Friday 10. April 2020
#181 - April 2015


Europe’s crisis and Catholic social teaching


What can Catholic social teaching contribute towards understanding and overcoming the deep-seated crisis of the European Union?

This small paperback book says it all! In fact, much more than its otherwise precise title promises. For decades its author, Heinrich Schneider, has been studying the political, economic and social aspects of the unification of Europe in the areas of research, teaching and publishing. In his book he raises the question of what contribution Catholic social teaching can make towards understanding (and perhaps also overcoming) the deep-seated crisis of the European Union, which has been ongoing for several years now. To this end, he first discusses the multifaceted nature of the crisis, the wrong decisions taken, negative developments and factors that have caused these and led to the “helplessness of those responsible”.


Relying both on the most important Church founding fathers and contemporary authors, he then discusses the common good, “one of the central concepts of the social doctrine”. The purpose and meaning of this in-depth discussion with regard to the subject matter of the book reveals itself with the explanation of how the understanding of the common good has been updated by the encyclicals of the most recent Popes and, not least , by the Second Vatican Council  – both through the strong emphasis on the dignity of the human being and a new understanding of the common good, which originally related only to the national community, but now also embraces the human race as a whole and the community of nations. The “signs of the times”, including globalisation in particular, have challenged this new understanding, this “surpassing”. The realisation of the supranational common good requires a supranational government, as it did for taming the dangers of economism.


Seen against this background, concise Catholic markers for European policy are now being referenced, as put forward, in particular by the Popes from Pius XII to Benedict XVI, as well as by Leo XIII and Pius XI before them. Prominent evangelist voices also believe that the need for the common good should be placed above national interests and support its implementation at both European and global levels.


Heinrich Schneider is a master of political analysis. In a chapter dealing with the difficulties of proclaiming these insights, he demonstrates how and why the cognitive faculties of those responsible are still largely caught up in ideas that have long since been overtaken by history. The myth of national sovereignty plays a crucial role in this regard.


This finding is not that far away from the discussion on the usual models for reform: “confederation, federal state – or what else is there?” This gives the opportunity to eliminate some of the common misconceptions and prejudices in order to plead finally for “the need to transform the European Union into a federal state”– and “for the sake of the supranational common good and for its effective enforcement.


Almost automatically, the author moves on to questioning how far the present institutional system and its bodies actually meet the demands of supranationality. The result of this query is ambiguous, with the developments of the last few years characterised by the management of the acute currency union crisis leading to the EU’s “governmental system” increasingly taking on an intergovernmental slant as a result of the Heads of State and Government becoming crisis managers – to the detriment of its supranational components, the Commission and the Parliament. On the other hand, the power of the European Central Bank as a supranational institution, even though not formally established within the democratic process of the development of informed opinion and decision-making, has substantially increased.


Finally, it remains to be said that “balancing the legal and political constellation of supranational, intergovernmental and other components of the development of informed opinion in the Union, as it is today,” is therefore difficult. Be that as it may: “The reform must be based, in particular, on protecting the priority of the common good … as is will otherwise not be possible to overcome the crisis of the European Union.” But this observation is not all. The opportunities and risks of the proposed and possible, partly already initiated. reforms are also under discussion.


The debate concerning European unification policy (and the institutions and procedures needed for its realisation) reveals its full significance in view of the driving forces that are pushing for the unification of Europe and lend it its purpose in the historical and current perspective. It is ultimately a matter of safeguarding peace, protecting freedom and the salvation of human dignity.


This is a textbook that introduces the advanced beginner simultaneously to Catholic social teaching and to European integration studies. It will serve as a formidable refresher for those already versed in the subject.


Thomas Jansen

Former official of the EU Commission, forward studies unit


Heinrich Schneider: Europas Krise und die katholische Soziallehre. Herausforderungen und ReformperspektivenBe&Be-Verlag Heiligenkreuz im Wienerwald, 2014, 228 p., ISBN 978-3-902694-68-3.


Translated from the original text in German

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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.