Tuesday 21. September 2021
#210 - December 2017

Europe will be united or it will not

Ophélie Omnes believes that if European construction wants to prosper and develop in the right direction it has to get closer to its citizens and their everyday concerns.

The Catholic Church as a European political actor


When one has been a political activist and specialist in European Union affairs for almost ten years, one has taken part in a considerable number of conferences and seminars, during the course of which one meets personalities whose names become familiar.


At a time when religion is often perceived as taboo when it comes to politics, I have therefore been surprised to see familiar names appearing on the guest list of an event organised by the Catholic Church, no less than in the Vatican. And what names! From Frans Timmermans, Vice-president of the European Commission, to Sylvie Goulard, former MEP and one-time minister in the French government, to Enrico Letta, former Prime Minister of Italy.


It was a great pleasure to take part in such high-level debates. Greater emphasis was placed on establishing links between Europe and its citizens than on the operation of its institutions. The diversity of opinions represented also allowed for a comparison of ideas within working groups which particularly highlighted the divergence of perception between West and East.


Unity must find its place at the heart of European construction


During the course of the various debates and meetings which I participated in, one discovery that struck me that we all in fact had made the same observation: “Europe” is not talking enough to people. Europe for many people remains an abstract concept, a supranational entity whose role they do not really understand and which in the eyes of many, serves only to impose prescriptive and restrictive rules. And yet there is more in European construction than rules “coming from Brussels” in relation to, for example, tax competition and social inequalities. In this regard, the address of Pope Francis to the Dialogue in his fifth speech on Europe was received with enthusiasm.


From the outset, the European Founding Fathers’ project was clear: to create a community founded on unity and not simply a prosperous economic group. In 1950, Robert Schuman, the then French foreign affairs minister, inspired by Jean Monnet, set out in his famous Declaration of 9 May that Europe would only be built “through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity […] In this way, there will be realised simply and speedily that fusion of interest which is indispensable to the establishment of a common economic system […] It may be the leaven from which may grow a wider and deeper community between countries long opposed to one another by sanguinary divisions”.


With all due respect to Euro-sceptics and other detractors, the aim of the European project has always been to establish a shared living space for all people in the continent.


Essential structural reform of the Union


Amidst waves of migration, emergence from the economic crisis and managing Brexit, it is time for the EU to assume its responsibilities and to refocus on the values which brought about its birth. An “intergovernmental method”, namely an approach which leaves Member States to make decisions, thereby crystallizing national selfishness to the detriment of a communal approach, is no longer an option at a time when the EU is struggling to take the place that it should in an increasingly globalised world.


Whilst the challenges are many, there is a single answer. The EU needs a new structure to ensure genuine solidarity. In my opinion, and the organization I represent, only a more democratic Europe, closer to the concerns of citizens, stronger on the international scene will be able to rise to the challenges of today.


Only the establishment of a federal structure which is based on the principle of subsidiarity (according to which public action is carried out at a local, national or supranational level, whichever is the most appropriate) and the devolution of appropriate skills, will allow the EU to rediscover its true political direction.


In order to be audible and comprehensible to everyone, Europe must speak to people in their day to day life and no longer give the impression that it is beneficial only to those who are successful. In particular, it must allow fair social and tax policies to be implemented in order to reduce unfair competition which is developing between States and citizens. But as long as decisions are monopolised by national governments, who do not envisage things through the prism of common European interest, it will be difficult to achieve this objective, and thus bring Europeans closer together.


Ophélie Omnes

Vice-president of Young European Federalists, France


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.