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Pope Francis reminds EU of its founding vision

31 March 2017


Flag-waving: Roman Catholic nuns attend a pro-EU demonstration in Rome on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome

Flag-waving: Roman Catholic nuns attend a pro-EU demonstration in Rome on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome

THE European Union — which marked its 60th anniversary last week — must rediscover its founding vision, or it will die, Pope Francis has said.

In a speech to the heads of EU governments who had gathered in the Italian capital last Friday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which brought the organisation into being, the Pope said that the EU should not be simply a collection of rules and protocols, but a “way of life”.

Europe was beset by a bewildering array of crises, he warned: continuing economic problems, plummeting trust in institutions, waves of unmanageable migration. If the EU became trapped by its problems, and cannot see the way forward, he said, it risks dying entirely. He continued: “Europe finds new hope when she refuses to yield to fear or close herself off in false forms of security.”

The “founding fathers” of the EU forged the Common Market in the aftermath of the Second World War as a conscious rejection of that conflict; so, too, today’s European leaders must reject the populism and isolationism — which are a kind of “egotism” — that is sweeping Europe, and instead recommit to the ideal of solidarity, he said.

In particular, he went on, the migrant crisis cannot be addressed solely as a numerical or security question. The EU will have failed its founding promise if it ends up “dominated by the fear that others will wrench us from our usual habits, deprive us of familiar comforts, and somehow call into question a lifestyle that all too often consists of material prosperity alone”.

Europe has forgotten what it has achieved — the longest stretch of peace in recent centuries — and what it can achieve, the Pope suggested. Despite being incomparably richer than 60 years ago, “today’s prosperity seems to have clipped the continent’s wings and lowered its gaze”.

This is not the first time that the Pope has urged the EU to expand its horizons, and do more, in particular, for migrants fleeing to the continent. In 2015, Pope Francis said that only a co-ordinated European response could begin to tackle the crisis (News, 20 April 2015).

He has also previously chided the bloc for becoming “aged and weary, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust, and even, at times, suspicion” (News, 25 November 2014).

Leaders from 27 of the member states of the EU joined together in Rome to celebrate 60 years since the founding of the Union and signed a new declaration “taking pride in the achievements of the European Union”, which they described as a “bold, far-sighted endeavour”.

The only EU leader not present was Theresa May, who was not invited. On Wednesday, she formally sent a letter to Brussels invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which begins the process of quitting the Union.

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