European Union and the Papacy

Frank J Coppa. New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2010. Editor: Robert L Fastiggi. Volume 1, Gale, 2010.

The European system of absolute state sovereignty was introduced by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The papacy, which is the world’s oldest transnational institution, had reservations about the system from the start. Papal concerns intensified following the French Revolution of 1789 and during the Napoleonic Era (1800-1814), when nationalism bolstered state sovereignty in Europe. It was felt that this posed a threat to the multinational states such as Austria, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and the Papal State, which formed the basis of the Pope’s temporal power. This development was criticized in the nineteenth century by Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) in his mirari vos of 1832, and by PIUS IX (1846-1878) in quanta cura and its “Syllabus of Errors” of 1864. Pius also opposed the risorgimento, the movement for Italian unification, due to similar objections. In fact, the papacy did not officially come to terms with Italy until the conclusion of the Lateran Accords of 1929.

Papal concerns about the dangers of excessive state sovereignty and nationalism prevailed during the early twentieth century, as nationalist agitation in the multinational Habsburg state and the Franco-German rivalry contributed to the outbreak of World War I. During the course of that conflict, Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) invoked an alternative system of international relations, and he later proved supportive of the League of Nations championed by President Woodrow Wilson of the United States at the Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920). Pius XI (1922-1939), like his predecessor, supported the league, and he also warned of the danger of excessive nationalism and state idolatry in his mit brennender sorge of 1937. His successor, Pius XII (1939-1958), had to confront the consequences of World War II, which he attributed, in part, to the excesses of national state sovereignty. Indeed, in his first encyclical, summi pontificatus (1939), he argued for a limitation on state authority. Confronted by the devastation of the war, Pius hoped that the United Nations, formed at the war’s end, would prove more successful than the League of Nations in the preservation of peace.

Pius XII Favors European Integration

Within war-torn Europe, Pius championed economic and political integration as a means of easing people’s suffering and effecting a reconciliation between the victors and the vanquished, while also serving to stop Soviet expansion into Western Europe. His vision was shared by the Christian Democratic leaders who emerged in the postwar period, including Robert Schuman of France, Konrad Adenauer of West Germany, and Alcide de Gasperi of Italy. These men, and the parties they led, seconded the papal commitment of defending Western Europe against the Soviet Union and defending the “free” capitalist economy against the communist alternative.

Economic realities, as well as the emergence of the Cold War (1945-1990) and American pressure, contributed to the call for some form of supranational and intergovernmental European union. In fact, the first step toward integration followed the American insistence in 1947 on the establishment of a European organization to distribute the U.S. aid provided by the European Recovery Program, commonly known as the Marshall Plan. This led to the formation in 1948 of the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) by seventeen Western European nations. A year later the Council of Europe was established to advance European integration. Its task proved difficult, however, as the Eastern European states, pressured by Joseph Stalin, refused to participate, and a number of Western European states, particularly Great Britain, were fearful of any infringement on their sovereignty and offered only a limited commitment. Pope Pius XII, citing the supranational nature of the Church, regretted the obstacles placed in the path of European union. In his Christmas message of December 1948, he again rejected absolute state sovereignty and invoked an alternative.

European Economic Integration

The resistance to political integration and the determination of a number of states to protect their national sovereignty led Europeanists, such as the French foreign minister Robert Schuman and the economist Jean Monnet, to call for a pooling of the continent’s coal and steel resources and production. In May 1950 they proposed placing Franco-German coal and steel production under a common authority and having other European states join this economic entity. Following their suggestion, the Treaty of Paris was signed in April 1951, and in 1952 six countries—France, Germany, Italy, and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg)—established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Britain, still concerned about the infringement of its sovereignty, refused to join, and it also rejected the European Defense Community (EDC), which was proposed in 1950 in order to provide for a unified European army. British unwillingness to participate, combined with other domestic factors, led the French to torpedo the EDC in 1954.

However, the French did not abandon plans for the establishment of economic integration, and they proposed the establishment of a European Economic Community (EEC). This was created by the Rome Treaties of 1957, which abolished tariffs between member states and made provisions for a common tariff on goods from non-EEC countries. These objectives were achieved by 1968 under the guidance of four entities: (1) the Council of Ministers, (2) a directing Commission, (3) the Court of Justice, and (4) the European Parliament. A separate treaty established the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). The objectives of the EEC were applauded by Pius XII, and he cataloged the advantages provided by the European organization.

The EEC confronted numerous obstacles, particularly the concern about the diminution of national authority, which delayed but did not stop further integration. To allay the fear of loss of sovereignty the Council of Ministers of the EEC was composed of the foreign ministers (or their representatives) of the various member states, the justices of the court were appointed by the member countries, and the European Parliament was composed of delegates from the various state parliaments. These concessions did not satisfy the British, who suspected that the EEC represented the first step toward European union, for which they were not prepared. Determined to preserve their sovereignty without restriction and retain their special relationships with the United States and the Commonwealth countries, the British refused to join the EEC. Instead, at the end of 1959, Britain formed the loosely structured European Free Trade Association (EFTA), together with Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Switzerland, and Austria—popularly known as the “outer seven.” The EFTA proved unable to compete with the “inner six,” however, leading the British to apply for membership in the EEC in the 1960s. Paradoxically, their entry was now blocked by France’s Charles de Gaulle, who charged that the British were not ready to participate in a European union. He was able to prevent their admission because the inclusion of new members required the unanimous approval of all the existing members. In July 1967, the ECSC, Euratom, and the EEC merged into the European Community (EC), indicating its political as well as economic aspirations.

European Political Integration

Only in 1973, when de Gaulle was dead, did France alter its position and approve the admission of Britain, along with Ireland and Denmark, into the European Community. This was the first of six enlargements of the EC. The years that followed saw the entry of Austria, Finland, Greece, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal, bringing the membership to fifteen. The year 1993 saw the completion of a single market and yet another name change. That year, the Treaty of European Union (also known as the Treaty of Maastricht) established the European Union (EU), whose membership soon increased. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the reunification of Germany and withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe in 1990, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, an additional twelve states were approved for admission into the EU, with ten entering in May 2004 (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia). Bulgaria and Rumania were admitted in January 2007, bringing the total membership to twenty-seven. Several extra-European dependencies and overseas territories of member states—such the Azores, Canary Islands, French Guiana, and Martinique—also form part of the European Union.

European states that have been tentatively approved for membership are known as “official candidates.” In 2007 these included Croatia, whose independence was recognized by the Vatican in 1992; Turkey, which applied for membership as early as 1987; and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Other states, whose applications have not yet been reviewed and approved, are deemed “potential candidates.” In 2007 these included Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. Although the EU does not have an official capital, Brussels, which houses many of its offices and institutions, unofficially serves that role.

Nature of European Union and Papal Response

European integration has evolved in the post-World War II period. The nature as well as the numbers have changed, bringing many of the formerly Communist Eastern European and Baltic states into the Western orbit and, in the view of Pope John Paul II (1978-2005), weaning them from atheism and placing them within a Christian ambience. In this fashion, the EU has helped end the split between capitalism and communism, between democracies and dictatorships. Its expansion and evolution brought institutional changes, and 1979 witnessed the first direct election of members of the European Parliament, who serve a term of five years. The representation in the Parliament is based on population, and in 2007 Germany had the most seats (99), while Malta had the fewest (5).

One of the articles of the Treaty of Maastricht stipulated that those who wished to join had to have a governmental system based upon democratic principles. Subsequently, in a meeting at Copenhagen, the member states elaborated three other criteria for entry, known as the Copenhagen criteria: (1) the need for stable institutions to guarantee their democratic government, respect for human rights, and the rule of law; (2) a functioning market economy capable of coping with the competitive forces within the Union; and (3) the ability to implement the changes and practices determined by the members. The Vatican appreciated the EU’s respect for human rights and its efforts to promote peace and prosperity in the European community and beyond. It concurred with the decision to abolish the death penalty and appreciated the EU’s Latin motto: In varietate concordia (United in Diversity). John Paul II was supportive of the EU, though he did not approve all of its actions or all of the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights that the EU proclaimed in Nice in December 2000, especially those articles that contradict the Church’s teaching. His successor, Benedict XVI, who was elected in 2005, has taken a similar position of general support, with reservations about certain policies.

Although the population of Europe is religiously diverse, Christianity—in the form of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy—remains the most widespread and influential faith in the officially secular European Union. The Christian contribution has been recognized by the EU’s reference to Christianity as part of the “European heritage.” Near the end of 1991, Pope John Paul II, concerned about the future of Catholicism in Europe, convoked the first Synod of European Bishops, which included seventy bishops from Western Europe and fifty from its eastern half. Its final declaration, which acknowledged the influence of Judaism and Islam in Europe, proclaimed the special role of Christianity on the European continent, which they insisted provided the basis for its foundation. Thus, the bishops and the Vatican have been distressed by those positions taken by the EU that challenge Church principles and teaching. In February 1994, John Paul II assailed the resolution by the European Parliament that supported the right of homosexual couples to marry and adopt children, claiming that it legitimized “moral disorder.”

Subsequently, during the course of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995, the Vatican delegation criticized the position taken by the representatives of the EU on population control as “anti-religious and anti-family.” This opposition was outlined by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who in 2005 became Pope Benedict XVI, assuming the name of the patron of Europe. In his first encyclical, deus caritas est (God is Love), promulgated in December 2005, Benedict explained that the Church had no desire to govern the state, but that it could not ignore political developments. He thus showed himself to be determined to preserve Europe’s Christian identity, and he looked to the Christian Democratic-European Democratic coalition, the largest political bloc in the European Parliament, to protect Christian interests. However, this coalition did not possess a majority and was reluctant to expose itself to the charge of being subservient to Rome. Nonetheless, Benedict XVI, like John Paul II before him, has continued to emphasize the Christian roots of Europe.

In 2004, a year before becoming pope, Ratzinger, who was the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, opposed Turkey’s entry into the EU, adding his voice to those who objected to Turkey’s entrance on the basis of its peripheral geographical location and its occupation of one-third of Cyprus. Benedict’s opposition stemmed from his belief that a predominantly Muslim country would never fit into Christian Europe. Some charged, however, that his use of an anti-Muslim quotation in a speech at Regensburg University in September 2006 represented an attempt to revive the mentality of the crusades and exclude Turkey from the EU. The Vatican denied both accusations, and during Benedict’s visit to Turkey, from November 28 to December 1, 2006, he abandoned his position against Turkey’s entry into the EU, sought reconciliation with Islam, and prayed in Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque. Benedict’s stance, as well as his apology for his use of the controversial quotation, was defended by José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, one of the three central organs of the EU.

Institutions of the European Union

The Treaty of Maastricht and the Treaty of Rome form the basis for the EU’s laws, activities, and institutions. Its principal organs evolved from those of the EEC and the EC and include the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, and the European Commission. One important change provided that the 785 members of the European Parliament would be elected directly by the citizens of the member states and share legislative power with the Council of the EU, formerly known as the Council of Ministers. The membership of the council is drawn from the ministries of the member states and chaired by the president or prime minister of the country assigned the task. The member countries take turns holding the presidency of the council, with each serving a six-month term. Membership in the council, as in the parliament, is based on population, so larger states such as Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom each held 29 seats of the total of 345 in 2007, while tiny Malta was assigned only 3.

The rights of the smaller states are safeguarded by the provision stipulating that a unanimous vote is required for important matters, such as amending the treaties, initiating a new policy or program, or admitting additional states. Furthermore, since 2004, the European Commission, which functions as the executive of the organization, has been composed of one member from each member state. Likewise, the European Court of Justice is composed of one judge from each member state, who serves a six-year term. The role of the court is to assure that the laws of the EU are followed and its legislation and treaties properly interpreted. The EU has twenty-three official languages, and all but three of the twenty-seven members (Greece, Cyprus, and Bulgaria) utilize the Latin alphabet. In addition, there are some 150 regional and minority languages spoken by some 50 million people. Various religions are followed in the EU, but Christianity remains the largest faith.

Future of European Union

This supranational, intergovernmental EU, which is the world’s largest political and economic conglomeration, is more than a confederation, for its legislation takes priority over that of member states. An agreement concluded in 1985 (the Schengen Agreement) provides for the collaboration of its police forces and activities as well as a common asylum and immigration policy. The United Kingdom and Ireland did not accept these terms, and the United Kingdom and others balked at aspects of the Union’s monetary policies. In 2005 the EU adopted a comprehensive energy policy that involved a strenuous effort to control carbon dioxide emissions, though the results have been mixed. Furthermore, while some decisions are made by majority vote, the more important ones continue to require unanimity. Clearly, the EU is not yet a federal state, and several moves to enhance the sense of European citizenship and political centralization have been frustrated, particularly the 2004 attempt to provide an EU constitution. The proposed constitution, which was ratified by seventeen members, was rejected by French voters in 2005, and their rejection was repeated by the Dutch soon after. Thus, the future of European constitutionalism and the timetable for closer political union remain uncertain.

On the other hand, economic and fiscal integration have proceeded apace. The EU has a substantial budget, which is provided by custom duties on products imported from outside the EU, a percentage of the value-added tax on goods and services throughout the union, and contributions from member states based on their overall wealth. In 2002 euro notes and coins were adopted, and by 2007 the euro had become a strong international medium of exchange, competing with the dollar and replacing the currency of thirteen member states. The European Central Bank (ECB) has successfully managed the euro as well as the EU’s monetary policies, and it has contributed to making the EU the world’s largest economy and exporter of goods. Not surprisingly, many (though not all) of the European states that remain outside the union are anxious to join, and the Vatican has generally supported its expansion. While the Holy See has not accepted or sanctioned all the actions and positions of the EU, it has been consistent in asserting the need for this transnational organization.