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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski


Building Europe

Giuliano Amato

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1The document written by Kurt Biedenkopf, Bronislaw Geremek, Krzysztof Michalski and Michel Rocard goes straight to the crucial dilemma that is confronting Europe. And the instruments that its authors suggest in order to face the dilemma (if not necessarily solve it) reveal an unusual and deep understanding of our “unity in diversity” and of the means by which to draw the best out of its potentialities.

2The dilemma is not a new one, but it has a new dimension in the enlarged Europe: on one hand, the project of Europe as a new political entity based on common values, common goals and common rights enshrined in the Constitution; on the other, the increased diversity of our enlarged family, that might endanger the project. The project—it is argued—cannot rely on the common vision and the political will that supported the golden age of the initial integration of our market, for they seem to be exhausted. At the same time the Constitution, by redefining that vision for an enlarged Europe, envisages a sort of impossible mission, for it seems quite unlikely that the new and heterogeneous membership of Europe can express the new common vision that is needed.

3Should this pessimistic view prevail, it could lead to consequences that are quite disturbing for our future: a lack of credibility for the Constitution, the return of old dreams—a petite Europe as the only political subject vs. the countries of enlargement as espace economique — and eventually the surrender to a view of our diversity as incompatible with any form of unity beyond economic matters. It is not an unlikely scenario; on the contrary, several signs tell us that it may come true. How to oppose it and where to find the resources and energies to preserve Europe (in its entirety) as a political project, albeit a renewed one?

4The Europe Paper says, quite firmly, that the energies we need in support of cohesion must be looked for and found in our common European culture. Our European religions, which are inseparable components of our various cultures, can greatly contribute, not to divide people (as they did in the past), but to bring them together.

5Is this a viable path to an ever-closer integration within our new context (and within an even broader one, that might include Turkey and the Balkans in a not distant future)? Culture is where we tend to differentiate from one another and it is a fact that Europe speaks more of “cultures” than of “culture.” Precisely for this reason, a recent doctrine concerning the “constitutional patriotism” that might be common to an identifiable European people isolates such patriotism from our cultural, ethnic and national identities (I am referring here to Jürgen Habermas). If a political identity can unite us, this doctrine suggests, it has to be based on what we want to do together, not on the “pre-political” values that are typical of each of us. So, where is that “common European culture” and how can it provide the glue?

6Here is where our document is really penetrating: in realizing that no list, nor codification, of European cultural values makes sense, and yet that a European culture does exist. It is a context with open borders, to which a constant confrontation with the new may provide, and actually does provide, verifiable contents, as long as a political leadership exists that is persuasive and convincing in exercising this task; for our common culture—the document says—is not a fact, but a task.

7I personally agree with this analysis, which allows us, first of all, to become aware of the hidden but undeniable shortcomings of the doctrine on constitutional patriotism. The supposed underpinning of this kind of patriotism is purely political, Habermas argues, for culture would be divisive. But we cannot share the political will that is needed to support a European project on only the basis of common economic or political interests. If such a political will exists, it necessarily presupposes common cultural values, without which we can neither support nor accept the European architecture, the rule of law that is dominant within them.

8This includes the definition, and protection, of all those individual rights that “our” rule of law has brought in its wake (the rule of law is not the same all over the world), and the common mission that Europe pursues. Similarly, the well-known doctrine by John Rawls as to the need for an exclusively “procedural” democracy whenever no agreement is feasible on a substantive notion of the common good actually implies some sort of substantive entente. Otherwise, not even an agreement on purely procedural rules would be feasible (and enforceable).

9The challenging question is: what are the common cultural values that underpin our European political identity (and therefore the European construction) and how have they been acknowledged? It is here that the analysis of our document applies. The European construction has been, and will continue to be, a process during which it will continue to be the task of all European decision-makers to take further steps in expounding upon both their political and legal reasoning and the broader underpinnings of their philosophies.

10Most of our common cultural values have been discovered and recognized throughout this process. No previous list of our rights existed when the European Court of Justice first decided in 1963 that we have rights against our own states. And since that first decision we have unanimously acknowledged the “constitutional traditions common to the Member States” as “general principles” of our common European law. How not to see here the distillation, out of different national cultures, of a common cultural denominator that is transformed into a set of common general principles?

11Similarly, in 1993, we had no codification telling us that the protection of minority rights was an essential aspect of our common life. When the European Council, meeting in Copenhagen that year, approved the conditions for future accessions (the protection of minority rights among them), we discovered that it was. And so it has remained.

12The examples can be multiplied (think of the death penalty, that our culture rejects, and which was written in the Charter of our Fundamental Rights), but the rule is already clear and confirms our starting point: that our common culture is not a fact, but a task. And, as long as that task is exercised, we discover and acknowledge something more to be added to what we have in common. Not even the Charter of Fundamental Rights, to which legal force should shortly be given, will put an end to this crucial task. The Charter has been criticized as if it were a rigid and definite catalogue of values and rights, which would cause the process I have described to be paralyzed and frozen. It is not so. The process would only be paralyzed should Europe lose the unique character that has allowed it to flourish (when it has flourished), namely—as our document defines it— its capacity for constant development and renewal.

13If this capacity remains, the Charter itself will be the source of future discoveries and acknowledgements. If it fades away, we will discover that our diversities are incompatible and that only “cultures” exist, with no common denominators among them. The delicate balance enshrined in our motto—”unity in diversity”—would go to pieces.

14It is this delicate balance that preserves the European flavor of the continuously renewed blend of our common culture. And the process of enlargement, even in its future stages with Turkey and the Balkans, has no reason to be feared as a threat of dispossession, as long as its blend is enriched by the two-way input that safeguards the balance: on one hand, the diversities that comprise our family; on the other, the common values that affect the new members (who are simultaneously affected by their diversity) and hold all of us within the same flexible framework.

15How can religions play a role in this complex process? Actually they do play a role, independently of any voluntary decision to do so, by their being inseparable components of our cultures (plural!), as has already been observed. The real question is whether they can combine to strengthen our magical balance, or to disrupt it by arming our diversities against one another. My point here is that they have extraordinary potential for strengthening the balance, and that it all depends on their leadership and on the men and women of good will who want that potential to be used positively.

16The monotheistic religions of our region share one basic common principle: that all human beings are children of the same God. This one principle is (or, at least, should be) enough to oppose any use of religious differences as grounds for conflicting identities. Furthermore the ethical principles that are equally common to them— respect and even love for others, solidarity and a sense that our lives cannot be narrowly restricted to the satisfaction of our selfish needs— have a twofold and converging meaning.

17Firstly, they are, by their very nature, not a divisive factor, but a glue. Secondly, this specific glue is an essential antidote to the fragmenting viruses that have been infecting our (Western) societies by reducing the incentives for community life, enhancing the perceived value of wealth and consumption, and separating our individual destinies from one another in the name of careers and prospects that depend less and less on collective links and actions. From this viewpoint, I dare say that the support of religions is really indispensable vis à vis the scarcity of other resources that we may use to neutralize the same risks.

18It is redundant to say that not even the expected benefits of religious beliefs and principles are facts; they too are the desirable fruits of a task—a task that the repeated and structured dialogues among religions have already undertaken, while the opposite is being done by those political interests (sometimes disguised in religious garments) that use religion as a sword with which to stir ethnic conflict. The future of a European common culture as a basic resource for the cohesion of an enlarged and enlarging Europe depends very much on the contest between these opposite roles of religion.

19Should religion remain a domestic part of domestic cultures— or, even worse, should it be instrumentally used to prove the incompatibility of compatible groups, countries or civilizations—the very texture of Europe would be at risk. Should their principles and values be expounded according to their deepest and most truthful nature (which includes their being intertwined with the prevailing cultures of different countries), that texture would be enormously strengthened, and the sense of our magical balance between unity and diversity would also be enriched.

20Europe is a wonderful construction, but it is also a never accomplished task, a challenge continuously confronting the generations that follow each other throughout the years. The more Europe grows and widens, the more its future cohesion depends on a wider arena, not only of leaders, but of citizens, who have the attainment of that cohesion in their hands. If we accept the conclusion that our common culture is the source from which the energy that keeps all of us together has to be drawn, we must also accept the conclusion that we ourselves are such a source, and that our leaders are responsible for the acknowledgement of the consequent implications. It is not an irrelevant conclusion in terms of an approach to Europe that might be expected from each and every one of us. To those who think that Europe is important to them, a once beloved American President would say: “Ask not what Europe can do for you, ask what you can do for Europe.”


Giuliano Amato is professor of law and a member of the Senate of Italy. Former Vice-President of the European Convention; from 1992 to 1993 and from 2000 to 2001 Prime Minister of Italy. Member of IWM’s Board of Patrons.

© Central European University Press, 2005

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