(Re)Thinking Europe. “National egoisms weaken Europe.” Weber (EU Parliament): this is still a time of solidarity
SIR - The Conference "(Re)thinking Europe", held in the Vatican, is upcoming (October 27-29). The “dialogue forum” promoted by COMECE and the Holy See is being held at a time of great tensions: Brexit, the Catalan question, widespread nationalisms and attitudes of closure vis a vis the migrant inflow. The chair of the EPP group in Strasbourg calls for the recovery of the founding values of the European Community, without underestimating the major challenges that the Old Continent is called to face today.
The “dialogue forum” titled “(Re)thinking Europe”, scheduled to take place in the Vatican October 27-29, organized by the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community – COMECE –and the Holy See, features in-depth reflection and debate on different themes. The rich program includes three main debate sessions (“Integration – Building bridges between and inside the Member States”; “Dialogue – the state of democracy in Europe”; “The strength to create – What kind of Economy for Europe in a Changing World?”), 18 workshops, panel speeches and round tables leading up to the audience with Pope Francis. Many participants will be arriving from across the continent, including Manfred Weber, German MEP from Bavaria, chair of the EPP group at the European Parliament. We asked him a few questions ahead of “(Re)thinking Europe”.
Let us start with the theme you will be called to address. In your opinion, what is the state of health of democracy in today’s Europe? In my opinion it’s important to understand whether Europe is still placed in a fully democratic context or if it fell in the hands of radicals and populists. In this respect, if we truly intend to defend European democracy, a significant aspect, in addition to the cooperation between France and Germany, is that the “heartbeat” of future Europe continues pulsating at its centre, that is, the European Parliament. To attain this goal we must make sure that the EU develops a veritable parliamentary democracy.
This requires that heads of Government and State along with the President of the Juncker Commission ascribe to the European Parliament an informal right – and a middle-term formal right – of legislative intervention. The fact that the European Commission sometimes simply ignores Parliamentary decisions, such as the interruption of the talks with Turkey, is a democracy scandal. The EU is called to become a thriving democracy and this will be possible through the European Parliament.
It appears that the founding value of solidarity is being questioned, on many occasions it is denied by the behaviour of certain governments: let it suffice to recall the thorny issue of migrants’ reception. In the course of its history the EU has built “bridges” between peoples and Member Countries. Is the present time still a time of solidarity in the European Union?
Indeed, the growth of national egoism in a number of Member Countries is weakening the solidarity principle, a fundamental pillar of the European Union, held dear by the “founding fathers.” We are witnessing the growth of a new form of nationalism which I find extremely worrying. It should be underlined that national – and regional – egoism never leads to finding concrete solutions to people’s daily-life problems. Yet, solidarity still exists. Without France’s solidarity the security of our Continent would be at risk. Germany is contributing a proportionate share of EU budget and cohesion policy. And Italy’s role in the management of the migratory crisis is crucial.
Let us talk of migration…
As regards the specific case of migration we ought to underline that all Member Countries should contribute to the effort of offering a safe haven to refugees fleeing from wars. At the same time, we ought to step up the protection of our external borders and the fight on illegal trafficking. In my opinion Europe’s centre-right has an important role in reiterating and putting into practice the message of Pope Francis in this respect.
The economic crisis of the past decade contributed to the undermining of the “European dream.” How do you picture the future of economy in Europe with regard to the globalization phenomenon and to a constantly and rapidly-changing world?
What is clear today is that if European nations are isolated they have no chance to face the challenge of globalization. Italy, France, Spain, Germany: not even the strongest European nations will be able to defend European lifestyle if they fail to act in unison. Smaller countries need even greater solidarity. I firmly believe that especially today, the concept of social market economy remains a valid option. The scholars that developed this concept, Alfred Müller-Armack and Wilhelm Röpke, have been deeply inspired by Christian thought. This is the idea which we, as European Christian Democrats, are seeking to disseminate.
In the present circumstances there is great talk of populisms, nationalisms, separatisms, also as concerns the recent events in Catalonia. You have addressed this theme on several occasions. In your opinion, what could be the solutions?
The question we are called to address is a very simple one: do people want to live shielded by a wall or are they willing to live together in a community of values? You can’t be part of a community if you expect to choose only what pleases you.
The UK is starting to realize this. The same is true for Catalonia: leaving Spain means leaving the European Union, the Eurozone, Schengen… In my opinion the true patriots are convinced Europeanists. This is clear.
Last but equally important: what is the role of the Churches and of religious communities in the building of tomorrow’s Europe?
The European Union is a community of values largely based on Christian values. In the face of today’s numerous challenges, I think that deeply-committed Christians are more important than ever, thanks to their contribution to the development of the European project, because Churches and religious communities are reflecting on what is the right option for communities as a whole and because they have a realistic perspective on what is feasible. We need to hear a powerful Christian voice in societies and in European politics.