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Article written by Robert Schuman for the Pax Romana review in June 1953

One would make a mistake and be the victim of a dangerous illusion if one believed that, in order to make Europe, it would be sufficient to create European Institutions. It would be like a body without a soul. These institutions will have to be led by a European spirit, as His Holiness Pius XII defined it, in front of the members of the College of Europe in Bruges last March 15. The peoples belonging to a European Community will have to be aware of their solidarity, and place their trust in their mutual cooperation.

However, between nations that, a short while ago, were still fighting each other as enemies, the budding of such feelings will be slow and difficult; it will not only be antagonized by the memories of a recent past, but also by mistakes, blunders and sometimes deliberate provocations, finally by the apprehensions regarding the future. All these are reasons for us to succeed quickly.

At the end of his term as President of COMECE, Cardinal Reinhard Marx looks back on his experiences and puts forward guidelines for cooperation within the Church in Europe – the joint testimony of the Church to the power of the Gospel for the benefit of the people of Europe.

Shortly after my episcopal ordination in 1996 I was in Brussels to familiarise myself with the work of COMECE. Another special milestone for me was in April 2004, when I took part in the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela organised by COMECE on the occasion of the enlargement of the European Union by ten central and eastern European states. We followed this ancient pilgrimage route happy and grateful that East and West had finally been united. His Holiness John Paul II spoke of two lungs that Europe needed to breathe, an image that made it clear how dependent East and West are on one another, and how they come together as one. Back in 2004, many people spoke not of an eastward expansion of the European Union, but of a reunification of Europe.

Concerned by the current financial crisis affecting the Council of Europe, which could accelerate the regression of European civic space and democracy in Europe,  the Conference of INGOs sent a letter to all permanent representations to the Council of Europe, asking them to show more solidarity with the Council of Europe to stabilise the current situation.

Letter from the Standing Committee of the Conference of INGOs to all permanent representations to the Council of Europe :

Dear Ambassadors,

The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe, representing European Civil Society, is deeply concerned by the current financial crisis affecting the Council of Europe.  The decision of the Russian Federation to suspend a part of its contribution to the Council of Europe and the decision of Turkey to reduce its contribution have, combined with the effects of years of 0% budget growth, placed the Council of Europe in an unprecedented situation. 

     The decision taken by a majority of British voters just two days ago once more shows us the complex and difficult situation of Europe’s state at the moment and the importance of developing a path into the future. The successive crises in the last years, beginning with the breakdown of the financial markets, the near-down crash of finances in EU-memberstates, the illegal occupation of Crimea and the astoundingly increased number of refugees during the last months have not only put to test the European Integration Process, but also led to rising resentments between EU-memberstates as well as between groups within these member-states as well. A first rough analysis of the outcome of the British referendum shows us a division between generations, between the inhabitants of cities and of the countryside, between a « well-to-do » elite, able to find their way in a globalized and interconnected world and all those, who feel abandoned, left behind and who fear a loss of what they have gained or built up the past decennia.

     The historic vote this week by a slim majority of the British people to leave the European Union –the so-called “Brexit” – signals a major political and economic challenge. But the Brexit also has a significant moral significance that goes beyond the UK. How we as nations understand borders, sovereignty, and other peoples speaks volumes to our deeper commitments to peace, solidarity, human rights, and the common good. Indeed, the decision to leave the European Union and the accompanying campaign vitriol against “others”  signals a threat to one of the most important legacies of 20th Century Social Catholicism.

     The grief over the death of two of our fellow (italian) citizens in the confusing battlefield of Libya stoked again the fire of an internal political conflict that expands now without any verbal limits, and fueled a feeling of fear and closure inside our borders. Europe is falling apart, like a giant with clay feet, under the pressure of thousands of men, women, children coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a lot of African countries. By now even the subtle (and often brutal) distinction between refugees and "economic migrants" is no more evoked, in front of the multitudes who camped inside controlled fences.

     The European Union was created as value-based. It was not in the first place an economic project. It was our answer to the cruelty and barbarism of World War II and all the preceding wars. The Union was based on reconciliation between nations and thus, on the restoration of human dignity, and the irreplaceable value of each human person. We renounced revenge. By dehumanizing others inexorably we are dehumanizing ourselves in a never-ending spiral of violence and hate. The EU stopped this fatal evolution.

     That the European Union is today in crisis is a trivial statement. However, I wish to say that the European Union is the world’s greatest political achievement and cannot be compared to anything else. This is great project that required complex economic, institutional activities and enormous political will and vision. We must not waste what was achieved.