Europe Deserves to be Built

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Antonio Spadaro, SJ

 Antonio Spadaro, SJ / Editorial / Published Date:15 May 2017/Last Updated Date:8 February 2021


Free Article

On March 25, in the Renaissance setting of Rome’s Campidoglio, 27 leaders of European Union countries and three representatives from its Brusselsbased institutions, JeanClaude Juncker, Donald Tusk and Antonio Tajani, gathered to sign a common declaration for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome. As the Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, underlined in his speech, the occasion marked how “this has been a voyage of achievements and hopes that have come to fruition, with others yet to be fulfilled,” following the “splendid obsession” of Europe’s founding fathers, expressed by the injunction “do not divide, unite.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who hosted the luncheon, exhorted the Union to “a great mobilization and incisive joint action,” for the “future is seen in being together,” and the “solidarity between peoples and tolerance, which are Europe’s values, will let the Union make a further stepup in quality.” Then, a strong appeal: “We must conclude sincerely that the current European architecture needs rethinking” within a “constitutive phase that will be fecund.

The event had been preceded the day before at 6 p.m. by an audience in the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace granted by Pope Francis to the 27 Heads of State and Government of the European Union, accompanied by their delegations.

La Civilta Cattolica

The Treaties of Rome

But let us first take a step back in time. What are the Treaties of Rome? They were signed by Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, March 25, 1957, in the Sala degli Orazi e Curiazi of the Palazzo dei Conservatori where the Capitoline Museums are currently situated. They were fundamental for the European Union that came into being in 1992 with the Treaty of Maastricht. Actually, there were two Treaties of Rome: one created the European Economic Community and the other created the European Community for Atomic Energy. The first provided for stable and longlasting growth for the countries involved through the formation of a common market and the harmonization of state economic laws. The most important provision was the elimination of customs duties between member states and the creation of the socalled “common market.” The second treaty aimed to coordinate the research programs of the member states on nuclear energy and ensure that it was used for peaceful purposes.

Our journal, on April 6, 1957, dedicated an initial article to the treaties under the title, “Toward a United Europe?”1  In his reflections the author defined the event as “a prelude for future realizations,” and “perhaps one of the most important and decisive in the historical phase that began with the end of the Second World War.2

Europe, a way of life and of understanding humanity

Receiving in audience the Heads of State and Government and the representatives of the European Institutions, Pope Francis gave his third direct and articulated speech on the theme of Europe. The first had been to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe on November 25, 2014.3  The second had been on the occasion of the conferral of the Charlemagne Prize on the pontiff on May 6, 2016.4  At his latest event, the pope’s words were awaited with particular expectation

Francis’ predecessors had been able to address the issue of Europe in celebrating the treaties 10 and 20 years earlier, and commentating on the European journey. John Paul II, on March 6, 1997, had spoken to the deputies of the European Peoples Party’s Christian Democrat Group. Benedict XVI had spoken, March 24, 2007, to bishops participating in a Congress promoted by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community. But now for the first time all the European leaders came to the Apostolic Palace to meet the pontiff.

Francis, by this meeting alone, shows himself to be a protagonist on the stage of the European continent. And this he does as an Argentinian who comes from the “Extreme West,”5 showing a deep understanding of the dynamics of the Union. This understanding is based on a perspective that he himself defined as “Magellian,” that is the perspective of someone who looks at the center, standing at the periphery or elsewhere, and reflects his family’s Piedmont roots and the European character of his intellectual formation. This allows him to maintain a critical distance that lets him see Europe from a more radically global perspective.

As an external referee, he gathered the Heads of State and Government under the Universal Judgement of the Sistine Chapel for the customary photograph, a highly symbolic and suggestive picture at a moment of singular difficulty for the history of the Continent.

Before the pontiff spoke, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani affirmed that “speaking of European identity does not mean claiming supremacy, but promoting the values of the European Union in a world that appears more and more unstable.” Italian leader Gentiloni then affirmed that “the Church has always helped and encouraged the progress of European integration.” In fact, it has never been an observatory, but a protagonist in the continent’s history and civilization. “The European Union,” he continued, “should not be a Union of mere numerical parameters, but a Union of values, of moral example, of ideas.” Given the speech the pontiff was about to deliver, these statements were truly opportune.

In searching for the roots of Europe, Francis felt the need to return to the “Fathers of Europe,” for one cannot understand the present without this vital link, the logical thread that comes from the past. He told those who had come to listen: “Returning to Rome, sixty years later, must not simply be a remembrance of things past, but the expression of a desire to relive that event in order to appreciate its significance for the present. We need to immerse ourselves in the challenges of that time, so as to face those of today and tomorrow.” The memory of that day is united to the hopes and expectations of the peoples of Europe today. Memory, therefore, becomes a real challenge.

Francis quoted from the thenBelgian Foreign Minister PaulHenri Spaak, aware that after the dark years of the Second World War there was a need to look after “the material prosperity of our peoples, the expansion of our economies, social progress and completely new industrial and commercial possibilities,” but above all “a particular conception of life that is humane, fraternal and just.” The leaders of the time had the “the courage needed to leave behind their old disputes and to think and act in a truly new way, in order to bring about the greatest transformation of Europe.6

Today, the same courage is needed. “The Founding Fathers,” continued the pope, “remind us that Europe is not a conglomeration of rules to obey, or a manual of protocols and procedures to follow. It is a way of life, a way of understanding man based on his transcendent and inalienable dignity, as something more than simply a sum of rights to defend or claims to advance.

This then is the foundation of Pope Francis’ speech on Europe: treaties on their own have never created a community, and so it is not the ratification of a European treaty that will make Europe. But there is a work involving the soul and conscience that has to encounter the needs of its citizens. You cannot build a shared European home if you ignore the identities of the peoples of the Continent.

The Crisis of the Union and Future Discernment

This talk about Europe’s soul came at a critical moment for the Union. The United Kingdom has triggered negotiations for Brexit; the US administration seems unappreciative of the very idea of the European Union; populism and nationalism have become part of our everyday lexicon and are spreading, accompanied by increasing Euroscepticism, undermining the dynamics of the Union. History can teach us, and not just those in Europe – think of the SmootHawley Tariff Act of 19307 – that any government that raises barriers to protect itself places the burden of costs onto others, who will reply by raising other walls as defensive policies. The result is that everyone’s defensive instincts end up damaging all those involved and the wider system in general.

Sixty years ago our journal saw in nationalism – agreeing with Ernest Renan8  and remembering Pius XII’s Christmas Message of 1956 – an “egoistic and anguished sentiment” that “had caused more ruin and death than the bombs and gas.9  So he called for a “reappraisal of the soulsand of false nationalistic education,”10 so that the political or economic defeat of one member nation could no longer become a longterm economic benefit for others.

To the resurgence of nationalistic trends, today we must add the complex crisis in Greece, the tensions in Turkey, the conflicts at the perimeters of the Union, particularly in the Middle East, Syria and the Ukraine. In addition, and above all, the emerging disagreement on the issue of migrants and refugees, which is without doubt the most urgent global political problem for our times. Nor should we underestimate the fact that Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel are at the end of their mandates and elections in their countries will be decisive for the EU’s path into the future.

The European Union, the pope affirms, is “called today to play its part.” Francis speaks openly of a Europe that is in crisis. Above all, “one frequently has the sense that there is a growing ‘split’ between the citizenry and the European institutions, which are often perceived as distant and inattentive to the different sensibilities present in the Union.” Then, the pontiff outlined various forms of the crisis without fear of using this term: “There is the economic crisis that has marked the past decade; there is the crisis of the family and of established social models; there is a widespread ‘crisis of institutions’ and the migration crisis. So many crises that engender fear and profound confusion among our contemporaries, who look for a new way of envisioning the future.

Nevertheless, for the pope, the term “crisis” does not have a negative sense in and of itself, for the term “has its origin in the Greek verb krino, which means to discern, to weigh, to assess. Ours is a time of discernment, one that invites us to determine what is essential and to build on it. It is a time of challenge and opportunity.

A time of crisis is always a time of discernment. And to discern, a hermeneutic, or way of looking at things is necessary to see the difficulties present and find responses for the future.

Francis concentrates on hope in a hermeneutic based on an “openness to the future,” affirming that “those who govern are charged with discerning the paths of hope, identifying specific ways forward to ensure that the significant steps taken thus far have not been wasted, but serve as the pledge of a long and fruitful journey.” And hope is found in solidarity.

Solidarity: a vital European spirit for Pius XII and Francis

Consequently, Francis wants to underline what gives vitality to the European continent. He identifies it as solidarity. This is the keyword that we need to look at more closely. It is the heart of Bergoglio’s vision.

In his talk on the occasion of the Charlemagne Prize he quoted Robert Schuman’s May 9, 1950, declaration at the Salon de l’Horloge in the Quai d’Orsay in Paris where he affirmed: “Europe will not be made all at once or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements that first create a de facto solidarity.11

In his talk on the Treaties of Rome, Francis cites the thenprime minister of Luxembourg Joseph Bech: “The European economic community will prove lasting and successful only if it remains constantly faithful to the spirit of European solidarity that created it, and if the common will of the Europe now being born proves more powerful than the will of individual nations.12 For Francis this spirit of solidarity “remains as necessary as ever today, in the face of centrifugal impulses and the temptation to reduce the founding ideals of the Union to productive economic and financial needs.

This is the central point that Francis had expressed in his Message for the 49th World Day of Peace: “There are many good reasons to believe in mankind’s capacity to act together in solidarity and, on the basis of our interconnection and interdependence, to demonstrate concern for the more vulnerable of our brothers and sisters and for the protection of the common good. This attitude of mutual responsibility is rooted in our fundamental vocation to fraternity and a life in common.13

From solidarity there arises the ability to open ourselves up to others and not isolate ourselves from the rest of the world by raising unassailable barriers. “In a world that was all too familiar with the tragedy of walls and divisions, it was clearly important to work for a united and open Europe, and for the removal of the unnatural barrier that divided the continent from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic. What efforts were made to tear down that wall! Yet today the memory of those efforts has been lost. Forgotten too is the tragedy of separated families, poverty and destitution born of that division. Where generations longed to see the fall of those signs of forced hostility, these days we debate how to keep out the ‘dangers’ of our time: beginning with the long lines of women, men and children fleeing war and poverty, seeking only a future for themselves and their loved ones.

Solidarity knocks down walls and constructs peace globally, and not just continentally. In this Francis is the successor of Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli), who just before the signing of the Treaties of Rome stated the following in his 1956 Christmas radio message: “A concrete need now, one of the ways to ensure peace for the world and a fruitful heritage of goodness, a force that also embraces the peoples of Asia and Africa, the Middle East and Palestine with the Holy Land, is to strengthen the solidarity of Europe.” Bergoglio’s vision converges with Pacelli’s here: European solidarity serves the wellbeing not only of Europe, but of the entire world.

The vision shared by these popes is a universal one that is not restricted to any particular situation or continent. The generative impulse is found only by looking beyond our horizons. If Europe is separated from the world, what follows is either hegemony, with Europe superior to the rest, or superficiality, with the development of an illusion of selfsufficiency.

Only solidarity is able to bring peace to a world that is in the middle of what Bergoglio describes as a “third world war being fought piecemeal.” His historical experience and intelligence restrain him from being an abstract or ideological pacifist. He knows that no pure peace exists and that humanity needs to confront conflicts. Peace, therefore, means acting in the areas that are most delicate in the internationalpolitical sphere for the sake of those who are discarded, the supposed waste of society, those who are the weakest. The initiatives for peace must also be connected to the two great social themes that most worry the pope: peace in society’s midst and the social inclusion of the poor (see Evangelii Gaudium, n.219). This is the strength of solidarity that knocks down walls and constructs peace. This has to be the first element of European vitality.

Populist, particularistic and nationalistic tendencies seem to be pushing Europe in the opposite direction both internally and internationally. He told the European leaders that the nationalisms and impulses that are contrary to solidarity – the “walls” – are “the fruit of a selfishness that hems people in and prevents them from overcoming and ‘looking beyond’ their own narrow vision.

The Migratory Issue as a Cultural Question

If the primary element of European vitality is solidarity, then the serious migratory crisis of recent years is a priority. In the audience he gave to this journal, on February 9, 2017, the pope explained clearly the meaning of this crisis: “The crisis is global and so it is necessary to turn our focus to the dominant cultural beliefs and the criteria people use to decide what is good or bad, desirable or not. Only a thought that is truly open can face the crisis and understanding of where the world is going, of how to face the most complex and urgent crises, geopolitics, the economic challenges and the serious humanitarian crisis tied to the drama of migration, the true political and global issue of our days.14

The migratory question, he repeated to the European leaders, cannot be managed “as if it were a mere numerical or economic problem, or a question of security.” It “poses a deeper question, one that is primarily cultural. What kind of culture does Europe propose today?”

Bergoglio’s question is radical and demanding. He is concerned about a culture of fear spreading across Europe. At a time of uncertainty, loss of values and ideals, we “end up dominated by the fear that others will wrench us from our usual habits, deprive us of familiar comforts, and somehow call into question a lifestyle that all too often consists of material prosperity alone. Yet the richness of Europe has always been her spiritual openness and her capacity to raise basic questions about the meaning of life. Openness to the sense of the eternal has also gone hand in hand, albeit not without tensions and errors, with a positive openness to this world.15

There are echoes here of the questions Francis posed to the Council of Europe in 2014: “Where is your vigor? Where is that idealism which inspired and ennobled your history?” or those he raised when receiving the Charlemagne Prize, “What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?” The questions reverberate while the current absence of values becomes a “fertile terrain for every form of extremism.

The Harmony of a Family of Different Peoples

Solidarity that pushes us to open ourselves up to others generates a spirit of family that has led the peoples of Europe to share their talents and resources. This has occurred in various ways. Pope Francis’ predecessors have underlined the importance of maintaining both unity and single identities.

John Paul II, on March 6, 1997, told the deputies of the European Peoples Party’s Christian Democrat Group of the need to be aware of the role of each person and each nation in constructing a great, common home. Benedict XVI, on March 24, 2007, told the bishops of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community that “an authentic European ‘common home’ cannot be built without considering the identity of the people of this Continent of ours. It is a question of an historical, cultural, and moral identity before being a geographic, economic, or political one.

Speaking with journalists about Europe when returning from his papal trip to Armenia, Francis responded to the referendum that had voted for Brexit by airing the possibility of “thinking of another form of union.” This difference in the mind of the pontiff consists in the fact that all peoples have a cultural and spiritual identity that is not always identical. Every identity has to converge in the construction of a European citizenship.

This is the point: Europe is not an amalgamation, the fruit of a theoretical or abstract process of homogenization. If the residents of Europe do not feel they are European citizens, every effort will be in vain. Back in 1957 our journal wrote: “If you want to make Europe, you need to create a shared conscience that surpasses national confines and nationalistic prejudices that are centered on interests and egoism, and open up to all the peoples of the old Continent, as to brothers tied to the same glorious and immortal culture, bound together, today more than ever, by the same historical destiny.

Now, 60 years later, speaking to the Heads of State and Government, Francis repeats the need for “an attentive and trustfilled readiness to hear the expectations voiced by individuals, society and the peoples who make up the Union.” The pontiff imagines Europe as a “family of peoples” where “each contributes freely to the common home in accordance with his or her own abilities and gifts […] The European Union was born as a unity of differences and a unity in differences. What is distinctive should not be a reason for fear, nor should it be thought that unity is preserved by uniformity. Unity is instead harmony within a community.16

Today, the European Union needs to rediscover what it means to be a community of peoples and nations seeking that harmony “in which the whole is present in every one of the parts, and the parts are – each in its own unique way – present in the whole.” The need is felt for a “new youthfulness” for a Europe that ought to be built.

Dignity, liberty, justice. These are the values at the origins of European civilization with their Christian roots that today make it “possible to build authentically ‘lay’ societies, free of ideological conflicts, with equal room for the native and the immigrant, for believers and nonbelievers.

The Declaration of Rome

At what stage is Europe today? What is the meaning of the Declaration of Rome signed 60 years after the Treaties? It is the fruit of long discussions and mediation whose efficacy will only come to light in future years. It opens up a pathway, a road map that looks toward the forthcoming European elections in 2019. The pontiff gave some indications. Is the declaration aligned with them?

Obviously there is no clear response, but the declaration’s opening seems to be heading in the right direction. It is worth quoting the first paragraph to understand its character and meaning: “We, the Leaders of 27 Member States and of EU institutions, take pride in the achievements of the European Union: the construction of European unity is a bold, farsighted endeavor. Sixty years ago, recovering from the tragedy of two world wars, we decided to bond together and rebuild our continent from its ashes. We have built a unique Union with common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, a major economic power with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare.

And then some key words follow immediately: “We will make the European Union stronger and more resilient, through even greater unity and solidarity amongst us and the respect of common rules.” Unity and solidarity are the basis of the strength of the Union.

The reference to the “Leaders of 27 member states” was not automatic. It shows that the states agree with what is written in the declaration. Ten years ago, in Berlin, the text was signed only by the heads of the institutions. And there is also the affirmation that, beyond all difficulty, the European Union foresees a future for itself in the decades to come. But a significant principle is fixed: those states who want to proceed together on single points may now do so. The founding countries are projected toward greater political integration on certain themes, giving life to the core of Europe, as it has been defined. They can “act together, at different paces and intensities where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past, in line with the Treaties.” This means that while there may be differences of pace, there will be no radical changes. We will see if this leads to a “ball and chain” for the Union or if it will contribute to a more organic development.

Four fundamental points follow that describe the face of the Europe that is desired.

A first point is the desire for “A Safe and Secure Europe” that will have “an efficient, responsible and sustainable migration policy, respecting international norms.” Perhaps this is the most important issue and the greatest challenge: better control of the external borders, welcoming those fleeing danger, and also safeguarding the liberty of movement within the Schengen area.

A second point has to do with “A Prosperous and Sustainable Europe” that “creates growth and jobs” and works “toward completing the Economic and Monetary Union.” The crisis seems to have passed and the economies of all the states of the Union are set to grow, even if at different paces. And there is a need that “economies converge” for there are currently huge differences between the North and the South.

A third point has to do with “A Social Europe” that “promotes economic and social progress as well as cohesion and convergence,” “promotes equal opportunities for all, and fights unemployment, discrimination, social exclusion and poverty.” The fact that there is a sentence stating that the Union will be “taking into account the diversity of national systems” seems to be a clear safeguard: trying to ensure all citizens of the Union have the same level of protection would be Utopian. We note that the defense of European social rights was not present in the first draft and had been requested by Greece. This makes clear how the Union is not only a “major economic power” but is also an organization “with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare.” In the declaration the word “together” was added to the paragraph on the “unprecedented challenges” the EU must face in a “rapidly changing world.

A fourth point is concerned with “A Stronger Europe on the Global Scene” that promotes “stability and prosperity in its immediate neighborhood to the east and south, but also in the Middle East and across Africa and globally” and that strengthens “its common security and defense, also in cooperation and complementarity with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The declaration concludes with the firm belief that “Europe is our common future” and that the “European Union is the best instrument to achieve our objectives.” This is the most striking part of the declaration, notwithstanding all the trouble and resistance that preceded it: 27 states – home to people who have looked at each other suspiciously for generations, closed and fearful – have now expressed themselves, sharing as a basis, civil and cultural growth, openmindedness, the ability to listen and reciprocal understanding. There is an awareness of belonging and of a shared destiny that is a precious heritage to safeguard with care. This is something the pope insisted on in his talk to the 27 European leaders, trying to shake Europe up into seeking its own soul.

Over the next two years, after certain national elections and new European elections, we will see more clearly if this desire to walk forward together will be sustained by the will of the Europeans. We will also see if there is confirmation that “the substance of the choice of the Union is to make a process of integration based on the decision to bring together talents, resources and abilities for the greater wellbeing of our societies and for the constant development of the democratic institutions.” These were the words of Italian President Mattarella during the luncheon at the Quirinale.

From our perspective, we confirm the words that our journal wrote just after the Treaties of Rome were signed: “A united Europe is not a Utopia, it is a political and social necessity, it is an unavoidable need for the life of the old Continent, it is an imperative that the evolution of international relations and technical progress places on all its peoples.17


1.A. Messineo, “Verso un’Europa unita?”, in Civ. Catt. 1957 II 313.

2.Ibid, 3. See also L. Larivera, “‘L’Europa e il nostro futuro comune’. A 50 anni dalla firma dei Trattati di Roma”, in Civ. Catt. 2007 II 211223.

3.See P. de Charentenay, “Il Papa a Strasburgo: dignita e diversita”, in Civ. Catt. 2015 I 7482.

4.See A. Spadaro, “Lo sguardo di Magellano. L’Europa, Papa Francesco e il Premio Carlo Magno”, in Civ. Catt. II 2016 469479.

5.See A. Rouquie, L’ America Latina. Introduzione all’Estremo Occidente, Milan, Bruno Mondadori, 2007.

6.P.-H. Spaak, Discorso pronunciato in occasione della firma dei Trattati di Roma, March 25, 1957.

7.The SmootHawley Tariff Act imposed high customs duty on foreign goods imported into the United States of America. As a consequence there was a 50 percent reduction in imported goods. A chain reaction was set off with every country seeking to transfer the crisis onto others, with the result that world trade was markedly reduced, aggravating the Great Depression.

8.E. Renan, Che cos’è una nazione? Rome, Donzelli, 2004.

9.A. Messineo, “Verso un’Europa unita?” ,art.. cit., 5.

10.Ib., 10.

11.See E. Grace, “Il futuro della solidarieta europea. Una riflessione sulla Dichiarazione Schuman”, in Civ. Catt. 2016 III 350362.

12.J. Bech, Speech on the occasion of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, 25 March 1957.

13.Francis, Message for the 49th World Day of Peace 2016, n.2. In these words there is a deep reflection on the parable of the Last Judgment of chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, one of the passages that has always been at the heart of Francis’ message, together with chapter 2 of the Letter to the Philippians.

14.“Pope Francis encounters ‘La Civilta Cattolica’ on the occasion of the publication of the 4000th edition”, in Civ. Catt. 2017 I 439447.

15.Bergoglio’s personal vision of Europe was strongly determined by Erich Przywara’s “The Idea of Europe” (L’idea di Europa, Trapani, Il Pozzo di Giacobbe, 2013). When receiving the Charlemagne Prize, Pope Francis said that “he challenges us to think of the city as a place where different needs and levels live together …. European identity is and has always been a dynamic and multicultural identity.

16.A. Messineo, “Verso un’Europa unita?”, art. cit., 4.

17.Ibid., 5.