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Living The Legacy (Part VI)

Living the legacy (Part VI)

How to live the legacy that Robert Schuman left in Europe. From Jeff Fountain’s book Deeply Rooted (Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here, Part V here)

VI. What models are influencing the dialogue on Europe’s future?  

Dr Léonce Bekemans[1] identified three models shaping thought about Europe’s future identity in an address to the European Forum of National Laity Committees, meeting in Bratislava, in July 2008: 

1.Europe of culture or “family of nations”: 

Communitarians stress common history and culture. European identity, they argue, has emerged from common movements in religion and philosophy, politics, science and the arts. This view tends to exclude Turkey and to argue a stronger awareness of the Christian (or Judeo-Christian) tradition. ‘United in diversity’ is taken to refer to Europe as a ‘family of nations’. Stressing that EU borders need to be quickly defined, this could lead to a form of ‘Euro-nationalism’ and exclusionary policies within European societies.  

2. Europe of citizens or “constitutional patriotism”: 

Liberals and republicans argue for a civic identity, a common political culture based on universal principles of democracy, human rights, the rule of law etc.. Jürgen Habermas believes citizens should not be identified with a common cultural identity, but with some constitutional principles that fully guarantee their rights and freedoms. Cultural identities, religious beliefs etc. should be confined to the private sphere (which helps explain the French stance on God and religion in the EU constitution). European identity will emerge from common political and civic practices, civil society organisations and strong EU institutions, they reason. ‘United in diversity’ here means sharing political and civic values while adhering to different cultural practices. The limits of the community should be a question of politics, not culture.

3.Europe as space of encounters: 

‘European identity’ will emerge as a consequence of intensified civic, political and cultural exchanges and cooperation, argue constructivists, who view knowledge and meaning as emerging from experience,  not ideology or relevation.‘European identity’ would be constantly redefined through relationships with others. ‘United in diversity’ involves participation in collective political and cultural practices. It would be wrong and impossible to fix EU borders.

What then were the building blocks of a Christian vision for a pluralistic Europe, according to Bekemans?

He identified three  basic components:   

  • Diversity in unity: implying commitment and acceptance of the principle of subsidiarity; and respect for the other, for diversity, human dignity etc. 
  • Distinction between the temporal and the spiritual: yet understanding that faith undergirded social engagement.
  • Modesty: there were no ready made answers in a changing  process. However, he stressed, the churches and Christianity had vital roles to play for Europe’s future.

VII. What can we do to recover Schuman’s forgotten legacy?  

Special days of remembrance are important for key events in our history. In Europe, many nations hold public holidays and ceremonies early in May to remember the nation’s fallen during the wars and to celebrate their liberation or victory. 

Since 1985, May 9 has been celebrated as Europe Day, in recognition that the Schuman Declaration was the first concrete step in the long journey towards ‘ever closer union’ of the European peoples. In some countries, and especially in EU institutions, it is often referred to as Schuman Day. The day is observed formally in most EU member states, and even in Turkey and other surrounding countries. A major exception is the United Kingdom, with its history of euroscepticism. 

Yet this date does not yet resonate in the heart of the average European, as does remembering the casualties of war and celebrating liberation. Winning the peace has not yet caught the public imagination.

One practical reason is that early May is crowded with other commemorations and celebrations, as mentioned. Other holidays and festivals like Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost and May Day cause many interruptions to normal daily schedules in that season.  

Another reason is that people simply do not know this story. It is hardly taught at school. None of my children or their spouses, all with European university education, heard this story in their three levels of education, other than a throwaway footnote. 

Yet if it is true as we stated earlier, that the Schuman Declaration was the defining moment for modern Europe–the dramatic breakthrough that overnight created the conceptual architecture of the European House within which half a billion Europeans live in peace with each other today–then surely it deserves more attention.  

That should be especially true of Christians, when we know the story behind the story.

Restoring this story in our school history curriculum is one obvious corrective.

Another is to develop creative and appropriate ways to commemorate Europe Day annually, whether or not it is set apart as a holiday.

This does not necessarily endorse all that the EU represents today. For example, the Schuman Centre for European Studies aims to hold each year on Europe Day a State of Europe Forum in the capital of the nation holding the EU presidency at that time[2]. The purpose is to thank God for the over six decades of peace that the union of European peoples has brought to the participating nations, to remember the founder’s vision and values, to evaluate the current realities of the EU in the light of those values, and to ask how the vision and values can be promoted.

This is an opportunity to raise critical questions and issues of concern, while at the same time asking ourselves how can we better live out Christ’s command to ‘love our neighbours as ourselves’ within the community of European peoples.  

May God give us the courage and grace to live out this legacy and the values it teaches us. Europe’s future depends on it.

Jeff Fountain

Director Schuman Centre


[1]Léonce Bekemans is the Jean Monnet Chair “Globalisation, Intercultural dialogue & inclusiveness in the EU” at the University of Padua.

[2]For the first time in 2019, the State of Europe Forum is organised in each of the two nations holding the presidency of the European Council: the first one was held in Bucharest (Romania) in May and the second one will be held from the 21st to the 23rd of November in Helsinki (Finland).

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