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Exploring the Christian roots of the EU

In the run up to the EU Referendum in the UK, the purpose and the vision of the EU have been widely debated, as people decide whether or not they think the UK has a place within it. This is not a new debate, instead being one that is older than the EU itself.

Even in the midst of the Second World War, people were already trying to envisage what the future of Europe would be and how peace could be maintained to prevent further atrocities, and this discussion became even more important after the war was brought to a conclusion with the Allied victory. At the heart of this debate were Christians, who were inspired by their faith to get involved in the debate, and help to shape a Europe built on Christian values.

The shared faith of Robert Schuman (the French Prime Minister and later Foreign Minister), Konrad Adenauer (the Chancellor of West Germany) and Alcide de Gasperi (the Italian Prime Minister), who were all Catholics, meant that they were able to build up a level of trust and respect that enabled them to create a meaningful peace in Europe, and take steps towards the foundation of the European Union. Indeed, these three, who are considered to be some of the ‘Founding Fathers of the EU’, all shared a prayer retreat together in a Benedictine Monastery on the Rhine before signing the Treaty of Paris in 1951, the treaty which set up the European Coal and Steel Community, a precursor to the European Economic Community.

In particular, Robert Schuman, whose famous Declaration on 9th May 1950 has been seen by many as the genesis of the European project, believed that the rebuilding of the European community would only be possible if it was “deeply rooted in basic Christian values”. It was some of these values which would have a profound impact on the establishment of the EU, and were essential to maintaining peace in Europe.


At the heart of the Christian faith is a message of forgiveness and reconciliation, of a God who sent His Son to die so that we could be forgiven and be reconciled to Him. In turn we are to extend this forgiveness to others – as Jesus taught as to pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). Schuman recognised that one of the reasons for the never-ending series of wars in Europe was the failure to forgive and to fully reconcile the warring nations to one another. Despite the First World War being ‘the war to end all wars’, the way the international community punished Germany alienated it as a nation, leaving the perfect opportunity for the National Socialism of the Nazis to flourish. In order to build a lasting peace in Europe, Germany would have to be welcomed to the table and reconciled to the other nations on an equal footing.

Equality of all under God

This equality was another of the Christian values to underpin the formation of the EU. In the Bible, the dignity of every human being is stressed in how humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1), and Paul emphasises in Galatians 3:28 that “you are all one in Christ Jesus”. This was to be the foundation of the call for the protection of human rights in the new Europe, but Schuman took it further to include nations as well. He believed that all nations were equal, and so resisted the nationalism and isolationism of many of his contemporaries, who sought to promote their own nation at the expense of others. He argued that God was concerned with all nations and that Jesus died for all nations; Pentecost in Acts 2 and the vision of the great multitude of people of all nations around the throne of heaven in Revelation 7 highlight how the unity of nations under God’s authority is important.

Loving your neighbour as yourself

The equality and unity of all nations naturally leads to a desire to see nations working together for each other’s benefit. Schuman extended Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31) to be applicable to nations as well.  A Europe compromised of nations all working together and loving their neighbours would be a far more prosperous, peaceful and stable one than one in which each was only concerned with its own national interests. This love for neighbours could transcend differences, and help to bring about the forgiveness and reconciliation necessary for the success of the European project.

The EU has come a long way since these early days, and the situation is now very different to what it was in the 1940s and 50s. What cannot be denied is the success of the visionaries such as Robert Schuman in finally bringing peace to Western Europe, although where this leaves the purpose of the EU and the UK’s role within it now is still under debate. Just as these early founding figures did, we too as Christians should be seeking to be a part of the debate, being motivated by our faith to help to build a better future.