Tuesday 21. September 2021
#204 - May 2017

Building ‘Affectio Societatis’

Europe lacks neither reasons to unite nor projects. However, uniting people around a European project demands a spirit of fraternity according to Jérôme Vignon.

What does the European Union most lack today? Certainly not objective reasons to close ranks in the face of all the accumulating threats. Probably not rallying projects either. It is perhaps above all else what the former President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors readily called l’affectio societatis. In business law, laffectio societatis is the term used when the common will of active, interested and often equal parties merge into one entity. It is the foundation in the creation of a company. I personally would like to call this “the spirit of fraternity”.


Upon the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, a paradox confronts us. Did the Treaty of Rome not hold itself to the promise of being “an ever-closer Union amongst people”? Many people have wanted to see in this expression a veiled reference to the federal perspective detested by the United Kingdom. Today, what is at stake does not seem to be the federal model, nor its rejection. What is raised is rather the symbolism contained within the initial promise. The rebirth of nationalism and the difficulty of setting it against (matching it with) the language of trust amongst the people seems to be a sign that the Treaty of Rome is unfinished.


Why is it that “de facto solidarity” invoked by Robert Schuman, implemented for example through means of social and territorial cohesion and through structural European funding, has not built a real affectio societatis? Beyond the opacity of the European process, beyond the undeniable rabble-rousing behaviour of those responsible for presenting the European Union to the ordinary man, it seems to me that we can find gaps in the way of “making Europe”. They have contributed to distancing people from one another rather than bringing them together.


The Europe 2020 Strategy and the European Semester combine defining criteria with centralised monitoring. They have made each Member State and therefore each European people an isolated entity confronted by abstract rules. These vertical processes are undoubtedly necessary in order to establish discipline. However when they become “exclusive” they involve the risk of transforming the EU into a class of good and bad pupils. This makes the disruptive pupils popular.


Horizontal co-operation among nations

Similarly, the pre-eminence of vertical relationships within the European executive in relation to the application of rules, and in respect of budgetary implementation of programmes have had the effect of reinforcing a centralising vision, despite the numerous guarantees and possibilities of recourse in which this application is enveloped. Conversely, horizontal co-operation between nations, between regions and between territorial entities or between economic players remains rare with the exception of the very discreet European research policy.


I am not forgetting in this self-critical list, civil society, so strongly established in Brussels and which provides indispensable expertise but which does not reach the national players. The White Paper on European Governance, adopted in July 2001 by the European Commission, aimed to establish more democratic forms of governance at all levels: global, European, national, regional and local. However, contrary to what had been hoped, civil society and European social partners in particular, have rarely been able to promote each other’s pedagogy, helping them to become acquainted with and therefore understand the apparently divergent motivations of peoples who have a different past from our own but who have the same history.


All this is said without bitterness and without any regret. Because, in my opinion, each of these aspects offers the opportunity for self-questioning in terms of the ways of doing and talking about the players within Europe so that a development of horizontal relations between peoples is deployed in parallel with the hoped-for development of a renewal of the European process looking towards a fraternal Europe, the possibilities are infinite. In this task, the churches in each of our nations are particularly well-placed, since they profess that no particular affiliation can erase fraternity in Jesus Christ.

Jérôme Vignon

 Honorary President of Semaines sociales de France


This article was first published in the April June edition of the magazine Europe Confrontations.


Translated from the original text in French


EN The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.


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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.