“Politics, if well-understood, can only be at the service of the common good. For the community of believers it stands as a noble expression of mercy, of love for our neighbour. That is why for lay Christians the way to holiness can also pass through political engagement. It’s the significance ascribed to the earthly life of Robert Schuman.” Bernard Ardura, French citizen, is the President of the Pontifical Committee for Historical studies, postulator of the cause for the beatification of the statesman born in 1886. His father was from Lorraine, and his mother was Luxembourgish. He lived in Germany and France, working as a lawyer and holding several local political assignments in Metz . He served as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister until the famous Declaration of May 9 1950 that led to the European integration process and to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, and in 1957 to the European Economic Community (EEC)
Mons. Ardura, at a difficult time for Europe we risk forgetting the contribution of one of its founding fathers. Yet, May 9, the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, is Europe Day… What is remembered of this statesman?
There is a vast literature on Schuman, but in fact it can’t be assumed that his stature as a man and as a Christian, whose meekness and spirituality characterised his political engagement, are widely known. I wish to point out that Schuman was a practical man, because good ideas alone are not enough! The same Declaration of May 9 had the major goal of peace and solidarity between nations after the tragedy wrought by the Second World War, but it had a concrete foundation. Schuman firmly believed that it was necessary to restore Germany’s democratic role and create common, concrete interests between France and Germany. This would have ushered in, he said, a “de facto solidarity” between the States and peoples of Europe that had been at war with each other until shortly before. It was thus decided to share coal and steel production, once the vital tools of war, to help economic growth under an institutional framework, the ECSC.
Great ideals to be realized with “practical” means …
Exactly: Schuman and the other fathers of united Europe (De Gasperi, Adenauer, Monnet…), had conceived the plan of a “common European home.” Problems arise when institutions function without ideals, and in the case of Europe when the project is purely market-oriented. We face the same problems when political leaders don’t work for the common good or for a noble interest and bend down to national or local egoism, when they put all the blame on Europe, even when the situation is a result of their lack of initiative, of their own ineptitude.
Does this feed into populism and nationalistic drives?
It does. Yet today more than ever before, in the face of major challenges we should be even more convinced – as we are reminded by Pope Francis – of the need for European integration. We share the same values upheld at Shuman’s time, although they must be grafted onto a new historical period whilst renewing and updating the Community project. Without the EU what could national governments achieve on their own when faced with globalization processes, of which the Holy Father provided a detailed picture in “Laudato si’”?
Suffice it to mention the phenomenon of migration…
Indeed, people fleeing situations of desperation, war and hunger, are seeking a safe shelter in Europe. Nonetheless, some Countries bar their doors, they erect new walls. It should be remembered that in the 1950 Declaration Schuman indicated Africa as a priority for Europe. At the time colonialism was in full swing. Now it is necessary to invest in cooperation, development, youth education, supporting fragile democratic systems and interreligious dialogue. The Churches have a major contribution to give in this respect, by raising awareness and ensuring integral human promotion.
What is your opinion on Brexit?
It’s a strong, worrying laceration. But it also signals an erroneous interpretation of European integration, namely, taking advantage of its benefits (market, funding), requesting exemptions wherever possible, and focusing on national interests alone. This is the exact opposite of solidarity, the cornerstone of united Europe.
You mentioned populisms: is it a worrying phenomenon?
Moreover, they are a litmus test for social and political fragmentation. For the past few years, so-called protest parties have been winning elections across the continent. Citizens thus express their disappointment over politics made of idle talk, that lost its ability to act effectively, to plan, whose political course is dictated by the next elections. Hence the common good should be the overarching goal of all those engaged in political activity and the co-responsibility of every citizen, called to do their share. Schuman owed this sensitivity to his Catholic formation and to an intensely religious life (profound prayer, daily Mass, taking the Gospel as his frame of reference…) and from his own experience. His many nationalities encompassed different cultures: French and German, in symbiosis with each other.
What message does Schuman’s biography send out to 21st century youths?
It probably tells us that alone we can’t go very far. Virtuous relations should be created between individuals, populations, and between nation-States. And perhaps it can also highlight the meaning of history, that helps us shed light on who we are and to seek new paths for the future.
What is Schuman’s lesson to the Christian faithful?
With the cause of beatification we collect documentation and testimonies that testify to the heroic nature of Christian virtues lived out in political life. We have listened to a hundred witnesses, read 30 thousand pages. We are in the process of writing the “positio”. I believe that evidence of the sanctity of a lay person emerges – in line with the Second Vatican Council and the exhortation “Gaudete et exultate” – with prominent political responsibilities which in these situations have incarnated evangelical virtues.