Friday 22. October 2021
#151 - July-August 2012


"The EU is founded on values and not on national interests"


President Herman Van Rompuy sets out his vision for a united Europe based on values and on the Christian conviction that caring for others means finding yourself.


In a key note speech on "Bringing hope and solidarity to European integration" delivered on 4 June at the Chapel of the Resurrection, also known as the Chapel for Europe, President Herman Van Rompuy set out his vision for a united Europe based on values and on the Christian conviction that caring for others means finding yourself. In the current crisis the peoples of Europe should go beyond the interests of their own States because they care not only for themselves but also for others.


In quoting Martin Buber, the Viennese-born Jewish philosopher, the President of the European Council defined the European Union as a community formed by relationships between States, peoples and persons: "In the beginning is relationship. All true life is encounter. It is encounter which creates, with the presence of the other, the reality of time as present. I become myself in contact with "You", I become "I" by saying "You". In placing the emphasis on the other, it is not the other as an individual that I am interested in, but the other as a person, a person whom, in Christian terms, I call neighbour, my neighbour.

The individual characteristically defines himself by reference to what is not himself. His approach is to isolate himself, to think in terms of isolation, voluntarily chosen. Taken to extremes, the isolated individual tends to think that the world began when he was born and that the future of the world will be linked to his own future.

Conversely, the person is profoundly and essentially a being of relationship. The person is a being who shows solidarity. This does not prevent him from being fully himself, both "solitary and in solidarity", to take the title of a talk I gave at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The person is thus fully both: solitary and possessed of fellow-feeling; his solitude is not isolation. In the light of this philosophy of relationship, this philosophy of encounter, I wish to see Europe's destiny unfold."


For Europe means friendship too. Some may think me naïve, but was the first Franco-German Treaty not a friendship treaty? Let us now extrapolate the concepts of individual and person to the whole of society. We end up with political ideas expressed on the one hand in populism and inward looking and on the other hand in solidarity, a sense of responsibility, and openness to the world.

In the course of its history Europe has often hesitated between these two approaches. To mention only the last century, nations and peoples were tempted by "experiments" in ultra nationalism [nationalism is not a homogeneous concept], national socialism, fascism and communism, which were all driven by a desire to distance oneself from the other or even exclude the other.

I tremble at the thought of the horrors we endured, and I think of the millions of people who were tortured and killed. Those millions are not just statistics for me. Each of them is a person, one by one.

Happily those same nations and peoples then returned to the source of mankind's greatness, that is to say essential human values, expressed in the beginning with Christian Democrat, Social Democrat or Liberal nuances.

Fortunately, societies and men do not live out the same values in the same way, and in a democratic society, the emphasis can and must vary.

But while the mode of expression may vary, the values themselves do not change. They are drawn from the depths of that which confers greatness on man, and enables him to reach his full potential”.


Mr Van Rompuy, who is in charge of preparing and chairing the European Council, which brings together on a regular basis all the Heads of State and Government of the European Union, was addressing 200 invited guests working in and around the European institutions. In his speech he encouraged the audience "to embark on a journey in search of this "extra something" which is within us and just waiting to be revealed. We must seek a purpose in life in general and in our own lives in particular. Such a purpose will never be found in the Ego. It resides in the Other and/or in our relations with the others. By embarking on such a search, each in our own individual way, we can bring to the community of Europe this added dimension which will eventually turn it into a Union in the true sense of the word."


In a reference to the current European crisis and his responsibility as President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy also explained that “A new form of governance is emerging, and it is one in which I have been heavily involved for more than two years now. Admittedly, the process may seem slow, for we are not rushing to build a Union founded on sand. Rather, we are moving forward in small steps, laying down one stone after another in order to construct, slowly but surely, an edifice as solid as a cathedral.

And what form will this "cathedral" or "temple" of Europe ultimately take?  That is up to you, the men and women of the European Union. For the European Union's response could take the same form as the words uttered by God to Moses through the burning bush: "Ehyé acher éhyé". "I will be all that you make me be". We, the European Union, will be all that you, the men and women of Europe, make us be.


President Van Rompuy was followed by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Director of the Liaison Office of the Orthodox Church to the European Union, the Most Rev Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor (Ireland), the Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford (England), Ms Katrin Hatzinger, Head of the Brussels Office of the Protestant Church in Germany and Mr Staffan Nilsson, President of the European Economic and Social Committee.


The participants in the round table agreed that Europe needs renewed conviction and steadfast solidarity to secure peace and prosperity for its citizens. As Europe enters a new phase of integration marked by economic instability, loss of hope and question marks over European solidarity, Churches would have to do more to communicate the positive impact of the European Union and explain that European integration is very much inspired by the values they share.


compiled by Johanna Touzel


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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.