Europe has been warned

When Pope Francis berated the European Union last Tuesday, 25th November, for having lost its vision, he was pushing buttons in all its 28 member states.

Dec 04, 2014

When Pope Francis berated the European Union last Tuesday, 25th November, for having lost its vision, he was pushing buttons in all its 28 member states. The EU has become mired in a bureaucratic and technocratic style of governance, giving “a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe that is no longer fertile and vibrant”, he told a special meeting of the European Parliament. It was in the grip of “uniform systems of economic power in the service of unseen empires”. No wonder people had lost faith in it.

Although he received a standing ovation and much praise, particularly from the more Eurosceptical members of the assembly, this papal dressing down had not been expected. The last papal address to this body, by Pope John Paul II more than two decades ago, recalled that the EU’s founding fathers had drawn on Christian faith for their inspiration. That was a legacy that had been squandered, Pope Francis said, and needed to be returned to – not least as an antidote to rival ideologies such as Islamic jihadism.

Institutions are made of people – politicians in this case – so his indictment was of the entire contemporary political class. They had to rediscover “the sacred nature of the human person”, he told them. “The great ideals that once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions.” The Pope is well aware that this cohort of European politicians thinks it is an acceptable solution to the problem of refugees trying to reach southern Europe by boat, to let them drown as an example to others. He barely concealed his disgust when he implored them not to allow the Mediterranean to become “a vast cemetery”.

Most member states have felt the rise of disillusionment with the EU among their electorates. Most Eurosceptic sentiment is felt as a pull of the national interest against the international, of “us” against “them”. Far from supporting this appeal to national self-interest, however, the Pope is appealing for the opposite – a Europe that takes continent-wide solidarity seriously and defends the individual against the anonymous forces of the market. The shrewder politicians will understand that people want more from Europe, not less. But they do not want more of the same.

Judging from the state of the European debate in Britain, slightly less of the same is the best on offer. It is very noticeable that no politician of any party has attempted a defence of the European project on grounds of moral vision rather than of expedience. The notion of a European common good, benefiting the national interest of all its members, has vanished. Yet it was the guiding principle of the founders, and the reason, therefore, that the EU and its earlier manifestations came into existence. Without roots planted in fertile moral ground, it will be bound to wither. After the speech of Pope Francis, it cannot complain that no one warned it.

Source: Tablet

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