The European Union - drawing on its past to confront its future
Events of this kind always run the risk of idealising the past. In her article in the March 2017 edition of europe-infos.eu, Victoria Martín de la Torre showed that the Treaties of Rome were by no means the original plan, but had been an attempt “to bring some oxygen to a dying community”. The European Union’s history is a narrative of confronting and overcoming crises.
In June 2016, in his Charlemagne Prize acceptance speech, Pope Francis called for another form of remembrance. Referring to the origins of the European Union, he spoke of the need for a “memory transfusion”, quoting Elie Wiesel, the great witness of the Holocaust, who died shortly after the Pope’s speech. As a young man, Elie Wiesel survived the hell of Auschwitz, the place where his father had been savagely killed.
After ten years of silence, Elie Wiesel began to write his memoirs. Remembering helps us to avoid repeating the mistakes and crimes of the past. Preserving memories is a form of reparation providing some small justice for victims. In creative fidelity to the origins, such memories can be used to guide our thinking about our future.
The idea of “memory transfusion” reflects that of blood transfusion. It is one of the wonders of human biology that the blood of one organism can be transferred to another organism, can circulate in the new body and give it new life. In this sense, a memory transfusion should be understood not only as the act of remembrance, but also as an act of creation. In Pope Francis’ view, this memory transfusion is designed to serve a new European humanism based on its capacities of integration, dialogue and (re)generation.
The Pope also recalled the aims of the founding fathers of Europe, who sought to “pursue alternative and innovative paths in a world scarred by war.” They had agreed to resolve their conflicts around the negotiating table and no longer on the battlefield. After centuries of warfare we have enjoyed seven decades of peace. Amidst all the current difficulties, we run the risk of losing sight of this globally historic achievement.
Today’s EU can no longer be compared to the original six founding Member States. But the spirit that oversaw the foundation of the EU has not changed. In the same vein, people need to update their notion of Europe starting from the spirit of reconciliation, solidarity and peace. Some important touchstones at present are the acceptance and integration of refugees and, with an eye on the dangers entailed by climate change, the designing of a sustainable, future-oriented manufacturing and consumption model.
The updating of the idea of Europe is also the aim of the White Paper on the Future of Europe, presented by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the beginning of March. His intention is to trigger a process in which Europe will itself decide which direction to take towards its future. New answers should be found to the eternal question: “What future do we want for us, our children and our Union?” In the coming months, europe-infos.eu will be contributing to this debate with a range of articles written from a Christian perspective.
Martin Maier SJ
Translated from the original text in German