There was a certain degree of cynicism when the Pope decided to place the EU’s founder on the path to canonisation earlier this month. The veneration of an ‘arch euro-federalist’ may seem like an overtly political decision from the See of Rome: a love letter from one unaccountable supranational bureaucracy to another. But in truth the piety and integrity of Robert Schuman — a man born a German citizen who served as both French prime minister and foreign minister — make him a good candidate for sainthood. I am a great admirer of Schuman and I do, in fact, consider him a saint. But after years devoted to the study of his life, I found myself a passionate opponent of Britain’s membership of the European Union and campaigned for us to leave.
Schuman’s 1950 coal and steel declaration is the origin of all the institutions that now make up the EU. Although Schuman used some cunning to get the proposal through the French Council of Ministers, the declaration itself was pretty frank about the destination:
“By pooling basic production and by instituting a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries, this proposal will lead to the realization of the first concrete foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace.
It is thus unsurprising that the EU celebrates the anniversary of Schuman’s declaration every year as ‘Europe Day’. He was a good, indeed a saintly, man but it is hard not to feel he created a monster. The modern EU is a free-floating self-interested structure, unmoored from any national political culture that might hold it to account. Brussels extends itself into every area of national sovereignty, extinguishing democracy as it goes. The EU is punctilious about its own rules when this extends the cause of federalism and oddly forgetful of them when they inconvenience the project.
This may have been the plan of the technocrat lurking at Schuman’s elbow, Jean Monnet, but it was not Schuman’s intention. Schuman was a great Atlanticist (a signatory of the North Atlantic Treaty) and an extremely zealous Catholic. He was well aware of the lack of a European ‘demos’ — the natural social basis of a singular democracy – but that was rather the point. He believed that the true European ‘demos’ transcended the boundaries of the continent and encompassed the entire culture created by Christendom’s synthesis of Roman Law, Greek Philosophy and the Abrahamic Covenant.
Schuman was a close student of Thomas Aquinas and a great admirer of the 20th-century Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain. Schuman believed that political structures, altruistic in regard to those within them, were inevitably bearers of a destructive ‘collective egotism’ to those outside. This dynamic was inexorable unless transformed by a Christian charity which, preserving the natural unit of the nation, would unite every tribe, and tongue, and people into a transcendent whole.
If Christianity was central to Schuman’s vision of Europe, why were the early EU structures secular? Schuman hoped that by creating entirely secular structures, morally dependant on this transcendent demos, he would create a sympathy between this entity and the Church, without being guilty of ‘any clericalist or theocratic conspiracy’. Maritain had even written back in 1940:
“The acceptance by all the members of the [European] federation of the reductions in the sovereignty of the State required by an authentic international organisation would lead at the end, if they are conceived under the banner of liberty, to the establishment of what we can properly call in its own right a new Christendom.
But Schuman had put the cart before the horse. He presupposed a vigorous Christian culture to sustain the ‘new Christendom’ and thought the European institutions would be able to renew Christianity. instead they created a secular rival for the Church. Just as national welfare systems usurped personal charity, thereby turning the state into a surrogate father, so the supranational EU attempted to bind the nations of Europe together by a kind of sublimated collective egotism that made it a surrogate Church. Actual fathers and the actual Church have found themselves surplus to requirements — or rather, their necessity has been painfully illustrated by their replacement.
Schuman exhibited some uneasiness about this possibility even as his new Europe was finding its legs. He dubbed this Europe a ‘generalised democracy in the Christian sense of the term’ but worried that an ‘anti-Christian democracy would be a caricature which would sink into either tyranny or anarchy’. Welcome to the 21st-century.