Ladies and Gentlemen, elected officials,
To begin my speech, I will make mine the words of Robert Schuman: “I am not a speaker. I know I’ll be bad, so I don’t have the jitters ”, even if – concerning myself – I wouldn’t be so positive about the end of the sentence. And for good reason, I find myself in a very delicate situation. As a territorial civil servant, I usually listen to elected officials and now I am asked to speak to an assembly made up mainly of local elected representatives and parliamentarians. It is very unusual for me.
In the letter that Bishop Lagleize sent you to invite you to this meeting, I was presented as “the author of articles on the fathers of Europe and the construction of Europe”. While it is true that I was asked to write a few papers – in particular by the Conference of Bishops of France at the time of the last European elections – I do not claim to be a specialist, but rather a fan of European issues and above all a fan. of the life and work of Robert Schuman. I will speak to you less as an intellectual than as a witness.
Why is a youngster today still interested in Robert Schuman? The father of Europe died over 60 years ago: for young people who live in a culture of immediacy, 1963 is history. Its major work, Community Europe, is still looking for itself: it is discussed, when it is not criticized. The media only show the general public the scandals of national public life, not allowing young people to have a positive view of political engagement. Let’s face it! For a youngster of the year 2016, an old politician who has founded a Europe which is “floundering” at the moment, that is not really exciting.
This is exactly the image I had of Robert Schuman, still 6 years ago.
1is August 2010, a young civil servant who had barely won a competitive examination, I started my career at the Maison de Robert Schuman, owned by the Moselle Departmental Council. In this regard, I would like to underline the remarkable development work carried out by the department which allows us today to discover the home of the father of Europe as if he had left it yesterday. I urge you to discover it, if you haven’t already. I therefore take up my duties as administrative and financial manager at the Maison de Robert Schuman and, by training myself in guided tours, I discover a little more about Robert Schuman every day. I also gradually understand that I had a very superficial vision of this man: the fact of going around his house several times a day and “sticking my nose” in his personal papers really allowed me to enter the world. intimacy of Robert Schuman.
If I may use the expression, I believe that this experience “converted” me to Robert Schuman. For more than three years, I led a number of guided tours for individuals or groups, coming from Moselle, France, Germany, Luxembourg and most of the countries of the European Union; among which young, old, elders who knew Robert Schuman, curious, politicians of all sensibilities, convinced Europeans, Eurosceptics … not one – not even the fiercest opponents of Community Europe – not a single one remained insensitive to the personality of the father of Europe.
I believe that Robert Schuman suffers greatly from the current discredit of the European Union and the scandalous image of public life that the media give us every day. Let us not forget that Robert Schuman was first of all a politician. However, democracy is built on debates and oppositions of ideas, it is clear that the political ideas of Robert Schuman will never be unanimous. This means that we have to look at the father of Europe from another point of view, namely his way of life. When one leaves the political debate to consider the personality of Robert Schuman, a consensus is suddenly made around our compatriot Moselle.
For my part, I can say that this meeting with Robert Schuman changed my life. Her sobriety of life, her modesty, her kindness, her generosity, her spiritual depth, her humanism and her hard work are for me sure models.
I come to the subject that interests us today: “Robert Schuman, prophet of Europe: from forgiveness to reconciliation in a spirit of mercy”. The preparation of this intervention was for me the opportunity to question myself about what touches me in the personality of Robert Schuman seen as a servant of mercy.
This requires first defining “mercy”. Etymologically, “mercy” is the heart that leans over misery, a heart that leans over poverty. We can then ask ourselves: what are the forms of poverty, the miseries with which Robert Schuman was confronted? What answers did he provide?
The most obvious poverty is that of the war which has so ravaged our territory. Most of Robert Schuman’s childhood friends fought in World War I. He was not at the front, dismissed from military service for health reasons. He has always considered himself a “stash”. Powerless in the face of this situation, the young lawyer from Metz had no other means of supporting his friends than by mail. Robert Schuman’s correspondence between 1914 and 1918 is very moving, it shows how much Robert Schuman was a delicate and faithful friend, bringing comfort to his friends on the front lines.
A second poverty is the state of the Moselle at the end of the war. If the landscape has not suffered too much from conflicts, we must tackle a tough and delicate task: the legal reintegration of Alsace and Moselle. In 1919, Robert Schuman was 33 years old. He did not imagine for a single moment entering politics, until Canon Colin urged him to register on the list of the Republican Union of Lorraine for – he said – “to preserve the soul of Lorraine. “. Robert Schuman spoke French perfectly – which was not the case with other Alsatian-Lorraine deputies – and had a solid knowledge of French and German law. He therefore had all the qualities to defend the interests of the Moselle people before the Assembly. The common good took precedence over Robert Schuman’s own will: he entered politics with all his might, to accomplish the duty expected of him.
Robert Schuman showed a real face of mercy to his political collaborators, as to his opponents. He never fell into the pitfall of personal criticism, he first listened to the arguments of his opponents with great attention and responded to them without ever attacking the person. He was careful not to hurt the man in front of him and argued solely on the basis of the ideas presented.
Delicacy, fidelity, abnegation, respect: this could sum up the face that mercy took on in the personality of Robert Schuman.
However, mercy is not just a beautiful philosophy of life, it carries with it the requirement of an effective implementation. How did this translate into the work of Robert Schuman?
It would take too long to reread the entire life of Robert Schuman from the angle of the servant of mercy, so much had this dimension borrowed from his life. I therefore suggest that you focus on two key events in his career.
At the start of World War II, Robert Schuman was Undersecretary of State for Refugees. He continued his work in the service of Lorraine in need, at a time of great suffering for the region. The people of Lorraine were evicted from their homes by the German occupiers and the Under-Secretary of State did not sit in the government to accompany the people of Lorraine himself in their painful exile.
Finally, the most beautiful work of mercy operated by Robert Schuman intervened in 1950. Only five years after the end of the Second World War, he broke with the logic of humiliation and rivalry which had always dominated Franco-German relations to forgive to Germany. Robert Schuman did not excuse the unspeakable acts perpetrated by the Nazis during the last war: he decided to forgive. Besides, he also knew France’s responsibility for the humiliation imposed on Germany by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
Mercy is not a weakness, it is the greatest of daring. This daring pushed Robert Schuman to a crazy pragmatism, going against the doxa of the time which fed the Franco-German antagonism. In his work For Europe – which I strongly recommend to you to read – Robert Schuman wrote: “So here we are, under the constraint of experience, after so many failures, brought back to the Christian law of a noble but humble fraternity; and by a paradox which would surprise us if we were not Christians, we extend a hand to our enemies of yesterday not simply to forgive but to build together the Europe of tomorrow ”.
By his example, Robert Schuman teaches us that forgiveness is not a weakness, but a step towards the future; that mercy is not a philosophy, but a constructive force.
You will forgive the few historical ellipses, but it would have taken – as Robert Schuman said – “a speech of five quarters of an hour” to analyze satisfactorily the action of Robert Schuman, servant of mercy. Let us only remember that – as Professor Eduardo Zin has very well underlined – Robert Schuman would never have been able to do such a work of mercy, if he had not first felt the merciful gaze of God on him. It is therefore in his Christian convictions that Robert Schuman draws the strength to work in politics as a servant of mercy.
In the Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee of Mercy (1), Pope Francis invites all men of good will to have mercy on those around them by practicing works of mercy (giving food to the hungry, giving drink to those who are thirsty, to clothe those who are naked, to welcome strangers, to assist the sick, etc.). If we consider the example of Robert Schuman, we can say that politics can be one of the highest forms of the exercise of mercy.
At the end of this communication, since I have the opportunity to speak to elected officials and this chance is rare, I take the opportunity to tell you a secret. When I led guided tours in Robert Schuman’s House in Scy-Chazelles, after three years of practice, I could no longer count the number of people who, at the end of the visit, came to tell me: “We would very much like all our elected officials are like Robert Schuman ”. Since your constituents are unlikely to come to you saying, ‘I would like you to look like Robert Schuman’, I would just like to say to you, on behalf of all those anonymous people I have met in Scy-Chazelles: don’t be afraid to take Robert Schuman as a model! Thank you for your attention.