(Editorial from issue of Church & State Magazine, No. 74, Autumn 2003)
European Union: An Organic Development?

The Convention on the Future of Europe was set up to frame some sort of constitutional basis for a greatly expanded European Union of twenty-six member states. The draft Constitution it put forward should have provided the basis for an organic development. It should have said where the Union had come from and where it was going to. That was in keeping with the provision in the Treaty of Rome for “ever closer union”. The Union could not simply allow itself to grow on an ad hoc basis, assuming that all the States joining it had essentially the same attitudes and attributes. The UK authorities probably would have preferred to have no written European Constitution. They signed up to “ever closer union” as a sort of grace note not to be taken seriously, whereas the founders of the Union-Christian Democrats all-regarded it as the foundation stone of the Union.

Although Robert Schumann (French by nationality, despite the German name) is canvassed as a candidate for canonisation, the Christian Democrats were not Catholic fanatics: they simply applied Catholic social teaching to the mess made of western Europe by the non-, or anti-, Christian ideology of Fascism (particularly in its English-inspired racist form, as practised in Germany and other north European States). Schumann is approvingly quoted by Proinsias De Rossa as saying that the Christian faith should not be associated with any particular form of government, and that the “domains” of “God and Caesar” should be sharply distinguished. (See the Irish Times ‘debate’ on the draft Constitution, 01.05.03: unfortunately no source is given for the Schumann statement.) That was the view of Catholics living in a Europe devastated by a war involving Fascism, Leninism, and Imperialism. None of these ‘isms’ had any time for Catholic Christianity. Fascism was awaiting its military victory to get to grips with the Catholic Church. Leninism was suppressing, even persecuting, Catholicism in eastern Europe and the Imperialists regarded Cathol-icism as a hang-over from the ‘Dark Ages’, and Social Catholicism as a contradiction in terms. (This helps to account for the lordly attitude the British took to Christian Democracy, and the ‘ever closer union’ of west European States which was a Christian Democrat project.) That was the context in which Schumann was apparently arguing for the rigid separation of Church and State.

De Rossa suggested with distaste that the proposed Constitution would include “a specific invocation of God” in its Preamble, along with a fairly anæmic-sounding reference to Europe’s Judeo-Christian heritage. On the other hand, Breda O’Brien has been proved right in her assessment, made in Godless EU, But Does God Really Care? (IT 14.06.03), that nothing on the lines of Bunreacht na hÉireann’s invocation of “The Most Holy Trinity…” would appear. (It might be said in passing that, when “…the People of Éire” dedicated their basic-law Constitution to the Most Holy Trinity, they meant business.)

Agence Press France reports Mons. Peter Erdoe, the Roman Catholic Primate of Hungary, in effect, echoing G.K. Chesterton’s “Without Christianity, the heart of Europe would be missing”. That is not the whole truth, and De Rossa is right to point out that small sections of Europe (the geographical expression) are traditionally Muslim. He declared that mentioning God would alienate Muslims in “Bulgaria, Turkey and Bosnia-Hertzegovina” (though not Albania?)—but he does not explain or substantiate this claim. In fact, Deutsche Welle claims that Jewish, Muslim and Protestant “faith groups” want God in the Constitution (3.10.03). The States he mentions as objecting to constitutional mentions of God are desperate to be in ‘Europe’ (even though Turkey is only minimally part of the geographical expression, being known as ‘Asia Minor’ for most of its existence). (Incidentally, Deutsche Welle also reports that Italy, Ireland, Spain, and Poland want God in the Constitution, while the BBC’s World News puts Spain in the ‘No’ group, along with France and The Netherlands.)

De Rossa’s views in the Irish Times of 1st May were ‘balanced’ by those of another MEP, Rosemary Scallon (the Eurovision ‘Dana’ sneered at as a red-neck reactionary by ‘Dublin 4’). She put forward a vigorous, and unlike De Rossa’s, clearly thought-out political argument:

“As Europe searches for a common identity, it can build on its common cultural, historical and religious heritage. Europe’s history can only be understood by acknowledging the influence of the religious component which has formed the identity of Europe and inspired the formation of the European Union itself.”

She went on to write that the fact that God looms large in the Irish Constitution-not merely in the Preamble, but in Article 6.1 which states that “All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people”—had not “been a threat to our nation or to our people … it has been a vital building force of our nation”.

However, she acknowledged that, while that approach would have been appropriate for Europe in the past, that world is gone:

“At present, two predominant concepts co-exist in Europe. One finds the meaning of life in God; the other does not require God.”

The draft Constitution merely represented one side of this divide, but simply expressing “the secular concept” would exclude the fundamental beliefs of “the majority of Europeans”. This is undoubtedly still true. So what is the point of denying that Europe from the Aran Islands to the Urals has been Christian for over a millennium? For good or ill, Europe has been the centre of Christianity. Other Christian communities around the world, in Ethiopia, modern Iraq and Kerala, while providing a vehicle for living for their adherents, did not have the same crucial cultural importance as the Christianity of Europe, despite its splits and sunderings (the break with the Orthodox Churches and the Reformation).

Not to acknowledge this is absurd, especially as the first drafts of the Preamble proposed, not the thundering affirmation of the ‘De Valera Constitution’, but merely a mention of the Judeo-Christian heritage, along with that of Græco-Roman civilisation and the Enlightenment The European People’s Party (the largest in the European Parliament) suggested something along the lines of the current Polish Constitution:

“The Union’s values include the values of those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty as well as those who do not share such a belief but respect these universal values arising form other sources”.

Surely this rather watery formulation includes the “lay and humanist traditions” invoked by De Rossa? Particularly as these ‘lay and humanist’ traditions were not necessarily secular, much less atheist or even ‘agnostic’. ‘Humanism’ was an intellectual tendency within the Catholic Church. It tends, in the English-speaking world, these days, to mean organised atheism, but that is a narrowing, if not a hi-jacking, of the term.

Not to acknowledge that European culture is essentially Christian in what is intended to be the Constitution for the greater part of the geographical expression is nonsensical. Stating that most Europeans, for most of the past thousand years have been Christians and have believed in the Christian God, is to state a simple fact. Many Europeans still practise a religious faith-whether they believe in that faith or not is not the issue-and most of them are Christians. To imply that their contribution to European civilisation over, in some cases, two millennia, is not worth mentioning is impolitic, and could alienate whole national communities from the European project. That would not help those who would like to see the Europe of the future exert a more benign influence on the world than the Imperial Europe of the past. They would do well to look to the parts of the Christian ethic which are subversive of worldly values. Unless they can find a way of working with the grain of European history, they will not succeed in promoting an organic development of the Union as an entity which defends the rights of others to fulfil their own historical destiny.

Seán McGouran


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