The crisis as an opportunity for a necessary deepening of Europe
Fear not only resonates with the siren songs of the populists but also masks the possible consequences of populism and nationalism, whose solutions to the crisis seem to be rooted more in confrontation than in collaboration.
Anyone trying to keep up with the debate on Europe these days can easily find their head spinning with the wealth of suggestions on offer. As well as providing safety nets and emergency parachutes for Member States in financial difficulties, the creation of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which also received the blessing of the German Federal Constitutional Court, has brought a little calm. Nevertheless, there is a constant worry that the measures put in place might be too little, too late, and thus ultimately not sufficient to ward off the disaster of a collapse.
Stabilising the budgets of the Member States will always require economies to be made. Having said that, it has become obvious that “austerity” alone cannot achieve the upturn needed to get us out of the crisis. One actually begins to sympathise with the politicians, as they have very little room for manoeuvre. It also seems impossible to find the one solution that will “cut the Gordian knot”: in almost every conversation with politicians, we can ourselves almost feel the hot blast of the voters’ breath down their necks, reminding them of the need for “concrete results”. These expectations are echoed in the mantras of “jobs, jobs, jobs” and “growth, growth, growth” – while the specific issues of “how” and “with what” are often pushed aside and forgotten.
The torrent of literature about Europe in recent weeks and months is also enough to make any reader dizzy. Starting with “On Europe’s Constitution” by Jürgen Habermas, followed by the polemic of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Guy Verhofstadt “For Europe” or the book “De la démocratie en Europe” by Sylvie Goulard and Mario Monti as well as “Der Europäische Landbote” by Robert Menasse, and in many other books, the common finding of each author – whether Prime Minister, MEP, former minister-president, philosopher or writer – is that the crisis must be used as an opportunity for a necessary deepening of Europe. But they have not provided any answer to the crucial question of how these next steps towards a common European financial policy, including stricter budget control, all the way to a federal Europe, can be explained (even though they can be understood from a technical point of view) and made palatable to “the citizen”, who threatens to become the new “wandering ghost” that haunts Europe. Given the concrete existential fears of many people, the “ordinary” citizen’s distaste for “visions” and “ideas” seems understandable. It also has to be said that fear not only resonates with the siren songs of the populists but also masks the possible consequences of populism and nationalism, whose solutions to the crisis seem to be rooted more in confrontation than in collaboration.
It is COMECE’s task to consider all these pressing issues of people and policy, even if we cannot offer “instant answers” to many of the questions raised. Unlike political representatives, we at COMECE do have time available to turn – together with other European ecclesiastical offices of Caritas, CIDSE, the Jesuits, the Dominicans, and maybe also with other “think tanks” – to consider the endless flow of questions associated with the deepening of the European Union. Despite its own internal crisis, the Church must also try to promote a deeper understanding of the idea of European integration in a way that will make it not just a project belonging to an elite group of Europhiles, but rather a project that “ordinary citizens” will buy into as being aligned with their own interests.
Both the plenary assembly of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference in early November (held in Brussels as “a sign of solidarity with the European project”) and the most recent plenary assembly of COMECE on 21–23 November (discussing what internal adjustments and changes are needed to improve its position in order to confront the challenges of Europe) are certainly new steps towards creating a far greater awareness of the socio-political responsibility of the Church. This is entirely in keeping with the Second Vatican Council, held half a century ago.
At this point we would also like to thank Mgr Piotr Mazurkiewicz who, over the past four years as COMECE’s General Secretary and as co- editor in chief, has written numerous editorials for europeinfos. On 2 February 2013, he will be succeeded by the Rev. Fr. Patrick Daly, priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, as the new General Secretary of COMECE.
acting COMECE General Secretary
Translated from the original text in German