From Euro-crisis to European crisis?
The current financial and economic crisis could lead to a political crisis, not only impacting on the EU institutions internally but also causing general political instability.
On 15–16 June, a conference on European issues organised jointly by COMECE and the Catholic Central Agency of Social Sciences (Katholische Sozialwissenschaftliche Zentralstelle) was held for the second time at Mönchengladbach in Germany. Participants from a number of countries debated the economic, political and ethical aspects of the current crisis. One of the points they stressed was the possibility that the financial and economic crisis could lead to a political crisis, not only impacting on the EU institutions internally but also causing general political instability. Social unrest makes it easier for populist political parties and Eurosceptics to increase their political clout.
The rise in Euroscepticism is also posing problems for the Catholic Church who by tradition always supports the process of European integration. The conference participants emphasised the backward-looking nature of Euroscepticism, like all other kinds of scepticism: people are unhappy with the current state of affairs because of mistaken decisions taken in the past. Yet scepticism itself does not contribute any kind of vision for the future; it does not harbour any positive elements, while what we actually need today is to be creatively committed to the future.
One of the challenges confronting Europe is the temptation to avoid problems rather than resolve them and to hide within the ranks of Member States with no serious economic or financial problems at the present time. There is also a temptation to substitute unity in homogeneity for unity in diversity. Until now, the vision of European integration has been not only economic but also – possibly even primarily – political, searching for structures that will ensure a lasting peace for Europe. We are still thinking along these lines when we talk about the need to include the Balkan states in these structures. So we have no right to close our eyes to the fact that the line that potentially divides Europe bears a strange resemblance to the line that divided the Continent in the era of the Cold War.
One of the metaphors frequently brought up during this conference was the image of a ship - a ship on board which we are all travelling on the same voyage and in which we could all potentially sink. In former times, this metaphor was evoked in the context of European civilisation by Søren Kierkegaard, according to whom we usually have a captain and a cook on board a ship. The captain is on the bridge and the cook is in the galley. These days – as Kierkegaard used to say – we find the cook has taken the helm and is handing out orders, so we know what we are going to eat tomorrow but have no idea in which direction we are sailing.
The crisis is giving rise to disquiet, because we no longer know what is on tomorrow’s menu. Even so, we can still ask ourselves whether the European crisis is affecting the whole menu or basically the direction our civilisation has decided to take. Here we are not talking only about the European Union. The crisis over the Euro does not initiate a dangerous voyage but is simply a visible and easily understood signal to ordinary citizens that something is wrong with the path that our civilisation is following. Pope John-Paul II was already addressing this subject nearly ten years ago in Ecclesia in Europa. It seems that it is easy to grasp this idea by taking as an example the demographic crisis, which certainly did not start in 2008 and which will not come to an end as a result of taking the correct economic decisions. Given the importance of the questions that have been raised, as well as the interesting ideas and the heated debate, we can consider that this conference was indeed a success. Perhaps, however, for a full understanding of the reasons underlying the crisis, we should reverse the order of the words in the question posed in the conference’s title.
Fr Piotr Mazurkiewicz
Translated from the original text in French