Tuesday 21. September 2021
#205 - June 2017

A dynamic and multicultural European identity

It is Pope Francis, a non-European, who bluntly states that there is a clear European identity. This is an affirmation that will surprise more than one European!  At a time when Europe is looking for a new lease of life, it may be worthwhile to be inspired by what an outsider detects in our own history.

Pope Francis has made four very rich speeches about Europe from which two powerful ideas emerge: Europe upholds a certain idea of humanity, and is able to employ its abilities to innovate for the service of the common good.


A certain view of humanity that Europe has known how to protect

Pope Francis does not at first sight view Europe as a techno-structure.  For him, Europe “is a life, a way of conceiving man through his transcendent and inalienable dignity”.  The horrors of the Second World War have given rise to the acute awareness of the need to protect the human person.  Europe is fully committed to the defence of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.


Before the Council of Europe, Pope Francis pointed out that this constitutes “one of the greatest contributions that Europe has offered and continues to offer to the whole world”. He also stressed “the importance of Europe’s continuing responsibility to contribute to the cultural development of humanity”.


A conception of humanity which characterises Europe aims not only to respect every person but also to respect the whole of humanity. Man, said the Pope is not “monad” (single unit), he is a relational being.  He is not merely a consumer or a producer, he also has creative and spiritual dimensions.  Hence the importance of education, but also of the access to work.  The Pope therefore asked the European Parliament to “take care of the fragile nature of peoples and of individuals” and to construct a Europe “not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around unassailable values”.


He does not recognise the Europe that is fearful and that turns in on itself, nor that yields “to the temptation of reducing the founding ideals of the Union to productive, economic and financial necessities”.  For him, Europe is “protagonist, bearer of science, art, music, human values and also of faith. A Europe which contemplates heaven and pursues ideals; Europe which watches, defends and protects man; Europe which walks on safe and solid ground, a precious point of reference for all mankind!


An ability to innovate in the service of the common good

To this human concern is added the ability to innovate in the service of the common good. The European construction is still a unique process in the world.  Countries have accepted a sharing of sovereignty, “a free choice for the common good”, which has long-term benefits for Europeans but also for the world.  The European project highlights, from the time of the Schuman Declaration, the special responsibility that Europe has for the African continent.  Solidarity and responsibility have been part of the European project from the outset.


For Francis, “the creativity, the genius, the ability to rise and fall within its own limits characterises the soul of Europe”. He said that “the roots of Europe had consolidated during the course of history since it had learnt to integrate the most diverse and apparently unrelated cultures into an ever new unification”. And he continues: “The European identity is, and always has been, a dynamic and multicultural identity”.


This sentence illustrates two principles dear to Pope Francis, as set out in Evangelii Gaudium. Firstly, that time is greater than physical spaces (EG 223). Privileging spaces leads to the logic of building walls. Focusing on time is about initiating processes, working on the long-term and not being obsessed by immediate results. The construction of Europe falls within the latter and this is what gives it its dynamic character.


Secondly, the whole is superior to the part (EG 236). Europe is superior to the countries and to the nations of which it is composed. This does not imply uniformity, quite the opposite.  The model of the “whole” is for Francis, a polyhedron in which all elements retain their originality and at the same time form a special whole and togetherness. It is a beautiful image for the European motto, “United in diversity”.


By inviting Europe to find the route to a new humanism, Pope Francis provides it with a roadmap: “Europe has a patrimony of ideals and spiritual values unique in the world, one that deserves to be proposed once more with passion and renewed vigour, for it is the best antidote against the vacuum of values of our time, which provides a fertile terrain for every form of extremism”.


Monique Baujard

 Former director of the National Service for Family and Society

for the Conference of Bishops in France


Translated from the original text in French


The views expressed in Europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.


The quotations are extracts taken directly from the four speeches, respectively:


Speech before the Council of Europe


Speech at the European Parliament                                                                                                                                                  

Speech on the occasion of the award of the Charlemagne Prize


Speech before the Heads of State and the European Union Government

Teilen |

Published in English, French, German
COMECE, 19 square de Meeûs, B-1050 Brussels
Tel: +32/2/235 05 10
e-mail: europeinfos@comece.eu

Editors-in-Chief: Martin Maier SJ

Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.