Thursday, May 22, 2014

What went wrong with Europe? About the roots of the EU

The European Parliament; the European Commission; Brussels... What kind of thoughts cross Christians’ minds when they hear these words? Bureaucracy and costly? Unnecessary legislation that goes against freedom of religion, belief and conscience?

Sometimes I wonder what has happened in Brussels over the last few decades. What has become of the Christian mindset that was so instrumental in the formation of the European Project? Where is the real problem? Maybe the problem is not with the European Union. Maybe the problem lies with the successors of the founding fathers of the EU. And how will Christian politicians be able to make their faith more visible in European politics?

Together with Peter van Dalen (Member of the European Parliament on behalf of the ChristianUnion) I had the privilege of organising a conference in the European Parliament, on “the impact of Christian thinking on the European Project:  Past, Present and Future”

This event focused on the question of what position should we as Christians take in times of economic and social confusion. We also had an opportunity to hear experts talk about European Christian founding fathers such as Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi and non-Christian founding fathers like Jean Monnet and Paul-Henri Spaak. Both groups agreed that Christian values played a significant role in the founding of the European Project.

For Robert Schuman (who is also called the Father of the European Union), Christian values were at the root of both his personal beliefs and European ideals. For example, Schuman was open about his view that the reconstruction of Europe was only possible in a Europe that is “deeply rooted in Christian values”.  Konrad Adenauer also saw this as a real Christian obligation and not only as an economic goal. Their faith was also demonstrated by the fact that the three men (Schuman, Adenauer and De Gasperi) participated in a prayer retreat in a Benedictine monastery before they went to Paris for the signing of the treaty that established the European Coal and Steel Community.

Schuman based his values on the Catholic social thinking, in which Gods Love for mankind has been based on the “Imago Dei”; the Biblical truth that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore the focus is not placed on the individual or on the class struggle but on reconciliation and solidarity. European values like equality, human dignity, solidarity and tolerance are rooted in this principle.

From an economic standpoint, the EU has generally been seen as a blessing, even though this has also been openly debated lately. Me and my colleagues in the ECPM, believe that the EU can bring extra value to the entrepreneur. The EU should focus more on the entrepreneur and less on multinationals. This means less rules and more freedom and responsibility. The president of our party, Östman, is a former Finish businessman who is active in politics. His view is that the EU should focus on the facilitation of Small and Medium Enterprises, the real motors of European economy. Additionally, we should strive for a more relational economy, which is more focused on people. On ECPM’s website you can find more information about this.[1] 

The Europe of today 

Even though European values are rooted in Christian values, Robert Schuman warned that when we are cut off from our Christian roots, this could lead to tyranny or anarchy. A unilateral focus on economic progression is also a danger: “Spiritual progress goes hand in hand with material progression and the European Movement can only be successful if the future generation will loosen themselves from the temptation of materialism.”[1] 

Sixty years later, indeed we seem to have deviated from the original ideals and values. We did not take Schuman’s warnings seriously. Due to increasing secularism, more and more non-Biblical ideas are stirring and controlling the decision making process in the EU. The Christian roots are cut off more and more and replaced by an ideology that says that complete happiness can be found in individual freedom and autonomy. The fact that European culture is (also) based on the Jewish-Christian principles was even removed from the concept of the European constitution and cannot be found in the Lisbon Treaty.

One of the consequences of the dominance of the secular worldview over the European decision making process, is that the (originally Christian-based) values were implemented differently. As Christians we strive for “Freedom to serve God and the other”, while secularists see this as a freedom from everything that can limit individual freedom and autonomy. Another distorted value is the one of “equality”, which is now seen as a struggle for uniformity.

Because of this, fundamental freedoms can be in danger, like the freedom of doctors who do not want to do abortions or euthanasia, the freedom of schools to determine their sexual education themselves, but also of the freedom of people to express their faith in public. The irony is that this extreme struggle for individual freedom will lead to a limitation of fundamental freedoms. Not only will this not lead to real tolerance, but quite the contrary, everyone will be obliged to tolerate and accept everything.  This will lead actually to a growing intolerance against people with another philosophy or opinion.

The Brussels music and its tone 

In Brussels I really saw how important the work of Christian politicians is. We probably do not realize this, but we have to deal with a spiritual battle. As Ephesus 6:12 states:  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

For your information, here are some examples of proposals that have been discussed in meetings in the European Parliament: it was openly proposed to limit the freedom of religion and expression if this is against the principle of anti-discrimination. Also people claim that the sex of a person is not biologically determined, but that everyone has the choice to strive for an identity. To remove the stereotypes, children should be raised up “gender-neutral”. Abortion should become a European right before the right to life. Furthermore, the legalization of same-sex marriages and adoptions should be imposed on all EU member states. The education system should be adapted in different countries so that alternative forms of family would be promoted. 

Further than the contents, the tone of the debate is very damaging itself. I was surprised by the growing intolerance against the Christian contribution in the debate. Christians were framed as “religious and conservative, intolerant extremists.” In fact, it is hard to identify European values such as equality, tolerance and human dignity when evaluating the manner in which some Members of European Parliament deal with Christians.

On the other hand, I also see positive developments. In spite of the growing intolerance, the interest for Christian values is also growing as more and more European politicians speak openly about their faith. You can see this for example at the annual European Prayer Breakfast organized in the European Parliament. Also the exhibition about the global impact of the Bible drew a lot of attention. Furthermore, I started a fellowship group that gathers young people working in European institutions to discuss and pray for Europe.

Moreover, I see that the influence of Christians in Europe is growing. Controversial reports about abortions are not accepted easily. European citizens have also started using their voice by writing to their MEPs and organizing petitions. The European Citizens Initiative “One of Us” speaks against the financing of embryonic stem cell research and the European promotion of abortions in developing countries. The initiative collected almost 2 million signatures and will be soon handled in the European Commission. 

The European Christian Political Movement 

For several years now, I have been active in the ECPM. This party was founded in 2005. Our target is to explicitly represent a Christian voice in European politics. We do this by forming a network of Christian political parties, individual members of (European) parliament and political movements.

In 2010, the ECPM was officially recognized as a European political party. Nowadays we have members in about 20 European countries. The European subsidies that ECPM receives are based on the number of Members of European Parliament and donations. Alongside the ECPM, we also have a European think tank called the Christian Political Foundation for Europe and a youth organization called the European Christian Political Youth (ECPYouth). As a party we organize events such as trainings for politicians and thematic conferences. In terms of legislation, we also actively advise our members and initiate legislative proposal on both national and European levels.

In 2012, I was asked to move to Brussels to establish an office there and to focus on the political issues I discussed in this article. Since last year I have been active in Brussels organizing themathical conferences in the European Parliament and, in cooperation with other active Christian organizations in Brussels, advising European politicians on essential legislative matters.

The European elections are taking place this week. It is important that we remain involved in what happens in the EU. I will call for prayer: a prayer that the EU will turn back to its Christian values. A prayer for active Christian politicians and organizations within European institutions, which are more than necessary. It is important to be involved in the topics that are on the European agenda. Last but not least, it is of course important to vote at the European elections. Most of the national legislation already has been arranged by the EU. Therefore it is important to have the right people in the European Parliament.

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[1] If you like to know more about how Christian values motivated the founding fathers (especially Robert Schuman), I advise you to read: "Deeply Rooted: the forgotten vision of Robert Schuman" ISBN 9780957528611

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