Solidarity and responsibility: the two pillars of a new economic order for Europe
While the economic crisis is hitting Europe where it hurts most and as more and more voices are being raised to denounce the capitalist economic system, COMECE’s bishops set out their vision of a social market economy.
On 12 January last, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, COMECE Vice-President, addressed around 100 people meeting in Brussels at the Polish Permanent Representation to the EU. He introduced the Statement of the COMECE Bishops on the Social Market Economy presenting the objectives of a competitive social market economy. In his opening address to the conference, Polish Ambassador Jan Tombinski reported that the austerity measures currently being adopted by most European governments to meet the challenge of over-indebtedness risked harming the European social model. In his view, a policy of austerity should not be the sole strategy for guiding the EU through the next few years.
Cardinal Marx, as chairman of COMECE’s Social Affairs Commission, had led the drafting of this Statement, which was approved by the COMECE bishops in October 2011. Such a declaration by the bishops on an economic theme is not unusual. In a well-established tradition of examining social questions since the Encyclical Rerum novarum, the Catholic Church has developed the pattern of commenting on the major social and economic issues that affect society. Following its mandate to provide support for the process of European integration, COMECE is particularly well placed to offer both critical views and recommendations on the major challenges facing the EU. “Especially during this economic crisis we believed it was important to recall that Europe is about much more than the Euro, more than the financial crash and the debt crisis and more than the economy. And the starting point for this debate is the Lisbon Treaty itself, which specifies that the EU has adopted the goal of being a highly competitive social market economy.”
Of course, the notion of a social market economy is wide open to many different interpretations. In this short paper, the intention of the COMECE bishops was to put forward a number of ideas for discussion and some clear principles for guiding the EU towards an economic model that would aim for more than simply economic growth and balanced budgets: “The basis for financial stability and other short-term measures will not be enough to overcome the crisis into which we have sunk. Europe needs more than just crisis management! We need guidance for the future of Europe. What is the point of Europe?” Cardinal Marx added, “I often think back to the words of Jean Monnet. He used to say that Europe was just simply a stepping stone to a better world.” The Cardinal ended by saying that this Statement constituted an invitation to a joint debate on the goals of the European idea.
What room is there for the act of giving in a social market economy? The first section of the Statement discusses this aspect of giving in the economy. Men do not live only in a context of economic relationships; in other words, according to what they each owe to one another, but above all according to what they give to each other. The central thread in this is the family, and it is love that is the driver of this giving, as Pope Benedict XVI said in his Encyclical Caritas in veritate.
Yet the social market economy is not a form of socialism: it is all about a market economy that entails competition and performance while respecting rules and principles. However, there are whole areas of our common lives which have nothing to do with the market; areas such as the family, education and culture. “But since the fall of the Berlin Wall we have yielded too much ground to the idea that the market can regulate everything,” deplored the COMECE Vice-President.
Radosław Mleczko, Under-Secretary of State at the Polish Ministry of Labour and Social Policy commented on the paper, and so did Vittorio Prodi, a Social Democrat MEP (S&D), who said that these proposals were extremely important and merited detailed examination. “The person is the central pillar of society: we have to give back to him the dignity he has lost. The Common Good is a fundamental concept for our future.” Recalling the words of the prayer Our Father, the Italian MEP acknowledged that to survive we do, of course, need to receive our “daily bread”. But there is a limit to the production of these material goods. We also need to be forgiven “our trespasses”, meaning that we need to understand one another in order to live better together: therefore we have just as much need of non-material goods in our lives, as in the end they are also linked to our coexistence.
To live better together – maybe that should be the ultimate goal of this European community. The COMECE Statement is a call for a discussion of a competitive sustainable economy as a means of serving this objective, which should never be lost from view.
Translated from the Original French