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We accept the EU as a political and social reality that has brought stability and improved life for many people in Europe over the years. However, it needs a new paradigm based on the Christian understanding of the human being to restore the relationship between the European idea and the people living in its member states. In the face of Brexit and the rise of anti-EU populism, a new balance is needed.

We believe the EU has become a project of an elite that is largely out of touch with reality and with many people in its member states. Even after Brexit, the default attitude in Brussels is still ‘more power to the EU institutions’, but the European project will only be sustainable if the gap between Brussels and European citizens is closed. There are many people working in European institutions as MEPs, civil servants and Commissioners who are trying to contribute to the development of the European Union and the wellbeing of its citizens. However, it is clear that these efforts, well-intended as they may be, have not restored this relationship between the EU and its citizens.

Robert Schuman, the founding father of the EU, defined the European project as a community of peoples deeply rooted in Christian values. This reflects the true nature of the European project, which recognises cultural diversity but also the common values that still shape Europe to an extent that is often unrecognised. Even if these values are called ‘humanist’, they are still shaped by the Christian understanding of the value of the individual and all that derives from it.

Our goal is to offer a new paradigm as a direction for the development of the European Union, a paradigm that is derived from this Christian understanding of the individual but that can be embraced by all, regardless of faith or conviction. The basis of this paradigm is the realistic view that the human being is relational. In terms of biological existence, ecological dependence and economic interdependence, life is relational. Our relational vision is a balance between individuality on the one hand and culture and environment on the other. It is neither collectivist nor individualist. This, too, is the Christian understanding of human dignity that affirms the value of every human being from the beginning and in every phase of its existence, value that can only be understood in relation to each other. If we understand how valuable each other person is, we can understand the value of life and the need to see and live life relationally. This understanding has shaped the history of Europe and is the basis of the values we cherish today. We need a renewed understanding and emphasis on these Christian-relational concepts to overcome the current crisis.

As we understand it, this crisis is rooted in limitless individualism in which individual freedom has been separated from relationships with other people and society, and in which the human being is understood as an autonomous individual. This type of individualism has allowed greed to become a major cause of our financial crisis and of the current crisis in the EU. Individualism is at the root of many of the social problems we face today. The weakening situation of the family, the fracturing of society and decreasing solidarity are essentially rooted in this type of individualism.

This social situation is a major source of distrust within the European institutions. Another consequence of this emphasis on autonomous individualism is the commodification of life. There is a trend in which weaker, vulnerable stages of life (at the beginning and end) become subordinated to the stronger stages. Currently, the choice of the autonomous individual is often seen as the highest principle, and other values like responsibility and mutual care are put under pressure.

The commodification of life is not only seen in medical-ethical debates, it is present in all situations in which the strong use and take advantage of the weak. Human trafficking as modern-day slavery is a real problem in Europe. In our economy, we see that those who are in a weaker position struggle to maintain a decent standard of living. Too often, people are seen as a means to an end. Poverty and the number of ‘working poor’ have reached unprecedented levels in post-war Europe.

A Christian-relational approach is needed to counter these consequences and excesses of autonomous individualism and to provide a balanced view of humanity and society, a view that includes the relational and emotional dimensions of life, which is more complete than the current autonomous perception of the human being. This has far-reaching implications for the EU and its policies. Many policies today are based on the perception of the human being as an autonomous individual who will make rational decisions and strive for efficiency. This view is implicitly reflected in many EU policies, which are often only measured by their economic efficiency and outcomes. This one-sided focus, together with the one-sided approach to the economy, has enforced a disempowered and disconnected feeling.

It is clear that a change of direction is needed. A revaluation of subsidiarity based on the relational paradigm is needed. Subsidiarity means that political decisions and their execution should, in principle, take place at the level to which people relate so that they feel empowered within the decision-making process. Due to the lack of subsidiarity, many feel disconnected and therefore disempowered. We need an EU that understands this and that tries to build a relationship with the people of the EU.

This means an EU without the federalist dream of an ‘ever closer union’, an EU that will refocus with more energy on the decisions and tasks that are needed at this level. Our relational understanding also includes the cultural dimension. Every person is related to and shaped by the surrounding culture. Although culture is not a nationalist, one-dimensional concept, it is a reality that has a tremendous effect on politics and policies. This reality has not been given sufficient weight in EU policy-making, due to the limited individualist understanding of the human being. As a consequence, the EU has received a crash course on the economic and political realities of its member states over the last few years. This has been most visible in the euro crisis, which was partially caused by a failure to understand cultural differences.

We advocate for an EU that takes the relational reality of life and society into account in all its policies. This will open the door to an EU that facilitates more and regulates less. A door needs to be opened towards an EU that will allow more diversity in more policy fields than it currently does.

The ‘one size fits all’ Europe is over.