All eyes are watching to see how the French voters decide on Europe’s future. That’s not an exaggeration. These elections are different. The consequences threaten to be far greater than that of Brexit.
For those of us praying for God’s will to be done in Europe, the outcome should be of great concern.
Why different? Presidential elections have usually been shoot-outs between Socialists and Republicans. This time the Socialist candidate, saddled with President Hollande’s unpopularity, was not even in the running. Since being accused of nepotism, the Republican candidate, François Fillon, trailed behind the leaders, the socio-liberal Emmanuel Macron and national-populist Marine Le Pen, neither of whom represented the traditional establishment.
French voters are disillusioned with career politicians. They want change, if not revolution, to overthrow the system.
Yesterday was their chance to speak out. Last night it became clear that they rejected both the Socialist and Republican parties. The final round will now be between Macron and Le Pen in two weeks’ time.
What’s at stake? While Macron is pro-European and for open borders, Le Pen wants to leave the EU, the Euro and NATO, and close borders again. The choice is now between an open and a closed society. But can we imagine the EU without France? Even Brexit would be redefined: what would Britain be exiting from?
‘Is the EU worth it, or should we end it?’ This question posing the options now before the French public is the title of a short video which has gone viral on YouTube over the past ten days with over two million hits. It could be the best seven-minute investment you’ll make today. Check it out. This clip, reminding us why the EU came into being and what has resulted, should be shown in schools all over Europe.
I am often confronted with the failure of our education systems–and of the EU itself–to explain its existence beyond the pale of Brussels. Europe Day, for example, marking the start of the European project with the Schuman Declaration on May 9, 1950, remains one of Europe’s best kept secrets.
Over Easter, I held two ‘passion groups’ on history at an IFES European Students conference in Germany. Of the 25 students from all over Europe attending our sessions, only three had ever heard of Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister officially recognised as the ‘father of Europe’. Even the two French students, who had assumed everyone would know about him, knew little of the spiritual background of the Schuman story.
On Saturday, the fourth session of our European Studies Course was held in the Schuman Salon in Brussels, on the topic: Understanding and evaluating the European project. We watched the film, A Vision for Europe (also deserving of much wider viewing), on the Schuman story. Post-war reconciliation between France and Germany, it reminded us, was the keystone of the whole European edifice.
We then examined Schuman’s public theology (worth comparing with Le Pen’s France first platform), quoting from his book For Europe, and other sources:
• ‘Loving your neighbour as yourself’ was a democratic principle which, applied to nations, meant being prepared to serve and love neighbouring peoples.
• The universal law of love and charity made every man our neighbour. No race or nation could claim greater importance in God’s eyes.
• Applied to the community of peoples, forgiveness and reconciliation–even with those presently seen as the enemy–were Christian imperatives.
• Europe had to become a ‘community of peoples deeply rooted in basic Christian values’.
• ‘Europe’ cannot and must not remain an economic and technical enterprise: it needs a soul.
These are the words of a man whom the Swiss paper, Sie und Er, once described as: ‘incorruptible, deeply religious, not quite the image of a statesman of the French Republic. A confirmed bachelor, Schuman admits quite openly that he is intimidated by women. In the Third Republic, he would have been unthinkable. Schuman is not … corrupt like so many ministers of the Third Republic, he is not grandiloquent and unbending like de Gaulle; he is straight and honest—nothing more nor less. A politician who rejects trickery and pretention is a rarity, and an agreeable one at that—and not only in French politics.’
Sadly ‘integrity’, ‘incorruptibility’ and ‘honesty’ are not words often used to describe today’s politicians, who can hardly be expected to give Europe a soul! That’s why we cannot leave our future just to the politicians. There’s far too much at stake.
We invite you to explore with us Schuman’s vision for a ‘community of peoples deeply rooted in basic Christian values’ at the State of Europe Forum in Malta in two weeks (register very soon!), or on the last two sessions of the European Studies Course in Brussels, or during the five-day Masterclass in European Studies in Amsterdam, August 1-5.
And let’s keep praying for France.
Till next week,