From the perspective of today’s Italy, the European Union is an enemy. Recent surveys have shown that Italian citizens’ supporting united Europe have fallen below 50%, while thirty years ago 80% were in favour, and Italy was one of the most Europeanist Countries in the Continent. Support for the euro-currency remains unchanged, perhaps owing to the memories of the weakness of the Italian Lira in the past decades.
What happened to our collective consciousness to make us depart so radically from the European ideal?
What are the causes of so much anger and dubiousness? Indeed, the causes are many. Italy’s economic and financial growth in the past twenty years proceeded at a much slower pace compared to other European Countries, while social injustices have increased. Immigration and security issues have triggered feelings of anxiety and fear; globalization has made our national identity more uncertain; the European Union has adopted an austerity policy that put our Country at an unfair disadvantage. We Italian people are largely to blame for this situation because we believed that European integration would have miraculously remedied our national vices, although it’s true that ill-feelings against Brussels are spread also in Countries that are better off than us.
But what’s most important today is not the economy, although it’s what everyone want us to believe. There is something that goes much deeper.
Nationalism is growing throughout Europe, and many political movements are trying to annihilate the roots of the European sentiment that came into being at the end of World War II.
Our present political leaders appear to be on the front line of Europe’s deconstruction project. Is it only propaganda? I don’t think so. Community Europe is facing a deep cultural and ideal crisis. The idea of the crisis has always accompanied the history of Europe, but today we are entering a new phase, because we are responding to the difficulties of European politics in ways that we no longer initiate but which we merely replicate: populisms, nationalism, sovereignisms: these are all expressions of a political history that preceded the French Revolution and that find us unprepared, after decades of prosperity and peace. We replicate the old unknowingly; we witness the affirmation of totalitarian and imperial forms of democracy without batting an eye; we think we can do without history, as sorcerer’s apprentices that mix alliances or insults in miraculous potions. We react by fleeing from the battlefield, as the English have decided with the Brexit vote and as other peoples are preparing for.
The point is this:
Europe’s crisis is not a crisis in growth, it’s a personal, moral withdrawal.
It’s the withdrawal of our souls, amounting to the refusal to accept what we have become: a continent dictated by resentment and governed by improvised ruling classes. Our governments are among the most “materialists” ever seen before: they are all focused on taking and removing, awarding or punishing, condoning or increasing penalties, without helping us to seek an idea – a vision – of our life together beyond technical solutions. The lack of courage to experiment new forms of coexistence is a sign of our weariness, and increasing hate speech characterising political reaction signals a destructive drive that should make us think. Europe’s crisis is first of all a moral problem:
The foundations of democracy can’t be confined to a form of democratic governance. They must be embedded in the purpose of its service, in values and ideas that are paramount to any political majority. They form part of the ideas and beliefs that should guide us in judging the conduct of our leaders and make us aware of the limits of politics, that must not extend throughout.
Whence should we find the moral strength to avert desperation? Where do we find the strength to fight, even from a minority position? In ideals, but which ones? In love, but how? It appears that European Christians, notably the Churches, have not yet fully seized the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel in the face of Europe’s moral chagrin, in ways that meet the concrete needs and are close to the life of our communities. The Gospel must be understood not as a departure from reality but as the sign of a deeper spiritual realm that overcomes all forms of controversy and demystifies bombastic declarations. Indeed, we don’t expect the Gospel to change European politics, but the Gospel has the power to relieve European citizens from the fear of feeling constantly unfit, as many shrewd opinion-leaders would want them to. Is night falling on Europe? It might be the case, but Europe is not a calculation or a tax to be paid. Europe remains a bond and a dream. It is a bond in that it has ensured 70 years of peace, and a dream that will unable young people to carry out a deep reflection on our democracy.