To restore Europe’s “face” and commit to “building together, step by step, our common destiny, with policies that focus on the human person”. It’s the message of Fr Olivier Poquillon, O.P., Secretary General of COMECE (the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union) to all candidates running in the 2019 elections. As from today until 26 May, 28 Member States of the European Union will go to the polls to redefine its institutional face: first and foremost the European Parliament, in the coming months the Commission, President of the Council and President of the Central Bank. It’s a crucial event for the future of Europe. Although the dates of the elections differ from country to country, vote counting will begin at 11 p.m. on 26 May in all Member States, so as to make the process simultaneous throughout the Union. “We are facing a turning point in our history”, said Fr. Poquillon, who will be following the elections from Brussels. Speaking to SIR on the eve of this important event he expressed a special wish: “we can take courageous decisions today for tomorrow. We will certainly be facing difficult times in the future. What we hope is that these elections may form a Parliament of men and women chosen not to ensure the victory of one party over another but to work together in order to rebuild social ties between all the components of our European society and promote the common good.”
Father Poquillon, Europe is faced with the advance of nationalists, populists and eurosceptics. How can we spread the enthusiasm of Europe’s founding fathers to its peoples?
It’s a widely shared feeling. The European Union is perceived as a distant institution, disconnected from people’s lives. We often hear people say: “Brussels decides for us.” The Church has a role to play, in seeking to foster a discernment based not only on feelings – but also on reality. While the situation is very different, between North and South, East and West, we see that important progress has been made in recent years, which has benefited everyone and everywhere. I am referring not only to the peace and security achieved through the European project, but also to the possibility of participating in joint decision-making initiatives.
An effort must therefore be made so that European peoples may regain control of their destiny.
It is often said that Europe is to blame for national failures.
Yes, this is what is said. Today we are globally poorly informed about the sharing of responsibilities. All governments, with no exception, accuse Brussels of what is wrong and congratulate it on what is going well. It should be said that Council decisions are generally taken unanimously and by a qualified majority in exceptional cases. This means that no decision is taken without each country’s approval and participation in the decision-making process.
And even when a decision is taken by a qualified majority, it is the Member States that decide which decision is to be taken by a qualified majority. By this I mean that nothing is imposed on the Member States and no nation has been forced to join the European Union. Everyone was involved in the construction of today’s Union. It is worth remembering that the European Union is not an international organisation but the joint practice of a portion of national sovereignty.
What are your requests to politicians?
Pope Francis reminds us that politics is positive and good when it is placed at the service of the people, that is, not when it represents power but when it is a commitment for the common good. After the elections we will have a majority and minority groups, but everyone is called to live and work together for the common good. That is what we are asking of politicians: to work together for policies that have the human person at their centre.
You spoke of common good, what is the face of the common good for today’s Europe?
The answer is contained in the question. It’s important to recover a face. Europe is afflicted by its depersonalization. The emblems of our major institutions are the buildings that inhabit them: the Commission, the Council and Parliament. But the European Union is not a group of buildings or an administrative structure.
The Union is first and foremost a mosaic of peoples who form it and work together to determine their common destiny.
Willing or not, we share the same destiny. So the question is: what do we want to do together? It’s like a marriage: enjoying each other’s company is no longer enough for a future project. A marriage built on stone is not an end in itself. In fact it opens up to the other and is based on a common project. There may be differences, but as in a family, everyone is committed to building together their common destiny step by step.
Instead of being subjected to it, it is chosen and built together. That is the European project.
In Italy, politicians have used religious symbols to attract Catholics’ votes. What does it mean for Europe to be Christian?
In the Catholic tradition, it is not the land that is Christian, but the people. And the people can be considered God’s people if they act as the Body of Christ. It is through their behaviour that the people may or may not be called Christian. The Gospel states: a tree is known by its fruits. Christianity is not a culture but an identity. Are we therefore able to see Europe with the gaze of Christ? To act like Him for the weakest, to touch the untouchable, to dialogue with the enemy?
Beware of false prophets, of those who use Christian symbols to speak the opposite of Christ.
Let us know the tree by its fruits. We build a Christian Europe not by opposing others but though conversion, being Christians in social, economic and political action, in all aspects of our lives, as individuals and as communities, in private and in public.