It is only a matter of days since the world recalled the outbreak of the Great War one hundred years ago. Yet peace in Europe (or anywhere else in the world) remains fragile: daily we witness Russian troops making incursions into eastern Ukraine as fighting escalates and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso stated today that: "We may see a situation where we reach the point of no return". And if this seems far from the shores of Britain, the remembrance that the First World War began with the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in eastern Europe should make us stop and think.
At the same time as President Barossa is calling for Europe to "stand by its principles" before the crisis reaches a "point of no return" we, in Britain, are facing two opposing political developments: the forthcoming vote on Scottish independence and the rise of anti-EU rhetoric focussed by UKIP. The latter seems fueled by two concerns, immigration and a perceived notion that the UK needs to become a ‘democratic, self-governing country once again (which) can only be achieved by getting our nation out of the European Union and reasserting the sovereignty of Parliament’ (statement on UKIP website). Whilst this seems to have growing popular support, not least amongst members of the Conservative Party, it is worth recalling in light of developments concerning the security of Europe why the nations of our continent began the process of coming together after the Second World War. The overall aim of the EEC/EU, since its foundation in 1958, has been ‘to promote peace; the values of human rights; democracy; equality; the rule of law; and the well-being of its peoples. These values are the bedrock of the EU’s work and its role in the world.’ (Irish Dept. of Foreign Affairs) Shortly after the end of the War Robert Schumann delivered a major speech in Strasbourg in which he spoke of the way that the nations of Europe needed to come together so that 'war (between France and Germany) becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.’ http://europa.eu/about-eu/basic-information/symbols/europe-day/schuman-declaration/index_en.htm He went on to state that: ‘The European spirit signifies being conscious of belonging to a cultural family and to have a willingness to serve that community in the spirit of total mutuality, without any hidden motives of hegemony or the selfish exploitation of others. The 19th century saw feudal ideas being opposed and, with the rise of a national spirit, nationalities asserting themselves. Our century, that has witnessed the catastrophes resulting in the unending clash of nationalities and nationalisms, must attempt and succeed in reconciling nations in a supranational association. This would safeguard the diversities and aspirations of each nation while coordinating them in the same manner as the regions are coordinated within the unity of the nation.’ When measured against the petty nationalistic rhetoric of UKIP and their supporters I find Schumann’s vision inspiring – and challenging. Of course, unity has to begin somewhere – in this case as a Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) – there has to be a greater vision than simply materialism. As human beings we have an urge towards a union of hearts and minds, as expressed so eloquently by Schumann. Yet these observations and this call to unity seems forgotten and even our political journalists and commentators, when questioning the narrowly focussed oratory of Farage and his supporters, fail to direct attention to this vision and call to live in peace and security.
It is, then, with some amazement that I hear many of those calling for the UK to leave the EU also demanding that the Scots remain part of the UK. Clearly, what’s sauce for the goose isn't sauce for the gander! Michael Gove, for example, seems to be a passionate supporter of the Union (of Scotland and Britain) but an equally passionate opposer of the Union (European). And, whilst I cannot find a UKIP Policy on the matter (their website lists few actual policies) I note the passion with which Farage supports the Union (ditto Gove). Here we seem to have a case of double-think or possibly, in psychological terms, cognitive-dissonance. And whilst F. Scott Fitzgerald observed: ‘intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function" it seems more reasonable to assume he was referring to holding different views on the same subject rather than double-think!
Christianity - catholic at least - has always believed that humankind belongs together and that our task is to work towards unity. For our tendency towards separation, the pull to individualism, is strong as is the feeling that ‘I’m right – you must be wrong’. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: ‘… if we pray the Our Father sincerely, we leave individualism behind, because the love that we receive frees us from it. The "our" at the beginning of the Lord's Prayer, like the "us" of the last four petitions, excludes no one. If we are to say it truthfully, our divisions and oppositions have to be overcome. (p.2792) It is easier to fragment than unify, live apart than together, separate than integrate. Yet fragmentation, living alone and separation cannot satisfy our deeper human need for belonging together. Not for nothing was it that, on the eve of His passion and death, Jesus chose to pray – extensively – for the union of his disciples (John 17) for the lure of separation has been there since Eden but the call to union is the heavenly vision.
Perhaps that is something we need to recall.