The project for both the economic and political unification of Europe has reached a final stage, at least as far as it has been conceived and implemented so far. Except for those driven by duty or political/institutional interest and still place their bets on “this European Union”, the sense of malaise and discontent as to how things are going is rather widespread on all levels.
People often argue that the European Union has to return to the spirit of its origins, but this spirit itself was rather uncertain and even dangerous in certain ways. It hasn’t just been a matter of mishaps along the way and anomalies with respect to the original project. In this Report Alfredo Mantovano recalls how present at the origins of the idea of a united Europe were, yes, some principles of Christian humanism and the commitment of some Catholic politicians, but also the Manifest of Ventotene that was based on other principles altogether. In fact, this document is the offspring of the illuminist and elitist vision that descends down from on high and wants to re-educate peoples, “forcing” them to take part in the new project, all the better if doing so passively. It was also an absolutely non-confessional and completely horizontal document, and this explains why religion, especially Catholicism, disappeared from the European Union’s horizon at a later stage, and why the resolute invitation of John Paul II to mention God in the new European Constitution was not accepted. Therefore, the effort to return to the spirit of the origins is also useless insofar as present in embryonic form in that spirit were the causes for the current grave crisis, as well as the infighting among the various souls of Europe.
Prevailing for a long time among these souls was the irreligious one, as if the sole foundation of the European Union consisted of the principles of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic State, and the French law on laicité dating back to 1905. Those who championed the ideal of the Union did so with what was still a Jacobin spirit, even though sanitized of its more nettlesome ideological contents and rendered palatable by the captivating rhetoric of collaboration, solidarity and European harmony. The “Erasmus” project (a European-wide exchange student programme) that has permitted so many students to attend courses at universities in other countries of the Union is an example of this: in fact, it has been a form of re-education and alignment of youth cultures to a tendentially libertarian, factitious and abstract European culture that overlapped the national cultures of origin, leading to uniformity of values and behavior at the lowest common level. Having created Europe, it was necessary to create Europeans, who, however, would have become other than Italians and Spaniards, Germans and Poles.
This type of what we could call an ideological construct wormed its way into the mechanisms of the European bureaucracy favored by the complexity of the Union’s functional machinery and the labyrinthine nature of the system as such, as illustrated so well in Alfredo Mantovano’s article in this Report. Thus born was a system of co-options and lobbies that escapes any political control; a system that the member states often consider a weight to be endured and which has produced a rigid and corporative European nomenklatura of civil servants who speak their own coded language and fail to develop a true sense of real closeness to the problems of European citizens.
At times people have had the impression that a change of pace has taken place. For example, this occurred when the Treaty of Maastricht (1992) introduced the principle of subsidiarity into European regulations. The principle that decisions have to be made by those closer to citizens, and which harks back to subsidiarity, could have motivated the system, cut back the overriding power of the central and centralizing structures of Brussels, and initiated a return to a more streamlined Union where the national “peripheries” would count more so they themselves could permit other “peripheries” within their respective national borders to count more. This point of the Treaty of Maastricht, however, was not managed in an exalting manner, and decision-making remained the prerogative of high ranking authorities in Brussels itself, or, in more directly political terms, a few particularly strong countries. The application of the principle of subsidiarity in all its ensuing requirements would have led to a revision of the modern construction process of the absolute and centralized State with its requirements of factitious simplifications worked out at the drawing board above and beyond what had been done down through time in history itself. This, however, was the rationale that prevailed, with the features of politics as technique, potestas as reality not morally ordered, positive law bereft of links with an objective juridical order, and the impossibility of assessing the pretentions of power in the light of criteria other than the will of power itself. If a European State in the true sense of the word has not seen the light of day, it is nonetheless necessary to take note of the fact that all the cultural, political and juridical premises for such an entity are present in the European Union as it is today.
Another moment when people had the impression there had been a change of pace – as recalled by Archbishop Crepaldi in his Presentation of this Report – was when the Soviet system collapsed. In the wake of those events, the eastern European countries that gradually became members of the Union were subject to intensive pressure so they would align with the neo-Illuminist standards of the western elites and the prevailing mind frame of the Union’s ‘establishment’. Imposed upon them were ideological constraints both in the conditions stipulated for their entry, and also later on when those peoples gradually expressed reference values other than those of the pro-European ideology. Even today some of those countries are considered at fault because they implement pro-life and pro-family policies, religious policies, or immigration policies other than the ones considered canonical by those who now wield power in the back offices of the European Union. This is the reason why a new division is becoming increasingly evident between the countries that have practically accepted secularism and the neo-Illuminist ideology of new rights, and those countries which, on the contrary, have conserved their traditional cultural position in said areas of concern. Naturally enough, this contrast is also present within each country.
The religious factor is also becoming an element of division once again. The straitjacket imposed by the European Union on religions in western countries is being refused more and more often, as is the pressure exercised by the European institutions for “less restrictive” legislation in the areas of both life and family. Underway at the same time in eastern European countries is a strong revival of religion which claims its right to social and political recognition. Likewise taking place in Europe is a religious neo-Renaissance that does not accept the pro-European ideology of relegating religion to the private and devotional sphere, and even less the thrust towards irreligiosity. This persistent irreligious attitude on the part of opulent society – as Augusto Del Noce would put it – is also in contrast with European impassivity with respect to the Islamic penetration into the continent, or else is the consequence thereof since its corollary is that all religions are equal. Islamic presence in Europe has already become a serious political issue, and will become even more so in the future. Nonetheless, European institutions are not thinking about tackling it insofar as they live under the illusion – illusions such as these are also coming to an end as well – that a sort of void tolerance will win the day and convince all forms of fundamentalism.
There is a serious and widespread debate underway in Europe on the major human issues of life, family, education, and religion. The European Union is not neutral in this debate since it the past it espoused one of the sides, and continues to do so. This ‘side’ may be seen in the progressivism of the disenchanted neo-bourgeoisie that doesn’t want to get mixed up with ordinary folk because it thinks it has to lead them to full emancipation. Here’s the essence of the issue: lead them and emancipate them in which direction? The values of the European Union are increasingly weak and formal, and come down to liberty understood as self-determination. All too little for the construction of continental unity. Down through these years the European Union has been the institutional formalization of a vacuum, deploying every possible effort to align member states to it.
Reference to Europe along the European Union’s parabola has actually become a dogma accepted without any criticism at all. This might lead people to think all goes well, but it is actually a sign of uncertainty. “Europe wants it”, “Europe asks us to do it”, “We are the last ones in Europe not to have implemented this or that law in our national legislation. . .”: how many times we have heard politicians say things like this. It seemed like the European Union possessed the criteria of good and evil. Imposed upon reality was the European ideology that was considered true apart from what reality actually was. Fortunately enough, this concept is in the throes of crisis, and this may be considered a positive outcome of the European Union’s crisis. Today we see many cases projecting a propensity in the opposite direction: take one’s distance from the Union, claim greater freedom for national or regional action in areas such as financial benchmarks or migration and family policies. Said phenomena may well include a form of somewhat disorderly “populism”. In the institutional praxis of the European Union as well, however, there is no little demagogic populism, an example of that being the encounter of the political leaders of Italy, France and Germany on the island of Ventotene in the wake of Brexit.
In the meantime Europe is becoming ever less important on the international geopolitical scene. According to the documented argumentation of Gianfranco Battisti in his article in the Report, Europe has numerous foes hard at work trying to destroy it, and many current events as well can be explained in this sense, including the migratory invasion to which last year’s Report was dedicated. Caught in the grip among these foes and weakened in its selfsame soul, Europe has stopped exporting Europe in the world. Or, to be more precise, it has started exporting the vacuum of its own illusions rather than the substance of its values. The fact that the European Union undertook to replace the United States in the global financing of abortion when President Trump began to withdraw his country from that front, is a clear indication of what Europe intends to export from the viewpoint of civilization. The European Union exports individualism and existential nothingness. These are the same things to which it plans to educate its young people, as we see in the pressure brought to bear on member states by the European institutions so the former would change their laws and the curriculum in their schools in favor of a new education according to the neo-ideologies that deny natural evidence.
The Catholic Church has always believed in the European project and has supported it. Nonetheless, it has always criticized it when it embarked upon erroneous pathways or when it derailed from the principles that should have guided it. John Paul II left us an immense patrimony of teachings regarding Europe, and in his book Memory and Identity he situated the theme of Europe in a scenario of theology of history made up of sin and redemption, as if being acted out in Europe – this is exactly how things stand! – was a play much greater than Europe itself! Benedict XVI often twisted the knife in the wound when pointing out that Europe began to hate itself when it separated Christian faith from reason, when it bid adieu to truth, vainly believing it was becoming emancipated. Often evident in ecclesiastical praxis, however, is excessive complacency towards the European institutions and a servile taking for granted that “more Europe” is needed, without specifying what such a wish entails. Each political institution, including Europe, is an instrument and not an end. Such an instrument must be filled with true and good contents that substantiate its value.
As far as this Europe is concerned, any illusions have come to an end. Continuing along this road, Europe, will just survive at the most, but with no soul or a soul held in hostage. Paradoxically enough, saving Europe may well be those who today are very discontent, very dissatisfied, and who consider it to be a burden weighing on both soul and body. I am referring to the “new monks”, who, just as in Europe invade by barbarians, first set about to till souls and then changes, as Benedict XVI said so prophetically to the Bernardins. I am referring to the new intellectuals, who are discovering systematic realism anew and are hence able to unveil all ideological constructs, including the European ones. I am referring to young people who do not accept being manipulated, not even by Erasmus. I am referring to politicians who give a full and true interpretation to the principle of subsidiarity. I am referring to social groups well rooted in their history and tradition, and who fight for natural duties and rights against the narcissistic artifices of centers of power in Europe as well. It is very possible that Europe will be saved – if it is at all – by those who today are its harshest critics, and not by those who are only complacent or fearful.
The European Union must neither heighten the centralization of power not increase the forcefulness of centralized power. No European super-state, not even a federal one, will save Europe. Europe will be saved if it discovers formulas of aggregation similar to those of the empires destroyed on this very soil, but which continue to exist here and there in Europe, especially where the French Revolution and the Napoleonic state never set foot. It will be saved if its institutions become more streamlined, if it develops deeper convictions about its own identity and becomes more articulated in its respect for what history produced in the land it occupies and in its societies. Europe will most certainly end in a tragic way if it continues denying and leveling off the national and the folk identities that make it up, and if in a haughty, impertinent and impenitent manner it perseveres in disdaining the Christian religion which has been and will be its soul. Europe will be able to chose many ways to commit suicide, some of which it has already tried, but the main way is to eliminate the Christian God from its own horizon. At that point it will be invaded by everything and everyone – as is already happening to a certain degree – because a vacuum seeks but to be filled.
Stefano Fontana Cf. Il posto di Dio in Europa, “Bulletin of the Social Doctrine of the Church”, VIII (2012) 1, pgs. 3-4, with articles by Giampaolo Crepaldi, Stefano Fontana, Gianfranco Battisti, Edward Hadas, Fabio Trevisan, Assuntina Morresi, Donata Fontana, ArturMrówczynski-Van Allen, and Miranda Mulgeci Kola.