New spring in Europe?
At the end of a speech in Brussels last November, former Minister President of Baden-Württemberg, Erwin Teufel, a dedicated European and former member of the European Constitutional Convention, quoted Friedrich Hölderlin: “Where there is danger, a rescuing element grows as well.” Given the various crises affecting Europe, this seemed more like wishful thinking. Yet even back in the days of the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950 there was a sentence that represents a surprising parallel to the Hölderlin quotation: “World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”
“Pulse of Europe”
A creative example of these supportive initiatives is the “Pulse of Europe”, which started up in Frankfurt in late 2016. The triggers for this were Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the strengthening of nationalistic tendencies in Europe. Ever since, the founders of “Pulse have been organising Sunday demonstrations in a growing number of cities – gathering not to oppose something but rather to show support for the European Union. What motivates them is the conviction that the majority of citizens not only believe in the fundamental idea of the European Union but are also convinced that it is possible to reform and develop the EU; hence they would not want to see it sacrificed on the altar of nationalistic tendencies. To them it is a matter of “nothing less than the protection of an alliance, which secures peace and guarantees individual freedom, justice and legal security.”
This movement now embraces 60 European cities, from Lisbon to Berlin all the way to Stockholm, with some 30,000 people regularly taking to the streets. These demonstrations are set to continue at least until 7 May, the date of the final ballot of the French presidential election.
“Paths of hope”
The metaphor of the pulse or heartbeat of Europe was also used by Pope Francis in his Address to the 27 Heads of State and Government of the European Union on 24 March for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome: “It was clear, then, from the outset, that the heart of the European political project could only be man himself.” A central keyword in this address is “hope”, which the Pope associates with the pillars on which the European Economic Community was founded 60 years ago: “the centrality of man, effective solidarity, openness to the world, the pursuit of peace and development, openness to the future.”
The Pope believes those who govern have the task of discerning the paths of hope: “identifying specific ways forward to ensure that the significant steps taken thus far have not been wasted, but serve as the pledge of a long and fruitful journey.” A key concept here is the awareness of belonging to a “family of peoples” and living in a “common home”.
European “fraternal solidarity” is what we need
The “Initiative of Christians in Europe (IXE)” calls for “fraternal solidarity in Europe” in its latest declaration of 25 March. IXE is a European association of national and international Christian lay organisations which has regularly published statements on important European topics.
The declaration states: “Whereas a Commission White Paper has just illustrated various future scenarios for the EU, we urge our leaders to opt for a scenario of fraternal solidarity across the peoples of Europe, beyond institutional or technical changes.” Furthermore, Europe has lost this spirit of solidarity which lies at the heart of the goal of an “ever closer union” enshrined in the Treaty of Rome. The present European imbalances should be reduced and political stagnation brought to an end. Everybody wants to see joint efforts made as a matter of urgency to protect those who are fleeing from armed conflicts and persecution. All “encouraging signs of citizens starting to stand up for Europe in many cities” are welcomed.
In Germany, the proverb goes, “One swallow doesn’t make a spring.” But the roll-out of pro-European initiatives over recent months represents more than just one swallow. It encourages us to believe that a new spring has arrived in Europe.
Martin Maier, SJ
Translated from the original text in German