“I’m Irish and I’m proud of it. I was born, I live and I will die in Ireland. But this did not prevent me from perceiving something greater and bigger; I never felt that these two spheres – national and European – conflicted with each other. In fact, I always felt that they completed each other.” These were the introductory remarks of Pat Cox, Irishman born in 1952, politician and former journalist. He was entrusted the task of “defining the theme” of the event “(Re)thinking Europe” that brought together in the Vatican participants from all over Europe to discuss the “Christian contribution to the future of the European project”, October 27 to 29. Cox, who served as MEP with the Liberal-Democrat Party from 1988 to 2004, was elected President of the EU Assembly in the last two years in office. In 2004 he was awarded the Charlemagne Prize in recognition of his achievements for EU enlargement to eastern Countries.
An intense two-day agenda of dialogue and debate took place in the Synod Hall, with the final speech delivered by Pope Francis. What is your assessment of the meeting? It’s the first time that I attend a dialogue of this kind and on this scale and I found it extremely interesting, especially the opportunity of listening to the reports of the many workshops that took place.
It was surprising to acknowledge the similarities of the themes brought to the fore, despite the different backgrounds and outlooks,
in geographic terms and with regard to the confessions and languages of the participants: the role of active citizenship, citizens as the embodiment of spiritual and civil values; the role of values such as solidarity and subsidiarity in the definition of European policies; the efficient use of these terms in advancing prospects on climate and development, as in Laudato si’. All of these elements in my opinion exemplify a joint progress.
What are the prospects for the future? In my opening remarks I said that regardless of the outcome, passive commitment is no longer enough. I also said that efforts should be made in all areas, tackling every issue and every single day. Europe is not somewhere outside; it’s right here, and we need to understand that we are the European peoples and this is our common ground. Our exchange of views, which don’t need to be “high-level” or “intellectual” debates, including the times when we meet for coffee, can have Europe as their theme, and they represent an important contribution, along with many others.
Here I perceived a “yearning” to continue this dialogue each in his/her own Country and home.
This feeling grew stronger after having heard young speakers saying that they intend to do the same for their peers, or when participants said: “This is a beautiful initiative; we ought to repeat it in our parish.” These talks need to reach grassroots level.
What do you think of Pope Francis’ speech? I think that all of the Pope’s speeches on Europe contain a clear encouragement that comes from the heart and from the highest level of the Church, calling upon Europe to boost her self-confidence. I consider it extremely important for the Church to transmit this message to political leaders and to European civil society. That message is: “We believe in you and you should believe in yourselves.”
Was it a veritable dialogue? Which fruits did it deliver? I view the three-day meeting in the Vatican as the new beginning of a process; change is brought about not by an event but by a process. I think it was conceived not as an occasion for definition but for reflection, and that is why in my final remarks I said that the yearning to do better together as Europeans is something I will bring back home, for that yearning has been rekindled.
I believe there is the need to step up this kind of occasions.
When Emmanuel Macron spoke at the Sorbonne he said almost the same things, namely, that we need to work with and through people; this cannot be done with dusty books in secret rooms. This historical moment is marked by the need to consult people, speak with them, and this event promoted by COMECE and the Holy See is a part of the process. We also addressed the divides and divisions sparked off between the north and the south of Europe owing to the economic crisis, and between the east and the west due to the refugee crisis or to issues involving moral values. Bringing together such a distinguished group of people outside a political institution, such as the European Parliament, designed for this purpose, is not always an easy thing to do. Bringing together this diversity in a single forum has a special connotation. Whichever may be its imperfections, it can be perceived as a source of nourishment and it forms part of a joint effort.
While for the political realm adopting the criteria of the common good is often difficult at local level, this is all the more true at European level. Do you agree? In my contribution on the definition of the meeting I underlined that by nature the art of politics is a “human” form of art. There ensues that owing to the nature of the person that carries it out, it can be either very daring or very compassionate, courageous or obliging, and at times it may even be cynical. Whether political action is carried out as a vocation of public utility or whether it is based on self-interest and not on the good of society, depends on human nature. This is true in all environments and at all levels. Human nature per se is imperfect. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to reaffirm our ideas. It’s a constant struggle between our best and our worst sides.
Relations between the Church and politics: do we risk missing the times when – in some European Countries – Catholics played a leading role in the public domain? There are widespread debates with different sensitivities in terms of the right balance between the State and the Church. Generally, the Church has a certain degree of authoritativeness when she gives indications with regard to moral values or ideas. I view the relationship between the secular political world and the Churches – in plural terms!- in terms of values and involving the mobilization of great ideas, not by banging the fists on the table but by encouraging a reflection on major challenges, involving all the bearers of shared values.
In your opinion, which model of European unity should be established? Whoever sought a model of unity based on uniformity or homogeneity would annihilate the European Union. The idea of unity without uniformity is the bulwark against excessive perfectionism aimed at homogeneousness. We’re in Rome, in the city where 2000 years ago one could say “cives romanus sum”, but there was no need to be from Rome to say so. This is our history. We don’t need new ideas. The basic question is to build bridges, not barriers.
These are the reflections developed at “(Re)thinking Europe” , which we will transmit to the places where we live and operate every day.