Europe As A Spiritual Task

PRAGUE: One of the great European traditions -- a tradition forgotten through much of this century -- is the idea of the free citizen as the source of all political power.

Although European integration began primarily as economic integration, its political objectives included a renaissance of that civic principle as the only reliable basis for peaceful cooperation among nations. Suppression of national identity or national consciousness -- natural dimensions of identity -- was not the goal. People, instead, were to be freed from bondage to national collectivism, that fount of strife and enslaver of individuality. European unification never meant to limit freedom by expropriating individual rights in favor of a distant supranational power. European integration, instead, enhances freedom not only by liberating people from fear of others but also by offering ever more room for individual self-realization as citizens.

Only now, with the EU contemplating its future shape and discussing a common foreign and security policy, are Europeans and European politicians poised to recognize the magnitude of the philosophical dimension of European unification. I wonder whether some of them are not a little daunted by the greatness of the work that has been undertaken and whose profound meaning is emerging. Loss of courage to pursue the deeper goals of union will be the more dangerous now that Europe -- for the first time in history -- has the chance to order itself as a whole on the basis of liberating, democratic principles.

The concept of a metaphysically anchored sense of responsibility has been one of the cornerstone values underlying the European tradition. This historic moment invites us to rededicate ourselves to this European tradition as well, and to admit clearly that there are values that transcend our immediate interest, that we are not accountable solely to our party, our voters, our lobbies or our state but, in fact, to all humanity, including those who come after us, and that the decision on the worth of our deeds will ultimately be made beyond the realm around us. This means nothing less than to harken, in our various dilemmas, to the voice that speaks to us from the depths of our conscience.