The crisis in Europe is a favourite subject in media commentaries, and it is true there is no shortage of difficulties. These are manifested in a widespread defiance that features in public opinions expressed about the European construction. The results of a number of political elections in member states, including some founding members, seem to confirm this. The reality of Brexit, and the uncertainties surrounding its implementation, reinforce the feeling of malaise.
A number of politicians add to this in an atmosphere of demagoguery, accusing “Brussels” for its internal faults, forgetting the actual decision-making processes that are far more democratic than they dare to express. The campaign that is about to be launched in connection with the European Parliament elections in spring 2019 will be hard pressed to escape these national visions, where voters’ choices are made on the basis of other issues.
Europe still has to face up to economic problems: even if the situation has substantially improved, unemployment is far too high globally, the contrasts between the member states are glaring, and debts are frequently too threatening.
Similarly, the question of refugees and migrants refuses to go away, and can only be properly addressed in an atmosphere of solidarity and responsibility. In the face of these challenges, Europe remains the essential reference point for our democracies, offering the prospect of a better life for all.
This is not a matter of dogma but a will to implement the project at the heart of the vision of the founding fathers, which has enabled us to enter an era of long-term peace as we emerged from the tragic years of the Second World War, and then to welcome on board the countries of the centre and east of the continent as they left Communism behind.
It is clear that, beyond the different approaches, the different economies and political systems among the countries that make up the Union, or between the parties that represent their people, what is important today is without doubt to rediscover a soul, a sense of what we are trying to live by in this European construction, which may often mean hard work and, for us Christians, something we must engage in with generosity and realism.
Like an echo, Pope Francis reminded participants at the “(Re)thinking Europe” symposium, held in Rome in October 2017, of the specific responsibility of Christians when “the face of Europe is increasingly distinguished by a plurality of cultures and religions”. “The first and perhaps the greatest contribution that Christians can make to today’s Europe is to remind her that she is not a mass of statistics or institutions, but is made up of people (…) To acknowledge that others are persons means to value what unites us to them. To be a person connects us with others; it makes us a community (…). The European Union will remain faithful to its commitment to peace only to the extent that it does not lose hope and can renew itself in order to respond to the needs and expectations of its citizens”.
Such is the task that awaits us. Such is the extent of the obligations that open up before us.
(Mgr Antoine Hérouard, Auxiliary Bishop of Lille, President of the COMECE Commission on Social Affairs)