Un'idea dell'Europa [An Idea of Europe] by Romano Prodi. Published 1999 by Il Mulino, Bologna, 147pages, GB Pounds 5.00, ISBN 88 15 07103 2.
Prodi's central contention is that Europe at its millennium crossroads must
choose the road to a "major moral revolution" if it is to make genuine
progress beyond the single currency. This, he argues, can be properly
accomplished only by consciously applying the doctrines of Christianity, in
particular those of the Roman Catholic church.
Italy's 55th post-war government (May 1996-October 1998), founder of the new
"Donkey" Party based on Christian democratic and socialist principles,
and for 25 years professor of economics and industrial policy at the University
of Bologna, Prodi was last month elected president of the European Commission
until January 2005. His book may therefore be read as a guide to some of the
reasoning and inspiration behind the transformations he plans for Europe during
his term in office.
completion of the European monetary union, the enlargement of the European Union
and of Nato, and the universal establishment of the principles of freedom and
democracy seem to herald a bright future, he grants. But growing fears about
mass migration and demographic decline, doubts over maintaining the European
welfare model intact and unacceptably high unemployment threaten a much darker
one. Prodi observes that widespread individual alienation and the fear of
diversity are, meanwhile, undermining both political and economic development,
and ordinary people feel politics has lost touch with reality and somehow become
politics must therefore urgently seek an innovative and efficient solution to
the problems of the current European socio-economic model. This, Prodi
maintains, would involve combining the tradition of solidarity of the welfare
state with the capacity to compete in a globalised economy, in which limited
state intervention would encourage private enterprise. A means must be found to
tackle identity anxieties, which he sees as part of a common education policy,
capable of "melting down in an unprecedented crucible" Latin, German,
Anglo-Saxon and Slav cultures.
problems, he insists, demand new solutions, and the modern challenges that face
Europe require a new, humanely sensitive breed of politicians, who are less
obsessed with party pride, less tied to rigid ideologies rooted in the religious
wars of the 20th century and more sincerely committed to the public interest. He
holds that, with destructive secular-religious tensions now close to being
resolved, a just society must build on the two co-essential and concomitant
principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, since the Christian doctrine teaches
that every person is a unique social being.
economist Jean Monnet, the French premier Robert Schuman, the West German
chancellor Konrad Adenauer and the Italian premier Alcide De Gasperi, whom Prodi
considers to have formed the embryo of a future United States of Europe, provide
further inspiration for Prodi's plans. In advocating free trade as the
instrument to overcoming economic nationalism, he says, they bequeathed a moral
heritage since lost, which can be regained through Christianity.
In a key
chapter titled "A soul for Europe", Prodi harnesses considerable
Vatican backing for his objective of "building a great European soul",
by which he means forging a collective moral conscience along Roman Catholic
lines. Italian support for EU enlargement from the present 15 states to a target
of 30 had the blessing of Pope John Paul II in Gniezno, Poland, two years ago.
Then, the pope invited Europeans to collaborate resolutely and constructively to
strengthen peace, urging: "May they not leave any nation, not even the
weakest, outside the group they are building."
cites the pope on unacceptably high European unemployment (now about 10 per cent
in most EU states and above 12 per cent in Italy): "Man is, as a person,
dependent on work." It follows, says Prodi, that man achieves his human
dignity through work, without which he loses his essential identity. He applauds
the pope for having obliged all Christian churches in Europe to reflect on the
relation between the spirit of Europe and that of Christianity, a reflection
that Prodi traces back to Pope Paul VI, who had stressed "the harmony
between a great political design and the general principles of man and
society". Europe is thus inconceivable without its Christian roots, because
Christianity has left upon it an indelible impression.
the plausible conclusion that the Roman Catholic church has new designs on
Europe - one reinforced by the pope's recent proclamation of three special
European patron saints - Prodi explains that what is taking place is simply a
forgiveness on behalf of Italy and the rest of Europe for the Holocaust, and
condemning all forms of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, Prodi calls for
stiff sanctions against member states found guilty of discrimination.
with an essential manifesto for a "Europe of the spirit", which he
presents in the words of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini two years ago in
Strasbourg, calling for the respect of basic values: the dignity of the human
being; the central role of the family; the importance of education and freedom
of thought and speech; the legal protection of individuals and groups; the
collaboration of all for the common good; work as a personal and social good;
and the authority of the state subjected to the law of reason and limited by
One might be
forgiven for thinking that the appeal would have been better directed to Rome.
Italy, with the Vatican at its heart as the self-professed sole custodian of
morality and truth, has long been the negation of these values, each of which,
in reality, is matched by its antithesis: one of the world's highest abortion
rates and lowest birth rate; a clan mentality based on the logic of favours; an
education system built on servility and patronage that scorns merit and
disregards the spirit of truth as ingenuous; the total lack of any independent
moral and social conscience; a legal system that is the slowest in Europe and
has more than 200,000 laws to be got round by the those who can afford to; gross
overconcern with material possession resulting in egoism, envy and greed; the
highest unemployment rate in the EU; and the conspicuous absence of the state,
especially in the Mafia-dominated south.
Nor is it
clear why the same moral salvation that Italy is seeking for itself in Europe
should be on its way to Europe from Italy by the good graces of Mr Prodi, the
pope and Cardinal Martini.
remains oblivious to these and other contradictions and objections - notably,
his conflation of Christianity and morality, his uncritical acceptance that
genuine freedom and democracy have been established in Europe, his apparent
insensitivity to cultural differences and his view that the European Commission
should continue to be made up mainly of politicians despite its essentially
executive role - may be partly explained by the impression of a man inebriated
with a sense of Christian mission, intoxicated by the prospects of power and
infatuated with the idea of Europe. Poor credibility is aggravated by the fact
that this crusader is facing yet another criminal investigation in Italy.
not Prodi's heady road to a moral palingenesis for Europe proves practicable
remains to be seen. On the evidence of his book, it would certainly appear to be
paved with good intentions.
Pacitti is an international journalist and academic who lives in Tuscany.
Note: This review was first published in a 'history focus' special by The Times Higher Education Supplement (London) on October 15 1999.
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