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Why Should We Remember Robert Schuman?

Why should we remember Robert Schuman?

A transcript of Jeff Fountain’s speech during the State of Europe Forum 2019 in Bucharest.

We should not just be telling the story of Schuman, but drawing people’s attention to the relevance of it. 

I was involved in January in an event in Rzeszow, in the southeast of Poland. I was part of a panel with a Green MEP from Germany, the leader, I think, of the Populist Party in Poland, and various others from different streams. As I shared about Schuman and about reconciliation and forgiveness, I suggested that this was something very significant for the beginning of the European Union on the western side. But this had never happened on the eastern side. The swamp had never been drained, in that sense. I was surprised by the sudden spontaneous applause. Here were all these former Communist apparatchiks and so forth, and they seemed to resonate with something there. And yet my Green German colleague Member of the European Parliament, Rebecca Harms, said to me: ‘Schuman is irrelevant. You can’t bring Schuman back.’

Pope Francis thinks differently. He says that the problem we have in Europe today is that we don’t have the visionaries like Schuman and his colleagues. So I think it is important for us to stress his relevance. For a number of reasons we must help people see what the original vision was. We have lost that vision. We have not only lost the foundations for these visions but also the vision for a community of peoples. 

I would like to go through a number of citations from Schuman that will help to refresh our minds. I talk often about who won the peace, about the fact that when the war was finished, the peace had not started. In fact, Europe was like the Zadkine sculpture in Rotterdam. The heart of Europe had been bombed out. The continent was facing an extreme case of post-trauma stress disorder. Just think of all the upheavals and the dislocated and broken families, broken cities, broken everything. How do we rebuild on that foundation? This is something very important to remind people and this is one of the reasons why Robert Schuman is relevant. We need to help people realize how bad Europe was in the five years after the Second World War. Peace did not start the next day and everything didn’t start getting better and better. No, Europe was hugely threatened. Actually, Schuman was Prime Minister for seven months in a time when there were tremendous strikes going on and the communists were trying to undermine the fledgling democracies. 

Then it was on the 9th May, 1950, during that three minute speech – about which I often say that how you can hardly make a cup of coffee or boil an egg in the same time – that Robert Schuman laid the foundation for the European house in which today half a billion Europeans have been living together in peace. And that is hugely significant.

We need to help restore peoples’ sense of history because short memories produce short-sightedness. Our lack of vision as to what the future is going to be in Europe comes from not really having any appreciation for the past: where we’ve come from, therefore who we are, so we can know where we are going and how we should now live. I believe that this is the relevance of Schuman story. We fail when we do not tell our children the story. I think that Schuman for Kids is a wonderful seed thought. May it be like a mustard seed that grows and grows. Because if our ministers of education don’t grasp this, we are going to constantly be without a clear vision for the future. 

Robert Schuman was arrested during World War II and spent several years under confinement. First he was seven months in solitary confinement. Then he was placed under house arrest, but he escaped in 1942 down to the free zone. That is when he began thinking about how to rebuild Europe after the war and how to break the cycle of vengeance and violence that had really been coming through these old arrangements of balance of power between the nations. The Holocaust had challenged many peoples’ idea of faith in God. Others had lost their faith in human kind. Schuman hadn’t lost either of these. His personal faith in God and his Christian view of humanity played a major role in his politics, although he was not necessarily overt in his Christian language. It is important here to say that our view of man is determined by our view of God. The heart of the crisis that we face in Europe today is that we have taken God out of the picture. Therefore we begin to make up our own ideas about human beings and about what life is all about. 

Schuman said: ‘Democracy will either be Christian or it will not be. An anti-Christian democracy will be a parody which will sink into tyranny or into anarchy.’ Five years ago I was with Father Piotr Mazurkiewicz in Timisoara. The chairman of our evening was the Chief Librarian of the University. He saw the posters that had been advertised with this quote from Schuman and said: ‘Of course, after the Second World War, things were very black and white. There was the East versus the West, communism versus capitalism, and these kinds of statements were made, but those kinds of statements would not be made again’. That was enough to provoke Father Piotr to shake out of his sleeve a marvellous apology for the Christian basis of democracy and why it’s so necessary.

In his book For Europe, Robert Schuman explained why Christianity was a necessary foundation and that democracy owes its existence to Christianity. He said: ‘[Democracy] was born the day man was required to set the best example during his life on earth.’ If we think about the kind of good qualities we would like to see in other people and if we add them all up, we actually end up describing a Christ-like figure. 

Schuman said: ‘By respecting human dignity, individual rights and freedoms, and by exercising brotherly love towards his neighbour.’ We love to talk about brotherhood but we forget that it doesn’t start with brotherhood but with fatherhood. When the father is taken out of the picture, there is no basis for brotherhood.

Schuman said ‘Before Christ, ideas such as this had never been expressed and thus democracy is chronologically linked to Christianity as a doctrine. It gradually took shape with it after a good deal of trial and error sometimes at the expense of mistakes and lapses into barbarity.’ It hasn’t always been a steady progress, and unfortunately the institutions of Christianity have not always understood what it was about either. I think Schuman gets right to the core of the matter here. 

There is no other basis for forgiveness and reconciliation than Christianity. It was particularly the story of Madame Laure, a French Socialist woman, who was so hurt by Germany during the war, that she fought against the Germans and wanted to see Germany wiped from the map. She was invited to go to a conference in Caux, Switzerland, at the Centre for the Reconciliation of the Nations, which had been set up by a movement started by an Lutheran American-German evangelist, Frank Buchman. His understanding of the vision was the need of a community of peoples deeply rooted in basic Christian values. Without the common vision of seeking the common good, without the Catholic social thinking that undergirded Schuman’s understanding of the image of God, of seeking the common good, of solidarity and of subsidiarity, and without the four pillars that came out of that, we have lost that big picture that is integrating a framework for a broader and more accepting identity. So Schuman is hugely relevant for our situation and this quote about democracy and Christianity is becoming more and more relevant for us as we see what is happening. The basis for democracy is being undergirded in many places and basically anti-Christian ideas are beginning to cause the structure of democracy to shake. 

On a train trip, Schuman was talking to a businessman about this movement and was very interested. He said that he wanted to find out about this movement and about Frank Buchman. He heard about this place where he later learned that over 3,000 Germans had come there, from governments, trade unionists, industrialists, clergy, media representatives and educationists. The 11 members of the Adenauer family went regularly to this fabulous place with a wonderful view out over Lake Geneva. Schuman himself didn’t get there until 1952, but he did meet with Buchman earlier. Schuman told him: ‘I don’t know who to trust in the new Germany’. Buchman answered: ‘We have some fine people we can introduce you to.’ So he introduced him to Konrad Adenauer who shared a lot of common background with Schuman. They were both Catholics influenced by Catholic social thinking, but there were some real issues that brought a lot of tension between them, the Saar Valley being one of them. At one stage, Adenauer got very upset with Schuman and called him an Alsatian liar. Then he said: ‘Oh, I know, a better world begins with me changing. Every time I point one finger in that direction, there are three pointing back to me.’ Adenauer caught himself and applied the principles of the Moral Rearmament Movement. It was this ability to catch themselves and seek forgiveness and reconciliation that made it possible for these two men to begin to trust each other. 

As they signed the treaty for the Coal and Steel Community, Adenauer said: ‘I believe it is providential that the main task lies on the shoulders of men like you, our brother Alcide de Gasperi and myself who are filled with the desire to build the new edifice of Europe on Christian foundations.’ Telling this story makes us realise, as we face the future, our understanding on what foundations can we build Europe in the future. The story of Robert Schuman is extremely relevant. 

I want to stress that Schuman talked about the soul of Europe and the spirit of Europe. This is a language that we have lost. He said many times that this must not be just an economic and technical project but that it needed a soul. Schuman said: We are called to bethink ourselves to the Christian basics of Europe by forming a democratic model of governance, which through reconciliation, develops into a community of peoples in freedom, equality, solidarity, and peace, and which is deeply rooted in Christian basic values. Those words – freedom, equality, solidarity, and peace – are used by all sorts of people who are unwittingly squatters living in the European house. They don’t realise where these concepts have come from. 

Schuman said: ‘The merging of the identity of a new Europe cannot and must not remain an economic and technical enterprise; it needs a soul’. This soul is the conscience of its historical affinity. In other words, it is a deep awareness of what we had historically in common. It is a deep awareness of the responsibilities that come from it, in the present and in the future. It is a political will of the future at the service of the same human ideal. Such a spirit is needed, he said, which means that we need to be aware of our specific European common patrimony. In those days, Schuman had no link with the Eastern European world or with the Orthodox world, but he still thought about that. He saw Russia as being part of Europe. But, he said, ‘we have a common patrimony, a common heritage, and we need to be aware of that and therefore have the will to safeguard and develop that’. 

The spirit of Europe that Schuman talks about is actually about being aware of the life source of Europe. It is therefore about choosing for the common good of the whole. This spirit of Europe is missing, also in our leaders today. There are people who go to Brussels. There they talk Brusselese, they use European language, but when they come home, they express what they have done to defend themselves against Brussels. But we lack Statesmen and Stateswomen who say that we need to choose for the welfare of the whole. There is still too much horse trading going on behind the scenes and jostling and jockeying for the best interests of one’s own nation. 

This is why I think that it is so essential to recover Robert Schuman’s understanding of the soul and the spirit of Europe as we seek our way forward for Europe. I believe, therefore, that it is also essential to bring this story down to the young level, so that in the future, we will have generations of children and teenagers who can be excited about these values.

Jeff Fountain

Director Schuman Centre

This Post Has One Comment
  1. Dear Jeff Fountain, What a brilliant site which I accidentally came by when looking for a quote on Frank Buchman. This particular article is so insightful and relevant. At a time when we are going through a civilisational transition which probably comes once in several centuries, (currently the European era being from 1496 Portuguese to 1947 Independence of India from Britain)
    I worked with Caux, 2006 to 2016, though based in Melbourne and ran some conferences
    With gratitude,

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