Some said that a big change in European culture happened in 1968. But in my understanding, looking at the social results, the biggest change took place after 1989.
In 1968, there were some new patterns or behaviours, but if we look from a Central European perspective, I had the impression that when the West had to deal with Communism, it still sought to protect human rights, at least officially. The West could not open the discussion about what the human rights were and what was its content, because the leader of this discussion was the Soviet Union.
It was only after 1989 that there was a kind of moral demobilisation of the West. What was totally new was the change of laws. The leaders spoke openly and were proud of promoting things which were against the Christian heritage. It is worth to notice this because it means that the process of changing laws is very new. When we think about how the world has changed since Schuman’s time, the limit is 30 years ago. Certainly, when we want to take the opportunity of thinking about Schuman, we can choose to go to, and reflect on the roots of the integration, but people don’t have roots in the same way that plants do. This is the source. We live and take ideas, energies and motivations from the source, but at the same time we have to respond to the current challenges.
In Christian thinking, there is the tradition of St. Vincent of Lérins in the 6thcentury when he answered the question of whether there can be a change in the Christian teaching. His answer was affirmative by using the image of a seed developing into a tree. I think this is the way we have to look at this question today. We don’t need to look only at the seeds but also at how the tree looks like today.
On the one hand, it was mentioned that the first strictly Christian idea was the question of reconciliation in Europe. We know very well that the Christian faith was very important for the first fathers of Europe. This was in fact one of the most important motivations. But on the other hand, it is important to remember that reconciliation is a strictly Christian idea. Without the Gospel, we would not talk about it here. Also the fact that reconciliation was even accepted by the political elects of the time and by the societies was due to the Christian faith. If not, why should have the French agreed for some privileges for the Germans and that Germany should be reconstructed? What would be the reason to do this? The reason was to forget that Germany was aggressive. This was the whole concept of the first community of Coal and Steel, to treat member-states equally.
In this part of Europe, we have the history of the Polish-German reconciliation. It started with a letter of the Polish bishops in 1965, which contained a verse from Horace, but the Gospel changed totally its meaning. Horace was writing about the styles of poetry and the Polish bishops took it to talk about reconciliation and forgiveness. It was important in that case that the idea was not coming from the political circles but was an exchange of letters between the bishops’ conference. The Polish bishops’ conference waited two years for an answer. The first one came from the Protestant church in Germany. The Catholic bishops reacted only later. The fact that the bishops were active provoked a very harsh reaction of the Communist government because they saw this as an intervention in international policy. However the letter was sent in 1965 and a treaty between the Polish and German governments was signed very soon after, in 1970.
The second question is about democracy. For Schuman, it was absolutely clear that without Christianity, there would be no democracy. So we can say that without Christianity there would be no reconciliation, and without Christianity there would be no democracy. What does it mean on the one hand? This is the question of the genealogy of democracy, the concept of the human person and of the equal dignity of every person. Today this is challenged because there is an attempt to reinterpret the human rights and the meaning of human dignity. But there is also a second very important element to democracy, which is the question of truth. Democracy is a regime in which physical force was replaced by words. We compete only by speaking. Thucydides said that the process of corruption of democracy started with the corruption of language. If the meaning of the words is changed, rational communication between people is impossible. We need rational communication for democracy (as we talked about during our session on populism), so that people should be informed and should also be able to understand what is going on, in order to take decisions on the grounds of this understanding. Usually we are not talking about the fact that they should understand everything but that they are at least competent to say a word about a minimum of topics and appoint the right people so that they know to whom they should transfer the power.
Now we are talking about post-intelligent humanity and post-truth civilisation. Post-truth doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no truth, but that truth is absolutely uninteresting. This is because when we want to provoke a certain reaction of the people, if we try to explain things, we are not sure that we will get the results. But if we manipulate people, we will surely get the needed result.
The reference to Christianity is, I think, the question of the legacy related to Schuman in the sense of human dignity. From this human dignity we have the whole concept of the main ethical conflicts of Western civilisation: life, marriage, and family. But on the other hand, there is the question of communication, so if there is a political conflict in society, how could it be resolved? We know that in democracy, there is a majority and a minority. If there is a truth criterion, the majority has to say: ‘Yes, we have won, but the minority has the right to be convinced that they are right. They were only unable to find arguments to convince us’. So in a truth civilisation, there is a place for a minority which can still try to defend and promote their own opinion. The minority have the right to be the opposition. If there is no truth criterion, those who have lost the battle and who don’t want to recognize it and follow the opinion of majority, are considered to do this only because of egoism, because they have their own interests and because they still want to protect their selfish interest against the majority, against the interests of the society, which were defined by the majority. So I think that this legacy of Schuman is very important.
What struck me also in Robert Schuman’s small book For Europeis that there was also the question of Germany in Europe. The vision of Schuman since the beginning was very open. He said that every European country should have the right to join this process but that we couldn’t wait until the time when Central Europe would be liberated. So the process was started but the door was kept open. This is also still pictured in the construction of the building of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, which is unfinished and open. There are two explanations for this: One is that it is open in the direction of the tower of the cathedral. The other explanation is that it is open for Eastern and Central Europe. So this part of the building is still missing. At that time, when the building was constructed, there was still this understanding of Schuman. On the other hand, Schuman said regarding Germany that it was too big for Europe. This was creating problems as well as the fact that Germany was the initiator of the two big wars in Europe. There was a question of size: Europe was small and, in this sense, Germany was too big. So Schuman feared that if there would be no counterbalance for Germany in Europe, European policy would be dominated by the Germans. And if such was the case, he said that a day would come when German politicians would say that they are the only ones able to put everything in order. This would be the end of the whole process of integration. So if there would be the domination of one country in the whole process, Schuman was conscious that this would destroy the whole construction. How could we avoid this domination? We can say that a diminished proportion concerning the representation is one of the instruments. However, on the one hand, when I was in Brussels, the reality was that in European policies before a European Summit, Chancellor Merkel always met with President Sarkozy two days before the summit and they then announced in the newspapers what the leaders of the 28 countries would decide in two days. So the European leaders received the information from the newspapers. On the other hand, it is also the question of coalitions in the Parliament. A German thinker said that Germany created an accidental empire. There was no idea that this was a German empire but, in fact, they apologized because this was the result.
This is very important in thinking for the future of Europe. How the balance of powers will be in Europe, especially if Great Britain will leave, because the proportion will be changed and it will also enforce this negative trend. During the Second World War, because they were constrained with what would happen after it, the Poles supported the idea of European integration even before Schuman. But also, a Pole said that if Germany should be balanced in this European construction, then there should be a coalition of countries formed in Central Europe in order to be a counter wave, so that not one country, but a coalition of countries, would be able to stop or to face the potentiality of the German state in this construction. This is also from the thinking of Schuman. In my understanding, on the one hand, it is also an open question for the future, because it is important to protect the construction as such. How the construction of an integrated Europe should develop in the future? We can say that this is a functional goal. On the other hand, there is the question of the content: what does it mean that this should still be Europe and not post-Europe? This is the other side of the thinking of Schuman.