9 May is Europe Day. It deserves a blog.
It's kept on this day because it marks the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration on 9 May 1950. This was the momentous event that proposed the merging of the French and German coal and steel industries. So it came to be seen as the founding moment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) out of which the European Union evolved.
Robert Schuman (not to be confused with the composer!) was Prime Minister of France and the first President of the European Parliamentary Assembly. He is regarded by many as the "Father of Europe" for his visionary approach to the reconstruction of the postwar continent. Most important, from our perspective, is the faith of this profoundly Christian statesman. A devout Roman Catholic, his thinking about Europe was deeply influenced by catholic social theology with the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and the quest for the common good right at the heart. I've blogged about the Christian influences on the European project before.
Think about it. Today, 8 May, marks the anniversary of the end of the war in Europe in 1945. We are right to call it VE Day because it marks the liberation of all our peoples from the scourge of Nazi totalitarianism. That includes the liberation of the German people themselves from the terrible years of Nazi occupation - not just the occupation of their land but of the nation's mind and heart and psyche.
A mere 5 years later, almost to the day, the Schuman Declaration marked the willingness of historic sworn enemies, France and Germany, to begin to collaborate economically. It's an extraordinary achievement. Since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, which itself drew on a long history of rivalry in Europe, these two nations had been sworn enemies. To begin to heal memories, grow trust and discover how instead of fighting they might work together for the good of all their people would have been undreamed-of a mere half a decade earlier.
So I want to promote Europe Day as the natural "day after" VE Day. Victory in Europe would have meant nothing had there not been an entirely new spirit abroad to rebuild the shattered continent that had suffered so awfully. This was thanks to Schuman and others like him who took the Christian vision of reconciliation and peace-seeking with the utmost seriousness. And although the EU is far from being free of severe strains and unresolved tensions, armed conflict has not broken out among its member nations ever since that day. It's a huge achievement we need to talk up and celebrate.
My generation has been the beneficiary of these six decades of peace. I was born less than a month before the Schuman Declaration. I count myself hugely fortunate to have been spared the upheavals of war experienced by my parents and their parents. We so easily take it for granted. We get into a way of thinking about the EU that is dominated by the economy, security and migration, but that is worryingly short on memory when it comes to why we are part of it in the first place. These two days 8-9 May remind us.
Yes, I'm an idealist about the EU because - despite all its difficulties, I still believe in its founding vision. Not uncritically or naïvely: it can and does get things wrong. But that's no reason not to persevere with a project that has given this continent so much. Indeed, I think of myself as a European before I am British (and British before I am English). That's partly thanks to my Anglo-German parentage. But I think it's more to do with my Christian faith. As I read it, the gospel impels us towards a greater integration with all the human family. My being European is a vital part of my identity because it's one of the ways in which I see us growing together in committed bonds of peace and collaboration with our fellow human beings. It doesn't stop at the borders of Europe. But it can start there.
However, I'm also a realist. I suspect that we who are "conviction Europhiles" will always be a minority in the UK. Europe Day is never going to be a public holiday here. I doubt you'll see the EU flag fluttering from many public buildings or draped in the front room windows of Europhile homes. I don't imagine that many school assemblies will make it their theme (I'd love to be proved wrong) or that church bells will ring out in celebration.
But perhaps there are readers of this blog who may just think the day is worth raising a glass to and say a prayer of thanksgiving and hope. It's a good time to remember the founding purposes on which the European Union was established. So I urge us not to forget peace and human rights, social welfare and education, solidarity with the poor, democracy, the environment, cultural exchange and all the other ways in which the EU has made such a difference not just to the continent but the world. Let's recall that we are in this for the common good. There is indeed a long hard road ahead that we need to travel. But I want the UK to take a lead in this great collaborative venture and not be left on the sidelines.
So let's go on making the case for voting #Remain In the referendum. We know it makes sense for all the best geo-political, world trade, economic and security reasons. We know we are #StrongerIn. But let's not forget our history, where we came from. Let's not forget the founding vision and the Christian faith that inspired it. Let's celebrate Europe Day with real thankfulness and hope. And pray for the EU, its institutions and all its member states, and not least, for the referendum itself.