Sunday 26. September 2021
#194 - June 2016

Superficial values

In recent months the word ‘values’ has been all the rage in Europe’s political circles and media – but what exactly does it mean?

epa04761861 President of the European Council Donald Tusk (L-R), President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker during arrivals at Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga, Latvia, 22 May 201

This year’s theme for the Global Media Forum, due to be held in Bonn in mid June, is “Media. Freedom. Values”. A University Chair in “European values” was inaugurated in Brussels recently on 4 May. The Presidents of the European Commission and Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, were heard to declare, in a joint platform when they visited the Vatican together on 6 May, that “Europe’s soul is its values.” But what exactly are these values?


The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which entered into force in 2009, defined the set of European citizens’ rights around four values: human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity. These same values are to be found in Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty (TEU). In 2007 COMECE had entrusted its Committee of the Wise with the task of identifying European values and their ethical dimension in the European project: Peace and Freedom, Bringing people together; Power and Responsibility; Diversity, Subsidiarity and Differentiation, etc This document, published nearly a decade ago, has proved to be prophetic.


Is it really enough for our values to be defined top down by our leaders or through a charter? How are our citizens expected to make direct use of this scale of values to “e-valuate” their leaders and the political guidelines they are expected to follow? Taking just one example, the election of our political representatives, it seems that the electorate today attaches greater “value” to a candidate’s image, rhetorical ability and election promises than to his integrity and honesty.


Let’s start by examining the scale of the values that underpin the choices we make in our lives and as citizens. Let’s then ask political and economic decision-makers to stop bandying about their “catchword values” while some of them are stashing away their “financial values” in Panama. Without any doubt, it is this mismatch between proclaimed values and practised values that has given rise to the crisis now spreading across our continent today.


In the end, the debate about values is sterile. It will not help us to move forward from where we are today. Pope Francis put his finger on it. In his acceptance speech for the Charlemagne Prize, he steered clear of preaching morality to European decision-makers. Instead, Jorge Bergoglio, this chemistry graduate, highlighted the processes to be set in motion and the engineering of renewal, summing it all up as the capacities to conduct dialogue, to integrate and to generate. “Let us arm our people with the culture of dialogue and of encounter.” These are the tools, capacities and talents that the Pope said he dreamed Europeans would acquire one day, working together in “coalition”. He is happy to see Europeans launch themselves into new conquests, but preferably on the battlefields of creativity and innovation.


Finally, commenting on our attitude, Francis invites us to climb down from our European pedestal – and probably also from any abstract debate over values – in order to adopt “a sound and humane utopian vision”, “without vain nostalgia”, which would help us build “a new European humanism”. He describes this humanism at length in the final paragraph of his speech. In a few uncomplicated and practical phrases, Pope Francis tells us that faces are more important than figures, and that “being” must override “having”. An invitation to look deeper than the literal meaning of these words.


 Johanna Touzel



Translated from the original text in French

Teilen |

Published in English, French, German
COMECE, 19 square de Meeûs, B-1050 Brussels
Tel: +32/2/235 05 10

Editors-in-Chief: Martin Maier SJ

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.