“I dream of a Europe that progresses, socially and in solidarity”
- Which principles are closest to your heart?
When I went to Japan I brought back with me a principle that is essential in life, that of harmony: everyone should have their place, and it is not a good thing for some to occupy excessive space to the detriment of others. This applies both to people and to countries. I believe that without harmony of this kind, the EU will have problems. The principles of solidarity and of concern for the poor are also central values of mine.
- Are the Catholics in your country favourable towards the European project?
Yes. Like many Luxembourg citizens, I’m a Luxembourg man through and through, and proud to be so, and at the same time I’m European and proud to be so.
- You must be aware that this is not the case everywhere in Europe, where certain citizens feel a tension between these two identities.
The question of identity is essential for Europe – we need to show that the European identity is not a threat to the national identity. Identities are a very important issue these days. When faced with major changes, people want to be able to rely on a clear identity. National identity is not a bad thing in itself, but people should always be open towards others; an identity should always be “in dialogue” and not shut itself away. The different identities in Europe should be given their place, but dialogue and openness should always be insisted upon.
- That is the kind of discourse that could win over the other Europeans. Shouldn’t we be talking more to Europeans’ hearts?
I think you need a certain humility when representing Europe. Sometimes you get the impression that the citizens and leaders of the Western states of the EU want to tell the others what to do but of course, the citizens of a central or eastern European state have the same European citizenship as a Luxembourg, German or French citizen does. An attitude of humility is truly fundamental.
I was recently in Albania where a view on EU membership is taking shape. I sensed a dual attitude among the Albanians – they look forward to joining the EU one day but they are also afraid that account will not be taken of their values and their identity. I don’t believe that’s the case, but this preoccupation should remain at the heart of the actions of the policymakers in today’s Europe.
- You think that the European institutions should therefore take greater account of the richness of its member states in order to enter into dialogue with them and to learn their histories?
I do. We are fortunate to be able to rely on incredibly skilled European officials, whom I admire. They have rules to follow but when you are engaged in a discourse, there is a risk that you may not see the other, parallel, discourses, which could create tensions. One should always be open to other discourses. Of course, the European institutions are linked to the Treaties. It is important that European citizens are also aware of the concerns and what lies at the heart of these institutions.
- Maybe what we have here is a facet of Jacques Delors’ appeal to “give Europe a soul”?
In order to win citizens over, once again we have to dare to stage a European discourse that goes beyond a legal or political discourse. In each of our member states, there is a very good opinion of Europe among a certain elite that is able to understand this discourse. But we live in a democracy and that means every individual is important. People of all levels must be won over, and to do so it is necessary to address not only the spirit but also the heart. This is why Jacques Delors spoke of the need to “give Europe a soul”.
- Is this what the Churches can contribute in their dialogue with the EU?
Yes, I think so. The Church is present at all levels of society, and throughout the whole of Europe. A bishop knows what preoccupies the grass roots as well as the elites, and he should advocate for those who do not have access to the European institutions. We can help the decision-makers not to lose sight of the ultimate aims of the European project.
The Church is clearly in favour of the European project – in the Church’s social doctrine, the common good is of major importance. It is very difficult to imagine a European common good without common institutions.
- What kind of Europe do you dream of?
I dream of a Europe that progresses, socially and in solidarity. I dream of a Europe that is not afraid to take a strong stance in conflicts around the world, and to campaign actively for peace and justice. But I wouldn’t want a Europe that dictates to others what they should do. Europe should be committed, prepared to listen and sufficiently strong to be able to safeguard the common good of all its peoples.
Since it began, Europe has been associated with peace. This does not mean being content with fine words, but should be translated into a foreign policy that strives for peace. I would not want a Europe that constructs barriers to prevent the poor and refugees from entering, but I would like to see a Europe that works in partnership with Africa to ensure that people are able to stay in their home countries. We should not be investing in “fortress Europe”, but in African development.
- Which bring us to the question of arms trading. In numerous ongoing conflicts – in Syria, in Yemen – European weapons are killing civilians. What do you think?
It is inadmissible that we should speak of European values while at the same time, by one means or another, our weapons reach countries involved in armed conflict.
There should be greater coherence. We cannot speak of European values while at the same time profiting from conflicts to enable certain people to enrich themselves, which is clearly contrary to those very values. It’s immoral.
- What contribution could Christians make to this Europe of solidarity and peace?
First of all, Catholics should go out and vote. It’s a civic duty. If no one in a democracy votes, it’s democracy itself that loses, whatever the election results.
Having established that, Christians should be involved in the social and political spheres. We Christians are not a society apart, but should get involved alongside all people who act in good faith, and work together to achieve a little more justice and peace in the world. As a bishop, I have a certain ability to express ideals, and that’s a good thing, but politics is always limited to what is actually possible.
- You have a clear vision for your term as President of COMECE.
Yes, but I don’t work alone; I have four vice-presidents at my side. It is very important that we consult with one another and intensify our contact with the bishops’ conferences on the European questions. We must be truly able to represent the opinions of the Catholic Churches in the EU.
I also hope that the opinions I hold today of Europe will constantly evolve. Those who think they know everything usually understand nothing. It is essential to have an intelligence that can take in new data in order to keep making adjustments. This intelligence cannot be the function of a sole individual, which is why we have a presidency of five people drawn from different European regions, from both small and large countries, to enable us to truly grasp a situation, give a response and enter into a real dialogue.
- You mean a dynamic intelligence, because Europe is confronted by constant change.
Our civilisation is undergoing a profound transformation. Globalisation and digitalisation are currently changing the way we think. All of us, men and women of the Church, men and women of politics, should reflect on how to safeguard democracy in this new world. If Europe wishes to fight against the drift towards populism, it must not hold back on deep reflection. This will enable democracies within Europe to be strengthened in a world that is completely different from the one we have known.
Every man and every woman always tends to interpret the world on the basis of their own history; that’s normal. However, a moment arrives when this past, constantly considered and reconsidered, takes up so much space that we no longer see the new challenges at our gates. I hope that a lot of people will pray for us bishops, to enable us to remain alert for these new challenges, not only to look back but also move forwards for the common good.
Interview by Johanna Touzel
Translated from the original text in French