Europe in the run-up to the elections
What are the most important challenges facing the EU prior to the European elections?
We are all aware that there are disputes with Russia and difficulties in the Islamic world, and that American policies towards Europe and the rest of the world have changed. We have to deal with Brexit, yet at the same time we know that European unity is the best way of facing up to these challenges and continuing the self-determination of our lives.
So why isn’t it working? There are ever-increasing tendencies away from working together towards national interests, and beyond to populist nationalism. If the best chance lies in working together, why isn’t this attractive?
It’s not as if things weren’t also difficult in the past. There have been major challenges in every decade. In the 1950s, the Germans and the French had to be reconciled to one another, which was difficult. In the 1960s, Charles de Gaulle implemented the Empty Chair Policy; the 1970s saw the debate over Eurosclerosis, and in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher wanted her money back. In the 1990s, we worked to introduce a joint currency, which was met with a lot of scepticism. And in the 2000s there was a major financial crisis. So there have always been challenges.
The question is whether the current generation is prepared to renew this cooperation. We can see that there is actually no alternative. The world is becoming more dangerous, the disputes between the major powers are becoming ever more serious, as we are currently seeing between the USA and China. Europeans can only stand up to these challenges together.
What can you do to promote democracy in Europe?
On the one hand, you have to point out the historical perspectives, but you also have to stay relevant to everyday experience. So you have to justify the specific actions we are takinig to improve people’s living conditions. These things must go hand-in-hand. For the European elections we are preparing balances of trade covering 1400 different towns and cities, municipalities and regions in the European Union, where we state specifically what we as the European Union have done for that city, that region. There are many good stories to be told. We are preparing 400 stories on specific themes. What are we doing to combat diabetes? What are we doing for people who like to go and watch football abroad? The practical relevance to people’s everyday lives is an equally important aspect of the mega-story of peace and self-determination.
The Pope, too, in his November 2014 speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, recognised the European project as a peace project and one that maintains European traditions. But there has also been a certain amount of criticism. Has any of what the Pope told the delegates been taken on board?
It was a visit with a great impact, during which the Pope also made it clear how important European democracy is to him. He visited the European Parliament and spoke to all the delegates. I believe we have a lot in common, in particular the idea that we need dialogue, communication and compromise – and that radical solutions are ultimately not solutions. To that extent, Europe is also a peace project in the ways and means we use to seek to resolve conflicts.
Is there a genuine contribution that the Church and religion can make to this project?
The history of the foundation of the European Union cannot be viewed as separate from the commitment of Catholics. There is a process underway for the beatification of Robert Schumann. The Catholic works of Alcide de Gasperi are also widely acknowledged by the Church. On the basis of their Christian and Catholic convictions, the European founding fathers put into practice their commitment to build on the ruins of the Second World War. It is part of our DNA, our history. We believe nationalism is not the way – but cooperation, compromise, consensus. Respect for people and human dignity must form the basis of European politics and the associated engagement.
Bernd Hagenkord interviews Klaus Welle,
Secretary-General of the European Parliament
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.