- 1.A European Journey #14 – Lyon (France)
- 2.A European Journey #26 – Narbonne (France)
- 3.A European Journey #27 – Metz (France)
- 4.A European Journey #28 – Strasbourg (France)
- 5.A European Journey #70 – Scy-Chazelles (France)
- 6.A European Journey #77 – Saint-Antoine-l’Abbaye (France)
- 7.A European Journey #79 – Île Saint-Honorat (France)
In 1945, a war had devastated Europe once again. The continent was now in need of a new direction, but who could provide it? Some Christian politicians believed that a free and prosperous Europe would only be possible if it were rebuilt upon Christian foundations.
It was precisely this desire to rebuild Europe on Christian foundations that led to what we know today as the European Union. So, for this last stage of a miniseries exploring the Christian roots of the European Union, we will visit the Maison de Robert Schuman (Robert Schuman’s house) in the village of Scy-Chazelles in France, where Robert Schuman lived the second part of his life until his death in 1963.
The village is located on Mont-Saint-Quentin, a hill overlooking the Moselle river, a few kilometres away from the city of Metz. Very probably, Schuman bought this house because it was a quiet place near the city where he worked, and also because there are three churches just nearby, something that he valued as man of prayer.
It was in this house that Schuman reviewed an important document that had the potential to reshape Europe in April 1950. But before we look into that, we will first return to a question that I left unanswered in a previous stage dedicated to his early life (stage 66). If you remember, after finishing his studies, Schuman opened a law cabinet in Metz. But after the tragic death of his mother, he considered leaving his career to become a monk. Yet, instead of that, he finally became a politician. And so the question I asked was: What led him to such a change of direction?
After the death of his mother, Robert Schuman exchanged some letters with his friend Henri Eschbach, who was then president of the administrative court of Strasbourg. When Schuman shared his plans to become a monk, Eschbach answered that ‘The saints of the future will be saints wearing a suit and tie’, thus encouraging him to serve God in the public square.
Schuman followed his advice and after the First World War he began his political career at the city council of Metz. Soon after he was elected as a member of the French Assembly. At the time, his region of Alsace-Lorraine had just been transferred from Germany to France. So Schuman became a key leader for the region and dealt especially with the complicated task of reconciling the German laws of the region with the French legal system. One of the key issues was religious education. Under Germany, the church could develop a Christian school system financed by the state. In France however, the state didn’t offer this possibility. Schuman convinced the French government that imposing the French laws in this matter would breed bitterness among the people of his region. Thus the government agreed on a special status for education in Alsace and Lorraine. The law became known as Lex Schuman and is still in force today.
During the Second World War, Schuman was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Germany. In 1942, Schuman fled to free France where he hid in an orphanage. Convinced that Germany would soon lose the war, Schuman knew that his time in hiding was an opportunity to prepare the reconstruction of post-war Europe. And his vision was clear: Europe could only be rebuilt on the basis of true reconciliation between France and Germany.
After the war, Schuman returned to an active role in French politics as Prime Minister and as Foreign Affairs Minister. In his second office, Schuman played a crucial role in the reconciliation process with Germany. But the task was not simple. Firstly, the mood in France was not for reconciliation but for revenge. Secondly, Schuman needed a practical plan that could turn reconciliation into a concrete policy.
On Friday 28th of April 1950, just before leaving for a weekend of rest at home, Schuman received a document drafted by the plan commissioner Jean Monnet. He quickly understood that he would have to change his plans and work that weekend. The document proposed that the coal and steel industries of Germany and France be placed under a common authority. In other words, it proposed that both nations, and any other nation desiring to join should be treated as equal partners. Schuman spent the whole weekend in his house studying the draft proposal carefully. He soon understood that this economic plan translated the values of reconciliation he was promoting into practice. After the weekend, Schuman returned to Paris with the conviction that this plan was the right way forward.
Finally, after having received the approval from the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Schuman pronounced his famous Schuman Declaration on the 9th of May 1950, a day that is celebrated as Europe Day.
In April 1951, a few days before signing the treaty of Paris which officially launched the European Coal and Steel Community, Alcide De Gasperi, Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman gathered to pray in a monastery, because they knew that such a plan would not succeed unless it were blessed by God. Along the same lines of Psalm 127, unless the LORD builds the European house, its builders labour in vain.
Today, seventy years after Schuman pronounced his declaration that transformed Europe, many seem to have forgotten the Christian foundations that led Europe to its longest period of peace. May our generation recover these firm foundations upon which to build the future of Europe, for the glory of God.
See you next week somewhere else in Europe.
Schuman Centre convener for Italian and French Europe
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Picture: Wikipedia – user: TCY – License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode