[Austen Ivereigh] The European Union needs to be rethought to give more freedom and independence for its member states, Pope Francis told journalists on the return flight from Armenia last night.
Although he did not directly answer the question from the National Catholic Register‘s Edward Pentin if he was worried that Brexit could lead to the disintegration of the EU, the Pope said there was a “climate of division” within Europe, and that “something was not working” in it, given the rise of unemployment and nationalism.
He said the European project needed to recover something of the creativity and “healthy disunity” of its founding fathers.
“Give more independence, give greater freedom to the countries of the Union. Think of another form of union, be creative,” the Pope said, adding that a “liquid economy” in Europe was giving rise to mass youth unemployment.
“Something is not working in this massive Union,” the Pope said. But that did not mean “we throw out the baby with the bath water”.
His comments came at the end of his answer, which began by noting that in Europe now there was an “climate of division, not just in Europe [as a whole] but in the countries themselves”, citing as examples the independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia.
He then spoke of the difference between “emancipation” and “secession”. The first was typefied by Latin-American independence from Spain in the early nineteenth century or African independence from European states in the twentieth, which were “understandable, because behind them there are histories, cultures”. But emancipations often triggered balkanization, the fragmentation of nation-states into smaller units.
The Pope said he had not studied Britain’s reasons for voting to leave the EU, but said that “before moving forward towards division” it was necessary “to speak properly between us, and look for viable solutions.”
As a general principle, he said, “unity is superior to conflict” but that there were various forms of unity, and of fraternity”.
Countries in the EU were saying, “I’m in the European Union, but I want things that are mine, that belong to my culture,” the Pope said, adding that “the step forward — and here I come to the Charlemagne Prize — that the EU must take to recover the strength that it had in its beginnings is one of creativity and of ‘healthy disunity’.” [That means] giving more independence and freedom to the countries of the Union, thinking of another form of Union, being creative.”
On the flight out to Armenia on Friday, Pope Francis said the British decision was “the will expressed by the people” and leaves a “great responsibility” for all of us to help ensure the “peaceful co-existence” of Europe and the “good of the people of the United Kingdom”.
Pope Francis’s response to the Brexit question, as translated by the Catholic News Agency, follows:
There is already a war in Europe. Moreover, there is a climate of division, not only in Europe, but in its own countries. If you remember Catalonia, last year Scotland. These divisionsb… I don’t say that they are dangerous, but we must study them well, and before take a step forward for a division, to speak well amongst ourselves, and seek out viable solutions … I honestly don’t know. I have not studied the reasons why the United Kingdom wanted to make this decision, but there are divisions. I believe I said this once, I don’t know where, but I said it: That independence will make for emancipation. For instance, all our Latin American countries, even the countries of Africa, have emancipated from the crown, from Madrid. Even in Africa from Paris, London, Amsterdam … And this is an emancipation, and is more understandable because behind it there is a culture, there is a way of thinking … rather, the seccession of a country — I’m still not speaking of Brexit; we think of Scotland, all these … It is a thing that has been given a name, and this I say without offending, it is a word which politicians use: Balkanization, without speaking ill of the Balkans. It is somewhat of a seccession, it is not emancipation. And behind (it) there are histories, cultures, misunderstandings, even good will . . . this is clear. For me, unity is always better than conflict, but there are different ways of unity . . . and even fraternity, and here comes the European Union; fraternity is better than animosity and distance. Fraternity is better and bridges are better than walls. One must reflect on all of this. It is true: a country … I am in Europe, but … I want to have certain things that are mine from my culture and the step that … and here I come to the Charlemagne Prize, which is given by the European Union to discover the strength that it had from its roots. It is a step of creativity, and also of “healthy disunity,” to give more independence, more liberty to countries of the Union, to think of another form of Union, to be creative. And creative in places of work, in the economy. There is a liquid economy in Europe. For instance, in Italy 40% of young people aged 25 and younger do not have work. There is something that is not good in this massive Union, but we do not throw the baby in the bath water out the window, no? We look to redeem the things and recreate, because recreation of human things, also our personality, is a journey, which one must always take. A teenager is not like an adult, or an elderly person. It is the same and it is not the same. One recreates continuously. It is this that gives life, the desire to live, and gives fruitfulness. And this I underline: today, the word, the two key words for the European Union, are creativity and fruitfulness. This is the challenge. I don’t know, it’s what I think.