By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
On May 19th Pope Francis during a mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae launched an appeal for the creation of more just labor conditions and combined this with harsh criticism against all savage forms of capitalism. The idea is that the European Union should go back to the idea of solidarity.
Pope Francis referred to the St. Luke Gospel which tells the story about the “poor Lazarus” – a beggar who didn’t receive anything to eat from a “wealthy” luxurious man. He only had a few crumbs which fell from the dining table of the wealthy man. Pope Francis used the metaphor of Lazarus in order to illustrate that there are many “Lazarus” living in our contemporary society who face the cruel reality that a small percentage of people lives in wealth and luxury around the globe, while the majority of humanity is still living in poverty.
Some days before the celebration of the mass, Pope Francis received this year’s “Charlemagne Prize” (an award given by the German city Aachen annually since 1950 to those who helped to realize the European project). In the presence of EU dignitaries, including EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, EU Council President Donald Tusk, Martin Schulz, the Chairman of the EU Parliament, as well as Chancellor Merkel, the Pope was given the award during a celebration in the Apostolic Palace in Rome. In his speech he called for the creation of a “new” Europe which wins back its “soul”. He reminded the audience of the memorable speech he had given 2014 in front of the European parliament. In this speech he had compared Europe to a “tired” and infertile grandmother who is lacking vitality and who has moved far away from the “great ideal” that once had inspired the founding fathers of Europe. He qualified the founding fathers (Robert Schumann, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi et al) as “prophetic” people who still today invite us to “build bridges” and fight for the “Common Good” of a European fatherland. The Pope underlined the necessity to “actualize” the idea of Europe which essentially demands three capacities: “Integration, the ability for dialogue and the power to create something new.” European identity always was “a dynamic and multicultural identity” capable to integrate diverse cultures, the Pope stated.
What is therefore necessary is that:
1. European integration should overcome the gap between rich and poor; an integration which should be based on “solidarity” and create conditions where each inhabitant in many of our cities can live in dignity.
2. Europe should learn the culture of dialogue and look at migrants who come from a different cultural background as people who are recognized and listened to. In the new Europe each of us should be committed to take more “personal and social responsibility”. Especially young people play a “dominant role” and should be given the chance to participate in the transformation of Europe. They should be made the “protagonists of a dream”, Pope Francis stated. The precondition is however that young people have the chance to work decently. This implies the search for an “economic model”, a transition from a “liquid” purely speculative and monetarist oriented economy, to a “social economy” which doesn’t give room for corruption and greed but rather creates the condition for everyone to live in a decent way.
In order to realize the “dream of a new European humanism”, the Pope made a passionate plea for a “young Europe”, that cares for children and helps the poor; that listens to the sick and shows respect for the old people. A Europe where migrants are treated as human beings; a Europe where young people can live a life which is based on the love for the beauty of culture, and not the greed for endless consumerism: “A Europe where marriage and the desire to have children is seen with great joy and responsibility.”
Disarray and “value” debate among western elites
The Pope evoked a vision of an “authentic”, rejuvenated Europe whose soul is nourished by the immense cultural wealth of those philosophers, literati, musicians, city builders and political visionaries, that gave the European continent in East and West its soul and physiognomy during the last 1000 years. His speech should serve as an inspiration for politicians and intellectuals in East and West. In some intellectual circles the crisis which Europe is facing right now has sparked a debate that is centered on the question, why there is such a widening gap between the “western” and “eastern” value system.
This debate must be situated in the context of the actual European political and economic situation: A year before federal elections are going to take place in Germany, the strength of the leading German parties is diminishing. While the traditional party system is losing support, there is a growing polarization and radicalization on the left and the right. This goes along with a slow erosion of support from traditional voters which the German Chancellor has to face. Many voters see with unease the recent Merkel and EU “deal” with Turkey (Turkey takes refugees in return for sending back specific contingents of Asylum seekers into the EU). They argue that in light of what is perceived as autocratic violation of human rights in Turkey, a double standard is applied. Some also blame the Chancellor for being too “opportunistic” and showing too much loyalty towards the U.S. in respect to Russia and the sanctions policy.
By mid -June a referendum will take place in Great Britain whose citizens are called to vote on Britain’s future in the EU. It is not impossible that a majority will vote in favor of “Brexit” and in mid May 2017 there also will be general elections in France, where the incumbent president faces a wave of social unrest. At the same time the debate within the EU concerning the “burden sharing” of refugees remains totally blocked. There is no willingness among several Eastern European states to host any refugees at all. As result more and more intellectuals in Germany raise their voice in order to express their unease about the “fatal” mistakes that were committed by the present German government, mistakes which should be openly addressed and corrected. More and more people also bemoan the fact that since the outbreak of the global financial crisis 2008, no fundamental change has been made in economic policy which would correct those mistakes that led to the collapse of the banking system after the Lehman Brothers crisis.
The way in which the EU and Germany are handling the migration crisis -as correct as it was and is to help suffering refugees- is seen by many EU member states as an attempt by Germany to “impose its rules” on the EU. Many therefore see a “paradox”: On the one side a certain typical German “moralizing” political attitude vis- a- vis Russia and on the other side a double standard attitude vis a vis countries such as Turkey by downplaying Turkey’s obvious human rights violations.
European value system – gap between “ideal and reality”
In this context it is worthwhile to study an essay which was written by former Supreme court Judge Udo di Fabio in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ, 22.05.16) and to look at an interview published by FAZ (25.05.16) with the Bulgarian writer Ivan Krastew and the Swiss author and member of the Vienna Academy of Sciences, Oliver Jens Schmitt.
Di Fabio makes a quite frank diagnosis by analyzing what is going wrong in Europe. Contrary to the interviewed literati he doesn’t take into account the “Eastern value system” but focusses his remarks on what he considers as key principles of the “Western value” system. The most important principle being enshrined in Article I of the German Grundgesetz (Basic Constitutional Law 1949), the Atlantic Charta (1941) as well as the Human Rights Charta (1948): The respect for human dignity, equality, freedom, democracy, rule of Law and the respect for human rights. In his essay di Fabio observes however that right now “reality is far away from this ideal” and the migration and the refugee crisis has triggered a discussion in Europe, which according to di Fabio “touches upon the true identity of European society.”
Di Fabio sees in this debate a “symbol” for the conflict between the governing elites on the one side who largely rely on “social techniques” and demand “conformist” attitudes and on the other side a growing populism in the public opinion. Germany’s “humanitarian imperative” finds a lot of resistance within Europe, di Fabio notes and countries like “Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Denmark, England or Poland and at a later point Sweden and Austria” consider the control of migration as a “sovereign democratic matter.”
Open debate is needed – not “Political Correctness”
Di Fabio remarks that the “functional elite” in the EU rejects those who criticize “integration measures” as not showing sufficient “loyalty” towards the European peace project. He correctly observes that in the long run such strategies are “detrimental for the democratic legitimization” of the EU. They promote resentment and help make those strong who just publically say the truth and try to offer simple recipes. As di Fabio emphasizes, it is important for citizens of the EU to really “assimilate” the basic principles and ideas of the EU, while at the same time they should have the right to point to contradictions and ambivalences without being immediately “ostracized”. He emphasizes that within the EU which is neither a free trade zone nor a Federal State, the “Nation States” remain the sovereign of the EU treaties, i.e. “Democratic self-rule” is not only valid for the constitutional state, it also defines a correct understanding about the “European value system.”
Under the pressure of the big migration wave during the last months it is argued by many EU functionaries that because of the “human rights” issue involved, the EU member states are “obliged” to help protection seeking human beings, by hosting them in their respective countries. Di Fabio notes however that while this is “correct”, it is at the same time “wrong” to assume that there is an “unlimited right” for being hosted by a country. It would put into question the “claim” of “democracies to sovereignly decide in which form they will give international assistance as well as take responsibility to protect civilian populations.”
What is essential is to put the idea of limited sovereign state power in line with the responsibility to protect universal human rights. By making a reference to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant who at the beginning of the 18th century had correctly warned about the idea of implementing a “world government”, di Fabio warns that “European citizens don’t want to give up control over democracy, the possibility for self- rule and whoever rejects this claim as “reactionary” cannot find an answer to the question how the individual will be practically protected, if this is not done in the framework of well- ordered and stabile constitutional states. It’s not good to govern on the basis of “social techniques” and ignore the sensitivities of regions, as much as it is dangerous to put a taboo and prohibit plebiscites.
Hence Europe must be “reconstructed” in a wise way on the basis of the principles of basic human rights and individual responsibility. A closer Union does not come into existence if we tear down all separating walls, but only if the sense for the Common Good is growing in multiplicity. It must be based on the principle that the dignity of each individual must be protected- a key constituent of the Western Value System.
In an interview conducted by FAZ (May 25th) with the authors Ivan Krastew (Bulgaria) and Oliver Jens Schmitt (Switzerland) a reflection is made about the reasons why so many people in Germany and elsewhere tend to qualify Eastern Europe as “backward” when it comes to their “value system” while at the same time people in the West begin to put their own value system into question. According to Jens Schmitt the reaction to the migration crisis in East and West has dramatically underlined that “we come to the end of a period of ‘moralizing’ policy in Europe where ‘morality’ is used as the main instrument to exert political influence.” This concerns in particular the way of handling the migration and refugee question.
Ivan Krastew notes that Eastern Europe never had like Western Europe a 1968 Revolution and after the end of communism in 1989 they imitated a lot of the Western institutions. But in the last years a change has taken place. For example today many young Poles see themselves as Europeans while at the same time, in line with the Catholic Church, they defend something which they regard as key constituent of the “European value system” (the family). In Eastern as well as Western countries people defend the choice for a decent education; they reject the gender debate and the idea of “marriage for all”. Rumanians may not like Putin, the Bulgarian writer Krastew notes, but on the other side they agree with his attitude on homosexuality and often feel closer to the Russian or Hungarian conservatism. The authors conclude that rather than just have a “mainstream” debate and “ostracize” different opinions (which is particularly the case in Germany) there is the necessity to “integrate” these different opinions coming up in Hungary and Poland and elsewhere, by making them part of an open debate, rather than suffocate all divergent opinions with “political correctness”.
Wiesbaden June 1 2016