Europe was built on a hope of peace
By Bruce Kent
So we are due to leave the European Union. We did not have a referendum about votes for Women, the National Health Service and the Education Act or whether to join the United Nations. Somehow the one we have just had has become unchallengeable even though only a minority of the electorate actually voted to leave. (Shame on those who did not bother to vote).
As a result our country moves even closer to a new United States president, whose overwhelming US nationalism is a massive step in the wrong direction.
Where does this now leave us? In ignorance, I am sorry to say. How few know anything about recent European history. Post WW2 Europe did not happen by accident. First came the Coal and Steel Union of 1950. What was that for? Robert Schuman, one of the European founders, had this to say of that Union ‘….any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable but materially impossible’.
Jean Monnet, another founder, had the same vision ‘… The sovereign nations of the past can no longer solve the problems of the present – the (European) community itself is only a stage on the way to an organised world of tomorrow’.
That was the thinking which brought into being the European Union.
From the start the European project was not one simply of commerce but of peacemaking. I am shocked at the level of public ignorance about the Union which we are now about to leave. There has been minimal public education about the structure or the work of the European Community. That’s not always the same elsewhere. I once went to a country area in Ireland and saw a large sign in front of some construction which read ‘This work has been funded by the European Union.’ I have never seen anything similar here at home.
Most people have no idea, not just about the structures and work achieved, but even about who represents them in the European Parliament. Attempts to inform and educate us have been minimal.
It is much the same with the United Nations. Even to get a printed copy of the 1945 United Nations Charter means now asking an office in Brussels. Yet, as with the European Union, the hope is still there. The UN Charter starts with that ringing phrase ‘We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…’
Whatever the failings of the United Nations and of the European Union, the vision is still alive. So much that is positive has been done here in Europe, and for the wider world community. All major international institutions, including our own Vatican, need regular renewal and reform. But to abandon the European ship with so little information or consultation seems to me to be worse than foolish.
Pope Francis has pointed us in the right direction. His first visit out of Rome was to greet the refugees arriving on the little island of Lampedusa. He is, and we ought to be, internationalist. But rarely, sad to say, have I heard any reference from a church pulpit to the work done by either the UN or the European Union. Never a call for all of us to be actively involved. Parts of our Church seem to have moved into a world of piety, avoiding what they call ‘politics’. But politics are no more than the way all parts of God’s community learn how to live together in peace and justice.
I wonder if piety without political awareness is piety at all.
Bruce Kent is a vice-president of Pax Christi UK and of the Movement for the Abolition of War.