“A united Europe was not achieved and we had war!”. Only five years had gone by since the end of World War II when, in the late afternoon of May 9, 1950, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs Robert Schuman delivered these words before over 200 journalists hastily summoned in the press room of the Quai d’Orsay.
The understanding of nationalism of the Romantic era, that in some cases drew inspiration from a lofty concept of solidarity between peoples, had degenerated into a form of nationalism that exalts the power and the self-determination of nation-States at war with other States.
From nationalism to war it was but a short step:
war was not considered an act of insanity but a necessary and logical consequence of power. War was the product of hatred against diversity, and Jews were the first targets followed by the Roma, the disabled, homosexuals, and eventually the neighbours, deemed dangerous and potential invaders. Only a few wise men, un-listened to and persecuted, requested to refrain from waging a war, to shut down weapons factories, not to bring sons, husbands, brothers to the battlefield, they demanded that women should no longer be objects of violence, they asked to put an end to the culture of the enemy.
In that Europe that was still covered by rubble and dead corpses, Robert Schuman had the audacity to transform coal and steel, instruments of war and of contention between Germany and France for over eighty years, in tools of peaceful reconciliation. If today peace is a fait accompli, and is – sadly! – largely taken for granted, we owe it to this Christian man anguished by past ordeals, considered to be a born utopian, a foolish dreamer.
The man who is speaking, standing upright with his friend and faithful collaborator Jean Monnet to his right, is a competent politician who viewed political life as an ideal of service since he was a young man, nourished by profound Christian convictions, by Eucharistic and Marian piety, and by values mastered in his humanistic studies.
In his Declaration to the press, Schuman announces the reconciliation between France and Germany: he, the winner, extends his hands to those who were defeated in order to remove all the causes that had sparked off three wars.
The gesture of a true prophet:
his heritage ushered in a radiant future for the whole of Europe, a place where peoples would understand each other and respect one another in order to bring to completion a common project of unity based not only on economic interests but also on Europe’s spiritual and cultural values, directed in particular to people in need.
The first European Community was thus created (ECSC, 1951), the seed that germinated into the European Union in 1992. Throughout two-thousand years of European history some had attempted to unite the Continent by force. Many had aspired to European unity, but nobody had thought to create Europe’s political unity by transferring portions of national sovereignty, to be shared with other friendly nations under the umbrella of supranational institutions.
Solidarity – which means “everyone together” – was to become the binding element holding together peoples and States. It requires States to be rigorous and responsible in the management of the national resources of every member State, but it also demands fairness towards the weak and the poor. “I come first! My Country comes first!” is the opposite of solidarity, which leads us to say “my fellow other comes first.”
If optimally implemented, solidarity leads to prosperity. The “sharing” of coal and steel production, followed by the creation of an economic Community (EEC, 1957), of a single market, the free circulation of capital and goods, with the adoption of a single currency, was to be placed at the service of man. If not, people would end up being pushed away from what really matters and would ultimately be allured by discord and corruption.
The harmonization of national economies became the privileged path for Europe’s unity. Step by step, “small achievements” led to political unity. This is the Europe proclaimed by Robert Schuman on May 9 1950. Today, while geo-political balances are changing under our very eyes, the institutional and economic model of the European Union needs to be reinvented along with a new social pact and a common migration policy. There are evident gaps separating the founding values of the first Community and memory. This discrepancy signals difficulties, disadvantages, disorientation and the confused quest for something different.
Robert Schuman, a humble artisan of peace, irrupted on the historical stage as a prophet who shows the path of peace to his people, with his voice, which, as a Jewish saying goes, “triggers Holy sparks from stones”: from hatred, discord, fratricidal enmity. Schuman sowed the seeds of peace and transformed the hopes of millions of men and women in a concrete act of brotherly love.
That act is taken for granted today, but it could become vulnerable if Europeans should fail to acknowledge the lesson of May 9 of sixty nine years ago.