If you read the biographies of the figures now seen as the "founding fathers" of the European Union two things are very apparent. Firstly, in different ways dictated by their different national origins, they resisted Nazism or Italian Fascism; and secondly their inspiration was that a Europe that had a range of economic and social interdependence was a Europe that would not again be able to be rent by the horror of warfare.
Konrad Adenaur - who refused to decorate Cologne with swastikas for a visit of Adolf Hitler after the Nazis came to power.
Alcide de Gaspari - who was imprisoned by the Italian fascists before the Second World War, and subsequently protected from them by way of an employment in the Vatican library.
Sicco Mansholt - an active and effective member of the resistance movement against the Nazis in occupied Holland during the Second World War.
Robert Schuman - active in the French resistance against the Nazis, who narrowly escaped deportation to Dachau. [Robert Schuman was sheltered for at least part of the time at the Catholic Shrine of La Salette, where a room in the shrine complex is named after him.]
Altiero Spinelli - imprisoned for 16 years by the Italian fascists.
Winston Churchill - whose plea for a "United States of Europe" makes a complete nonsense of Boris Johnson's claim that Churchill would join him in campaigning for an out vote.
It is sad that, given the original inspiration of a shared economic and social life between the different nations of Europe in favour of the promotion of peace between those nations, the present debate before the UK's referendum on membership of the European Union is being conducted almost exclusively in the language of self interest. Our politicians are presenting us with the wrong question, that of which outcome will make the UK more (apparently) prosperous, whereas the right question is that of the common good of all the peoples of Europe.
Pope Francis has reminded us of this original inspiration in his address on receiving the Charlemagne Prize:
The writer Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, has said that what we need today is a “memory transfusion”. We need to “remember”, to take a step back from the present to listen to the voice of our forebears. Remembering will help us not to repeat our past mistakes (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 108), but also to re-appropriate those experiences that enabled our peoples to surmount the crises of the past. A memory transfusion can free us from today’s temptation to build hastily on the shifting sands of immediate results, which may produce “quick and easy short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fulfilment” (ibid., 224).
To this end, we would do well to turn to the founding fathers of Europe. They were prepared to pursue alternative and innovative paths in a world scarred by war. Not only did they boldly conceive the idea of Europe, but they dared to change radically the models that had led only to violence and destruction. They dared to seek multilateral solutions to increasingly shared problems.It is worth reading the whole of Pope Francis' address for its account of a Europe rooted in three capacities - the capacity to integrate, the capacity for dialogue and the capacity to generate .