Don’t betray Schuman

Europe between memory and disquiet. The teachings of a father of the EU

“Continuer, continuer, continuer…”: this is how Robert Schuman replied to those who asked him, as his political life drew to a close, what should be done for the common home. Perhaps in those moments he recalled the emotion experienced presiding over an important European meeting in Strasbourg, when he publically opened a letter, with great anticipation: it was a communication of the European Parliament stating that by large majority vote his lifelong commitment – the European Coal and Steel Community – had been finally adopted. Those present said that Schuman, known to be a calm and controlled person, was overcome with emotion, and tears fell on that sheet of paper he held in his hands. In the book by Sébastien Maillard, “Qu’avons-nous fait de l’Europe?” an “imaginary but not unrealistic” correspondence with Schuman, the author writes: “Your tears told us that Europe born on that day had a father. And that it wasn’t just a cold enterprise engendered by reason alone.” The French journalist added: “The European project will be saved when it will have raised the same degree of emotion in its protagonists, with or without tears.” At the end of the year marking the fiftieth anniversary of his death and with Schuman’s ongoing beatification process, this image conveys an important message for a Europe experiencing a crisis in faith and future. Schuman’s image thus stands out as the message of a father, a father that shuns paternalistic approaches, a father that wished that his beloved offspring, with him and after him, may grow in humanity and may create goodness in freedom, with competence and responsibility. For Europe this paternity was developed only in part, but the omissions and the mistakes cannot fully justify the pessimism, the mistrust and the refusal. The memory of the fathers like Schuman, Adenauer and De Gasperi, must be cherished as an appeal not to loose the direction of history, for it would upset the consciences of its children and grandchildren. If memory was reduced to books, conferences, marble statues and commemorative plaques it would be an act of betrayal of the fathers of the EU. Not betraying Schuman means turning to European populations a question that was dear to him: “What have we done with fraternity?” On that word, which stands for “solidarity” in contemporary vocabulary, Schuman built his thought and political action for Europe. And what now? Not betraying Schuman means rebuilding that very culture of solidarity that gave a soul to Europe, that now risks collapsing because of fear, rancor, false realism and the presumption of self-rescue.  From Schuman comes a strong appeal to institutions, namely, a new vigorous thrust for Europe along the tracks of simplicity and pedagogy. Bureaucracy and technocracy cannot guide the destiny of the Old Continent with their complexities. The gap separating citizens and institutions is growing increasingly wide. The alarm bells are ringing. What should be done? “It’s no longer a question of empty words, but of an act, a daring act, a constructive act”, Schuman said introducing the historical declaration of May 9 1950.  A daring and constructive act is indispensable also today. Schuman’s request extends even beyond the need for “an act of truth and reconciliation” for the European project.  “By speaking of truth I refer to the future of Europe – Schuman points out to Maillard – namely, the transformations that ought to be realized in the economy and within societal systems, and in terms of the goals of the European building whose developments were accelerated by the crisis since 2010. This invites us to a joint reflection on our growth model and on democracy in Europe. European elections in May 2014 are a propitious time.” It is necessary to prepare European grounds with far sightedness: trust and hope can be sown and can bear fruits; we need men and women that will live up to this task. Such people do exist, and more will certainly come thereafter. In a daring and fascinating enterprise, where intelligence and patience join hands, they will discover the presence of Robert Schuman. It is the final promise contained in his answer, imaginary yet not untruthful, to the letters by Sébastien Maillard.

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