Europe's spiritual adventure

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 1 June 2000



König, F. (2000), "Europe's spiritual adventure", European Business Review, Vol. 12 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Europe's spiritual adventure

Franz KönigFranz König is emeritus Archbishop of Vienna

The crisis in Austria caused by the advance of Jörg Haider's far-right Freedom Party is a crisis for the whole European Union. Cardinal Franz König, emeritus Archbishop of Vienna, urges Europe to give life to its Christian roots.

My country, Austria, hitherto peaceful and stable and usually out of the headlines, has suddenly, overnight, been plunged into an acute crisis. The repercussions are not only domestic but also international. It is as if old wounds that one had thought had healed long ago are suddenly once again breaking open.

The political crisis brought about by the entry of the far-right Freedom Party led by Jörg Haider into government poses a dilemma for the other 14 countries of the European Union. To what extent does the Union, now more or less economically united, have the political authority or the right to proceed jointly against a member state? Can and should the Union, and in particular the European Parliament, interfere politically and legally in the formation of a Government in one of its member states?

This question leads immediately to another: to give the European Union the necessary authority to call a member state to account and impose sanctions, in the interests of the whole, should individual countries of the Union be willing to restrict their sovereign rights?

This is where the principle of subsidiarity laid down in the preamble to the Maastricht Treaty comes in. To allow for common action on a Europe-wide level, each individual state should surrender as little of its sovereignty as possible: that is, as much - but only as much - as is absolutely necessary.

In this perspective Christopher Dawson, an English Catholic historian now experiencing a revival especially in the USA, acquires new significance. His 1932 book, The Making of Europe: an Introduction to the History of European Unity, was republished in 1945. In the introduction he gives his idea of the unity of European history:

The ultimate foundation of our culture is not the national state, but the European unity. It is true that this unity has not hitherto achieved political form, and perhaps it may never do so; but for all that it is a real society, not an intellectual abstraction, and it is only through their communion in that society that the different national cultures have attained their actual form.

And the following words are prophetic:

Yet if our civilisation is to survive, it is essential that it should develop a common European consciousness and a sense of historic and organic unity.

After the Second World War, the continent of Europe was cut in two by the so-called Iron Curtain. Twice in the years of partition between East and West that followed, the longing for an undivided Europe made itself clearly felt. It happened first in Western Europe at the beginning of the 1950s, when the "founding Fathers" of the European Community - Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Alcide de Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer - launched their great initiative.

A longing for a united Europe surfaced again after the demise of Communism in 1989-90, this time in Eastern Europe. The English historian Timothy Garton Ash himself experienced the stirring events of the "Velvet Revolution" in Prague. In the last chapter of his booklet, We, the People, which he wrote when he returned from that visit to Eastern Europe, he says:

I have sometimes thought that the real divide is between those (in the West) who have Europe and those (in the East) who believe in it.

And then he adds:

The phrase people use to sum up what is happening is "the return to Europe".

This phrase, "the return to Europe", was heard again in the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in the last days of January 1990. The then Polish Premier, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and the Hungarian Premier presented their formal applications for membership of the council. A report which appeared in the Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung recorded how "with dignified restraint but visibly moved", Mazowiecki "spoke of Poland's return to Europe, of a general European renaissance". Without its central and eastern European members, Mazowiecki explained, Europe "had not fully existed" in the years in which it was divided. For eastern Europe the new beginning after the demise of Communism was therefore "a return to an undivided, fully-fiedged Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals".

As economic and political interests became more and more dominant, the call for spiritual and religious forces also increased. While at first the Christian Churches seemed to stand outside, they gradually recognised their mission and their opportunities. The orientations of the Second Vatican Council, linked with ecumenism, began to bear fruit. For the first time Catholic bishops and theologians in European dioceses had the chance to get to know one another and to plan for the future at the level of the whole Church.

In 1977 and 1980 the European bishops' conferences took up the idea of European cooperation on a spiritual level and began to promote it. On his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Pope John Paul II expressed the spiritual situation and atmosphere of the postconciliar years:

I, John Paul, a son of the Polish nation, which has always, on account of its origins, its traditions, its culture and its crucial connections, considered itself European - Slav among Latins anti Latin among Slavs - filled with love I call out to you, age-old Europe: return to yourself, be yourself again, recall your origins, let your roots have new life! In an atmosphere full of respect for other religions and genuine freedoms, rebuild your spiritual unity! You can still be a beacon of civilisation and an inducement to progress in the world. The other continents look to you and hope to hear the answer that St James gave to Our Lord: I can.

In the midst of the uncertainties and turbulence of the post-Communist era, we must therefore ask: age-old Europe, how do you see yourself? Do you still believe in the future of a new Europe? Let me here add my personal belief: no other continent, no other part of the world, has contributed so greatly to the discovery and cultivation of the world. But Europe with its modern, even atheistic, philosophies and its thirst for material riches and technological progress, has also had a negative influence. We should therefore warn other continents not to repeat our mistakes: do not underestimate the spiritual forces that work towards mutual respect, peace and understanding.

I can see two great signs of hope. First, the concepts of human dignity and human rights have for a long time now been gaining recognition, and have opened new horizons for Europe and the future. Both are rooted in Christianity. Both first established themselves in Europe, and both are a great challenge for Europe's future. In December 1989 the concept of human rights demonstrated its explosive force when in Leipzig, Prague and Moscow, thousands of people, many of them young, declared their belief in it. The Marxist colossus foundered because of them.

Secondly, there is the rise of ecumenical dialogue - both within the Churches and between the Churches and the other faiths. The peace of Europe today is bound up with the reconciliatory efforts of the ecumerical movement and inter-religious dialogue. Contacts with Judaism are well advanced, though dialogue with Islam is still difficult. The Christian Churches, for their part, cannot remain divided if they want to be able to remind Europe of its historic foundation. Its inner spirituai coherence has still not been sufficiently recognised, as the crisis in Austria shows. Conflicts between the different linguistic and ethnic groups in Europe and the history of its nation states have masked the underlying spiritual core.

The French historian Carbonell has given much thought to this subject. After sojourns in Russia, China and Brazil, he has concluded that not everyone understands Europe with its exceptional and unique history. His latest book, about to be published, has the provocative title A European History of Europe (Une histoire européenne de l'Europe). It is an attempt in two thick volumes to explain that today it has once again become necessary to tell Europeans why they are European.

Europe today faces the forces of globalisation. It will be difficult for nation states to resist; only continents, which enable unity in diversity, will be able to do so. And economic unity alone is not enough.

Let us briefly consider the alternatives to a united Europe.

One is to drift apart again and return to the nation state. Would that not inevitably be accompanicd by chauvinism, jingoism and perhaps even war? In the course of my long life I have witnessed the divisiveness and horrors that can bring.

Another alternative is a centralised, undemocratic European Union which violates the principle of subsidiarity and interferes and overrides where it should not. An institution of this kind is bound to be opposed by all true democracies.

Our Christian aim must be to put what we have in common above that which separates us. The answer surely is unity in diversity, namely a union of European states in which each has the greatest amount of freedom so long as the liberty of its democratic members is not endangered. And all of us - that is, all people of good will, but particularly politicians - are called upon. The future will not depend on the euro or on economic convergence. People, not systems, govern the world. So the problem is not the euro. We Europeans are the problem. It is up to us.

© F. König 2000

Related articles