Europe: Back to the Drawing Boards

Published June 29, 2005

The 70,000-word European constitutional treaty signed in Rome last October was a monstrosity.

According to the eminent international legal scholar J.H.H. Weiler, constitutions should do three things: they should define the relationship of citizens to the state; they should delineate the respective competencies of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government; and they should express the sense of moral purpose that animates a political community. The Euro-constitution did a bad job at the first two and ignored the third.

It made a mockery of the idea of a “constitution” by promiscuously promising something to virtually everyone as a matter of constitutional first principles: from protection of “the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen” to the right of children to “express their views fully.” It prefigured a further decline of democracy in Europe, as overreaching supranational courts and busybody supranational bureaucracies would be called upon to enforce these “rights.” And most ominously, it falsified the past in service to a dubious future, by willfully ignoring the Christian roots of contemporary Europe’s commitments to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in an effort to create a thoroughly secular European public space.

The Euro-constitution had to be unanimously ratified by the twenty-five member states in order to come into force, however. In an act rich in irony – for French politicians had been key players in drafting the constitution – French voters decisively rejected the constitutional treaty on May 29. They likely did it for a lot of reasons, including fears of a “Europe” that would actually foster some measure of economic competitiveness. But whatever the reasons, the result ought to trigger a healthy reconsideration of what precisely the project of “Europe” has become, and where it ought to be going.

As I argue in my book, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (Basic Books), Europe’s greatest need today isn’t for a constitution – it’s for children. Europe is depopulating itself in numbers not seen since the Black Death in the fourteenth century. Decades of below-replacement-level birthrates will send Europe into fiscal crisis in the next ten or fifteen years, as the burden of state-run health car and pension systems becomes unsustainable. That same demographic crisis is already creating grave security problems within Europe, as the demographic vacuum is filled by socially undigested and frequently radicalized Islamic immigrants.

But why isn’t Europe reproducing itself? What’s going on when a continent healthier, wealthier, and more secure than ever before fails to create the human future in its most elemental sense, by creating successor generations? I call what’s going on a “crisis of civilizational morale,” and it, too, isn’t going to be fixed by 70,000 words of legalese. I rather doubt that the French electorate was roundly rejecting the secularism implicit in the Euro-constitution when it voted against ratification; still less do I imagine that French voters were calling for the recovery of Europe’s Christian roots. Yet that’s the likeliest path to European renewal – the re-evangelization of Christianity’s historic heartland. And that path would have been further impeded by a constitution that cast a dubious eye on religiously-informed moral argument in European public life.

Here is an opportunity for Pope Benedict XVI, who knows that the impulse behind post-World War II efforts at European integration came from devout Catholics – Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schuman. At the Cologne World Youth Day in August, might Pope Benedict call a new generation of European Catholics to leadership in the process of building “Europe” – and building it through converting it? I hope so.

At the same time, the Pope might well change the default positions in the Holy See’s Euro-diplomacy. Two weeks before the French shot down the Euro-constitution, a senior Vatican official told the Council of Europe of the Holy See’s “satisfaction” with the Euro-constitution’s mention of the continent’s “religious heritage.” He should have done nothing of the sort. The weasel-language about “religious heritage” was shoe-horned into the text at the last moment, in place of a forthright acknowledgment of Europe’s Christian roots. Pope Benedict might suggest to his diplomats that speaking truth to power isn’t the prerogative of obstreperous French voters alone.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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