoriously bureaucratic decision-making.

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