On May 9th every year, Europeans celebrate peace and unity. It is called ‘Europe Day.’ “The date marks the anniversary of the historic ‘Schuman declaration.’ At a speech in Paris in 1950, Robert Schuman, the then French Foreign Minister, set out his idea for a new form of political cooperation in Europe, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable,” explains the europa.eu website.
“The European Union is a community of values.” “Europe is our destiny.” “Europe is also about solidarity and unity.” “Together we can help build many strong societies.” “We will move towards a future of unity, equality and solidarity.” “We are different, but together we are strong.” “Europe is you, me, us, everyone.” “Our citizens want to return to normal life and build a better future.”
These words of encouragement from EU countries’ leaders were broadcasted as video messages on the occasion of Europe Day 2020. The messages greatly reflect the current crisis caused by the novel coronavirus epidemic, and many of them underline the importance of solidarity. Hearing the EU leaders’ messages is like listening to a Beethoven symphony: it creates perfect harmony. Trouble brings us closer – this is deeply incorporated in our human nature.
It is not only the EU leaders who constitute this well-tuned orchestra. The Jesuit Conference of European Provincials submitted a message to the institutions of the European Union about the need for solidarity amidst the coronavirus crisis. “The unsettling experience of the coronavirus pandemic has strengthened the awareness of all the peoples of Europe of a bond of interconnectedness that links us all,” reads the document signed by 21 Major Superiors of the Society of Jesus in Europe and the Near East. They cite Pope Francis, who says, “the European Union is currently facing an epochal challenge, on which will depend not only its future but that of the whole world.”
The Conference document highlights that “we cannot, either as individuals or as polities, hope to return to the ‘old normal.’ We must seize the moment to work for radical change inspired by our deepest convictions.”
Many Europeans are ready to accommodate these genuine thoughts and trust that against all odds, the world will change for the better after the coronavirus crisis.
When we think of a better world that comes after the pandemic, we might have a vision about how it should look. There is one thing though we can take for granted. The transformation to the new world will not be fuelled by increased financial resources. Economists warn us that the economic havoc might be bigger than the one we had in 2008.
But just think about some of the most appalling miseries we have in the 21st century: racism, violence, discrimination, uneven global distribution of wealth (co-existence of luxury and poverty), an oversized ecological footprint, global warming, pollution, lack of solidarity, exploitation, terrorism, menacing demographic trends. How many of the top 10 are of financial origin?
Changes that take us to a better world are not written in a screenplay. It will not unfold overnight either. The paradigm-shift will take place if we change the course of our lives voluntarily, and consider the current crisis as a pivotal milestone along the road.
It is tempting to make governments and authorities exclusively responsible for adjusting priorities to the new European after-crisis norms and act accordingly. Our leaders pledged themselves to it on Europe Day, didn’t they? Let’s hope they mean what they say, they are serious about it, and they put their act together. There is a lot of work to be done related to grounding structures of society on a fair playing field, and eliminating sources of suffering.
Nevertheless, one cannot miss that there is also a lot of tension in Europe these days – false tunes played by the orchestra: lack of coordinated handling of the epidemic; disputes about financing the recovery from the health- and economic crisis; turmoil caused by a new wave of migrants. Some go as far as saying that “COVID-19 may tear apart the European Union.”
Circumstances are set. European politicians must rapidly coordinate new, sustainable, and appropriate solutions in the areas of healthcare, employment, social welfare systems, environmental protection, and more. It will be challenging enough to accelerate this work aggravated by weakening economies.
That is the communal dimension. Yet there is something I can do in another way in order to make changes happen. Yes, we can all make a difference. We have seen so many touching examples of bravery, courage, and solidarity in Europe during these troubled times. Whether ‘solidarity’ shall rather be a term describing one of our most important common values in Europe or it will just remain a buzzword to be used on elated occasions such as Europe Day, is really up to us.
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