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Hans Maier {*}

"There Is Missing a Common European Feeling"

An Interview with Hans Maier on Europe and Christianity


From: Herder Korrespondenz, 2/2007, P. 70-75
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    At the end of March the fiftieth anniversary of the Roman Treaties will be celebrated. The churches too will seize the opportunity and speak about Europe. But what does Christianity mean today for a united Europe yet? We talked about this question with Hans Maier, the last holder of the Munich "Guardini chair" of Christian Weltanschauung, religion- and culture theory. The questions asked Unrich Ruh.


HK: Mr. Professor Maier, the forthcoming anniversary of the Roman Treaties of 1957 directs the view at the beginnings of the process of Europe's unification and so also at the original motives for the European project. Which role did Christian impulses play thereby?

Maier: They were predominantly Catholic politicians who triggered the European integration: Alcide de Gasperi, Konrad Adenauer, and Robert Schuman who is surely to be regarded as the actual father of the united Europe. That they were Catholics contributed to the fact that they found a common language, that they had common political goals, that they - in a time when to almost all politicians the national shirt was closer than the European skirt - had also a common idea of Europe's future.



Robert Schuman was not only practicing Catholic, but went even each morning to the mass; de Gasperi was similarly moulded by faith. Konrad Adenauer, perhaps less "holy" than his both fellow combatants, had nevertheless clear principles and kept to the natural law and to the Christian social teachings.


"The Christian Democrats Had a Vision How Europe Should Look Like"

HK: The protagonists and their personal connection to Christianity are one thing. But what is happening about the European project as such? Was it not from the outset a decidedly profane affair?

Maier: Certainly. One began with the Coal and Steel Community, the fusion of the French and German coal and steel production. But this union met at that time a nerve: Even Rudolf Augstein, certainly not a friend of the Christian Democrats, spoke in the 'Spiegel' of a "master coup" of Robert Schuman. By ending the central rivalry within the ranges then dominating economy, future reasons for war were - according to the conviction of Adenauer and Schuman - eliminated and the way for peace was paved. In the following years one tried to put some political bones into the 'strait-jacket' of European integration. This led then to the Roman Treaties. They stood at the end of the hopeful phase of foundation of the European integration.

HK: In it above all Christian-Democrat parties were the driving forces in the different countries. Would the united Europe have got off the ground at all without the contribution of the Christian Democrats?

Maier: That is to be doubted. For at that time Europe was not much good to the socialist and liberal forces, to the socialists even less than to the liberals. The Christian democracy, that at that time was strong not only in Germany and Italy but also in France, was a novelty in the European party political scene. It was not bound to the past and also not in the same measure as other parties to national-state considerations. So this new force was able to set signs. The "Nouvelles Equipes Internationales", the first European party office of the Christian Democrats, was in Brussels. At that time one reached out even for Eastern Europe. Thus the European politics played a large role in the political objectives of the Christian-Democratic parties.

HK: What was the reason for this course? Was there for a European commitment in the post-war years a special 'kairos' (auspicious moment) that was used then by the Christian Democrats?

Maier: They had a vision how Europe should look like. One had just experienced a Europe controlled by Hitler and the Nazis, one saw in the East as alternative draft the empire controlled by Stalin. At that time it was questionable whether there could be at all between the Eastern Bloc and the United States a Europe able to act on its own account. In view of this situation the Christian Democrats with their European vision set on the Christian traditions of Europe, connected with those of humanism and Enlightenment. Robert Schuman said once, Europe were looking for itself and knew thereby that its future lay in its own hands. It should not miss the hour of its destiny. Such a statement shows clearly how much the political sphere and the religious idea of a "Christian Europe" cooperated at that time.

HK: But obviously that changed soon. Unless I'm not completely mistaken the reason why people above all accepted the united Europe - without much thinking about non-material questions of the European unification - was that it brought along economic prosperity.

Maier: The economic unification, which originally should be just a means to an end, became in the seventies and eighties an end in itself. But then the collapse of Communism came, and thus after 1990 the question arose: Where is Europe actually to go? What is its actual goal? Thus since the nineties there is an intensifying discussion about Europe's foundations and objectives, which flowed into the work of the European fundamental right convention and into the process of the constitution. It was still relatively simple to reach agreement on European fundamental rights. But up to this day one did not get on with the question how a constantly extending Europe can still be kept able to act. The regulations planned by the treaty of the constitution are put on ice, as long as it is not clear what will become of the European constitution. So far we work in Europe still according to the regulations of the Nice Treaty.

HK: The United Europe is anyhow still an exceptionally complicated thing. It does not invite to identification but rather deters by its bureaucracy. Does a success history look like that?

Maier: The situation is colourful and varied, as also the European states in their history and politics. On the one side just the young generation experiences that Europe is open, that one also - with the help of European programs - can work or study everywhere. The great successes of the European integration are really the internal European marketand the Euro, which one can only describe as marked stroke of luck.



Today it would possibly be no longer possible to realize it! But still no common European feeling corresponds to these achievements. It would have to find first of all its expression in solidarity - particularly between Western and Eastern Europe. Unfortunately the East arrived not yet fully in the West - also fifteen years after the turn (when the Iron Curtain, the wall broke down).

HK: How could it be changed? Who has here above all a "Bringeschuld" (debt to be paid at the creditor's domicile)?

Maier In the next time it all depends whether it is possible to bring about an intra-European discussion about Europe's foundations and objectives. There are definitely starting-points for that. When the American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried in those days to take Europe apart in a "old" and "new" Europe, Jürgen Habermas and others undertook it to develop common European principles. Also Tony Judt's recently published history of Europe is an attempt to determine more exactly Europe's peculiarities between the gone down Soviet Empire on the one hand and American pragmatism and fundamentalism on the other hand. In this connection also the importance of the factor religion for the European identity would have to be brought up.


"Europe's Foundations Are in Full View"

HK: But just the work on the European constitution showed that it is thereby about a hot potato.

Maier: Some states have substantial aversions against the word "Christian", against the word "religion" in general. Nevertheless the foundations of Europe are in full view. France applied for taking up all its cathedrals into the list of the world cultural heritage, and that is, God knows, a religious, a Christian architectural inheritance! But at the same time in the discussion about the preamble of the European constitution France vetoed the mention of Europe's Christian past - and present! That shows that there is in parts of Europe almost schizophrenia in this question, that at least the discussion about it does not properly get off the ground. Well, there are positions formulated by politicians, also just from those of French laicism, but no intellectual argument over Europe's past and future.

HK: The USA sees itself as "nation under god". Naturally the public discourse is religiously coloured. In contrast to this in Europe those who talk of a "Christian Europe" are fast suspected of ideology. Why did the things develop so much away from each other?

Maier: In the 'moment of terror' after the collapse of 1945 suddenly everything was "Christian" in Europe, and Christian ideas found a broad echo in the public, also the idea of natural law. One can see this just by the jurisdiction of our highest courts in the immediate post-war period. That became weaker, as also the talk about the "Occident" came nearly to an end. As an erratic block still the award of the Karlspreis (Charles' Prize) in Aachen remained of it - a memory of old Carolingian Europe. Today one speaks at the most of religious "values" which had to be preserved; whereby this term is problematic, since it tries to define the spiritual sphere with an economic term.

HK: In church statements on Europe's present situation is time and again warned of a laicism that aims at a Europe without God, and that wanted to displace religion from the public life as far as possible. Aren't such warnings and fears - all things considered - strongly exaggerated?

Maier: In any case one must look at this case more exactly. There are also tendencies that go into a different direction. In France, the country of origin of laicism, in the constitution is found the regulation that the state does not "recognize, financially promote and support any cult". But this postulate has been broken several times. This can be seen by the school laws after the Second World War: they plan a financial support of the church schools; and of the candidates for the forthcoming election of the President at least Nicolas Sarkozy declared himself in favour of imparting basic knowledge of religion in public schools. I know from many discussions with French friends that in the intellectual world the borders of laicism are discussed. Only politics keeps with some rigidity to the old positions, as by the way also a part of the church leadership.

HK: Now in Europe there is not only the laicism of French coinage, but also other basic forms of relations between religion and public order. To what extent needs the united Europe here a certain convergence at least in the long run?

Maier: There are two opposite poles in Europe: the laicism outgoing from France on the one hand and the close connection of state and church particularly in the tradition of the Russian Orthodoxy, which is today again alive under President Putin. There are many other forms between them, e.g. those of the German-speaking countries, Italy and Spain. They connect the institutional separation from church and state with the readiness for co-operation. The state does not interfere into the things done by the church, but he recognizes the relevance of this doing. I could imagine that these intermediate forms have more future in Europe than those



extremes that originate from the old Caesaropapism and the old laicism as its counterpart.


"The Arguments for the Reference to God Are So Weighty That They Deserve a New Draft"

HK: Then with the question of the reference to God and the mention of the Christian heritage in the European constitution there should still be possible some success, after the churches with their respective approaches were so far successless.

Maier: I have hope, the hard French position of refusal will relax, even though not in the immediate future. At the same time one must see that also Europe's churches are not in that condition which would have forced politics to get more intensively involved in these questions. Just the statements of Europe's Catholic countries were very different. One can see it with the bishops, but also with the representatives of the Catholic laity. Well, in the European forum of laity majorities for the God reference were always achieved, but they were narrow. The Frenchmen, but also the Belgians and the Catholics from the Scandinavian countries voted always against it. At any rate, the status of the churches and world-descriptive communities is protected in the European Union since the Amsterdam Treaty. There is said that the Union respected the status which churches and world-descriptive communities enjoy according to the legislation of their member countries. That is at least a refusal to a standardizing European religious policy.

HK: The German presidency in the European Council wants to find ways out of the European constitutional crisis. Will one thereby also deal with the preamble again?

Maier: With the resumption of the debate over the constitution one will concentrate on the feasible: that is to tackle with Europe's ability to be governed. Perhaps one will again confirm also the part about the fundamental rights, which is not contentious in its essential features. I think it is unlikely that one unravels the preamble again. But it would be worth a try. To that extent it is to be welcomed that the Catholic and the Protestant Churches in Germany are pulling in the same direction. The arguments for a God reference are so weighty that they definitely deserve a re-submission.

HK: And which are the crucial arguments?

Maier I remind here of the some years ago published book about the Christian Europe, very worth reading, of Joseph Weiler, an American Jew. Weiler points out that the establishment of the European democracy was connected in the French Revolution with a repulsion of the church claims. Historically seen this was quite understandable, but - so Weiler - those times are for a long time past. And in today's world, when on all continents religion is returning, this was an outdated viewpoint. On the other hand Weiler reminds of the fact that any constitution that deserves this name, and is not only a temporary snapshot of the relations between different partners, needs a central idea. But in the European constitution the present religious tradition and the active, lived religiosity are up to now unsuitably faded out.

HK: At present one talks about the "Christian Europe" above all where one regards Islam in Europe as threat to the European identity. Also contemporaries, who up to now were not noticeable as convinced Christians, get suddenly the Christian Occident out of the oblivion. What is to be thought of this?

Maier: This is a strange phenomenon. With a mixture of astonishment and amusement I regard certain colleagues who are hardly to be recognized any longer! But the common uncertainty regarding Islam has a real background: There are countries in Europe where Islam plays hardly any role, or where it is constitutionally integrated for a long time in a very impressive way, as for example in Austria. On the other hand the difficulties with Islam are largest where - as in France - an active laicism or a certain religious indifference - as with us in Germany - collides with the religious claims of Muslim fellow citizens. Necessarily it makes not only on militant but also on completely normal Muslims a devastating impression when each week a Christian church is closed or sold, while at the same time new mosques are built. There then the impression is strengthened that Christianity is hopelessly retreating.


"The Future does not Belong to Laicism"

HK: Against it the refusal of a dialogue with Muslims is just as little helpful as Christian defeatism.

Maier: When I after lectures am asked in astereotyped way what should be done against it that Christianity becomes weaker and weaker and Islam stronger and stronger I always answers: Then you are to fill the churches and to call the Christian message from the roofs! But at the same time the discussion with Islam is needed on a quite clearly outlined basis. As you known the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan reproached the European Union that Europe was still a "Christian club". One should take him at his word:



If Europe were really a "Christian club", the discussion with Islam would be easier. One would have then in the discussion an argument on same eye level. A little of it was to be felt now during Benedict XVI's visit in Turkey. Towards such a thing we would have to steer altogether, instead of defending ourselves anxiously or to propagate the retreat into laicism. Laicism has no future.

HK: Do you hold it for probable that on the one hand in Europe the religious-legal problems with Islam will be satisfactorily solved and that on the other hand it will come to a beneficial social and religious living and working together?

Maier: That depends not least on the initial situation in the different European countries. In Germany we have to do it by the majority with Muslims of Turkey origin: militant movements play here a smaller role. In this respect there is rather a favourable constellation for discussions with Muslim groups, as now the Federal Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble initiated it with his "Islam Conference", and as it is undertaken by the EKD and the Central Committee of the German Catholics. It should be possible to solve the existing problems with the help of law. Fortunately in Germany there is no war of denominations and religions as in Northern Ireland or in former Yugoslavia, where in those days churches were set on fire, and mosques were stormed.


"Everyone Lockes Itself in Its Confessional House"

HK: Islam is for most European countries a new challenge. In contrast to this the denominational variety is long since characteristic of the European Christianity. To what extent does this variety become still apparent in the process of the European unification?

Maier: Protestantism reaches far northward and westward, and this geographical main focus will also remain. For that reason it has also further on more difficulty with the process of European unification than Catholicism. As it was anyway the prominent denomination in the founder states of the united Europe, Catholicism as European factor was strengthened again by Europe's eastward extension and - connected with it - by the Catholics' new possibilities to act. The Orthodox Christians on the other hand must still find their position to Europe; they are often still in the traditional attitude of defence toward the West. But one must say that in the Orthodox Churches of the two new member states Romania and Bulgaria this attitude is substantially less marked than in the Serbian or Russian Orthodoxy.

HK: What then should be done that Christianity - just in its multiplicity - comes again into play as religious strength in the united Europe?

Maier: To it the learning process must continue on the one hand within the individual denominations, which have in each case their specific view of Europe from which they can give their contribution for the European project. On the other hand an appropriate process between the denominations is needed - for mutual enriching as well as correction. That is certainly a long way yet. The deceased Pope John Paul II was a prophet when he spoke of the two lungs with which Europe is to breathe, and when he elevated Kyrill and Methodius on the one hand and Edith Stein on the other hand to Europe's new patron saints. It would be important that also the European intellectuals take up this topic. Some are definitely open for it, but on the whole people are still too little affected by Europe; everyone locks itself into its national, but also into its confessional house, and out of these different houses the 'House Europe' will not so fast come into existence.

HK: As little as there is a Christian policy at all, there is also no Christian European politics. But the united Europe was and could also further on be moulded by Christian impulses. On which fields would that be particularly meaningful?

Maier: In an amazing measure for example the principle of subsidiarity became generally accepted as a formal principle for Europe. It is also vital for a Europe that is not to become a superstate but that at the same time wants to become able to act. In former times the principle of subsidiarity was considered as Catholic reservation; today it can be found in all European treaties. Here one recognized that the Catholics retained something that is meaningful, and that takes the sting out of the centralization by the national state - but also of the centralization by a united Europe. A further point is the social question: If in Europe again somewhat is to come like a Renaissance of the social free-market economy, then the promoting and supporting co-operation of the Christians and the churches is needed. For also the other basic position, the free-market economy "without adjectives" has its supporters in Europe. Finally the European policy could learn from the church, how one can preserve different cultural profiles and at the same time can create an all-embracing political unity.

HK: Should one speak still of a Christian Europe anyway? Is it not rather a wishful notion that has not to do much with reality?

Maier: If one looks for short formulas, one will certainly not be able to define Europe without its Christian past and present. In this respect one may talk of the Christian



Europe, but one should put it in quotation-marks. For as tradition term alone it would in the present world not be strong enough to stand up to all demands. But if it could be filled from inside with new life again, if there could be really something like a "Neuevangelisierung" (spreading the Gospel anew), I would be pleased about it. Then one would return to the law of the beginnings, because the united Europe would not have developed without its fathers, and they were firmly rooted in the Christian faith.


    {*} Hans Maier (born in 1931), from 1962 to 1987 Professor for political science in Munich; from 1970 to 1986 Bavarian Secretary of cultural affairs; 1988 to 1999 holder of the Munich "Guardini chair" of Christian Weltanschauung, religion- and culture theory.


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