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The French politician Robert Schuman (1886-1963) embodies the most genuine spirit of European reconciliation after the Second World War. One of the founding fathers of the European Union, a convinced Christian Democrat of German education and French heart, he was raised in the contested border area of Alsace-Lorraine and thus experienced from his youth the desire for a Europe free of artificial boundaries and joined in cooperation and solidarity. Schuman’s life coincides with one of the most extensive periods of crisis in European history.

“Robert Schuman 1953” / Reino Loppinen / Wikimedia CC0

Schuman’s vision of Europe has been reflected in the many speeches and lectures he delivered throughout his life, but especially in what can be called his political testament — his essay For Europe published in 1963. Although written in the political context of the sixties, Schuman’s essay on Europe continues to have great value for our time because of the powerful inspiration of its perennial principles. Schuman did not look for a provisional solution to resolve the problems of a devastated Europe after the Second World War, but sought to develop a long-term common project based on legal solidarity and constructive endeavor. He was realistic, believing that partial agreements and success should be the starting point for more relevant and lasting achievements. Schuman saw the need to politically organize interdependence and diversity, as well as the need to maintain different levels of government, with different intensities, developing a healthy patriotism and solidarity among peoples.

The starting point for his project was the realization that the division of Europe had become anachronistic. European borders had become an impediment to the exchange of goods, the development of ideas, and the mobility of people. More than a barrier, he thought, borders should constitute a respected meeting point of cultures and ideals. Union and coordination between and among European nations was required. This new supranational level should be founded on the principles of solidarity, international cooperation, majority rule freely accepted by the nation-states, and the principle of equality of rights among them. The aim would not be to join states to create a super-European state, but to allow people to live in different countries that are part of a supranational structure. Key to understanding Schuman’s approach to the organization of Europe is supranationality, situated at the same distance between international individualism and nation-state federalism.

Although written in the political context of the sixties, Schuman’s essay on Europe continues to have great value for our time because of the powerful inspiration of its perennial principles.

Behind this project lie no hidden imperialistic goals or any kind of egoistic inclination, but only the firm desire to achieve peace among nations and to contribute to the development of humanity. The European project falls within a broader one that is the rational organization of the world, of which Europe will become an essential part. It is therefore a peaceful endeavor, based on a matter of fact: countries need each other, regardless of the international power they might hold. Isolation of countries means decline. Patriotism is not opposed to Europeism, because the national can flourish within the supranational. Nations have a mission not only in relation with their own peoples but also vis-à-vis other nations. Nationalism itself, therefore, is a bad refuge.

According to Schuman, Europe is a “cultural community in the most elevated sense of the term” before being a military alliance. It should be thought to have developed a soul in the diversity of its traditions and aspirations. Security is a necessary condition for peace and prosperity, and, like peace, has become indivisible. Thus, Schuman continues, a legitimate and constructive goal of Europe is to guarantee collective defense. Defending Europe is not enough, however, since mere defense of Europe does not necessarily imply building Europe. European countries are interdependent. For better or worse, all countries are united in a single destiny, and this unity demands solidarity between and among nations.

According to Schuman, true political solidarity requires democratic equality. The European project is not imperialistic but supranational and therefore democratic in essence. It implies majority decisions (avoiding any kind of dictatorial superiority), organized cooperation, and a free market, which in turn means competition, confidence, and automatic selection. Finally, the European project demands the cultural development of a real community of ideas, values, and aspirations.

European countries are interdependent. For better or worse, all countries are united in a single destiny, and this unity demands solidarity between and among nations.

Christian Democracy constitutes the framework of Schuman’s European ideal. According to him, democracy and Christianity are strongly linked because “democracy owes its existence to Christianity.” As a doctrine, democracy is linked to human dignity, individual rights and freedoms, and brotherly love toward others. Democracy is an expression of civilized maturity. It took Europe over a thousand years to achieve democracy. “Christianity taught us that all men are equal by nature, children of the same God, redeemed by Christ regardless of race, color, social status, or profession […]. The universal law of love and charity made every man our neighbor.” But Christianity should not be a part of the structure of a political system, nor should it be identified with any form of government. Rather, it is necessary to distinguish what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. Administration of changing situations belongs to Caesar; immutable principles of natural law belong to God. On one hand, theocracy minimizes the necessary separation between the two domains.

The last chapters of Schuman’s essay on Europe are more circumstantial, but they also contain important statements that later history has confirmed. First, Schuman states that without Germany, just as without France, building Europe would be impossible. Second, Schuman foresaw that the United Kingdom would agree to join an integrated Europe only when forced by events. Third, Schuman believed that economic integration was inconceivable in the long term without its logical complement, political integration. Political integration for Europe means federation. This federation of states should avoid the mistakes of nation-states, particularly bureaucracy and technocracy: “administrative paralysis,” Schuman says, “is the basic danger that threatens any supranational organization.” Unfortunately, the European Union has disregarded the voice of one of its founders on a point as important as this. Just look at the institutional European response to Covid-19. ♦

Rafael Domingo is Spruill Family Professor of Law and Religion at Emory University and Alvaro d’Ors Professor of Law at the University of Navarra. You can follow him on Twitter @RafaelDomingoO1.

Recommended Citation

Domingo, Rafael. “Schuman’s European Vision.” Canopy Forum, August 27, 2020.