The two nation states on continental Europe that I am most familiar with, Austria and Germany, have something significant in common. They border on a good number of other nation states. Austria is landlocked.
The total length of Austria’s border is 1,574 miles. Austria borders on Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The total length of Germany’s land border is 2,307 miles with a coastline of 1,484 miles consisting of the North Sea (until the 1830s commonly known as the German Sea or the German Ocean) and the Baltic Sea. Germany borders on Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands.
This information allows us to appreciate the need of continental nation states particularly in Central Europe not only to cooperate but to live together in peace so that all may flourish. Both Austria and Germany are home to ethnic minorities. Austria has a large number of Croats and Slovenes, as well as Hungarians. In Germany, the Danish minority in Schleswig Holstein is to this day legally entitled to a seat in the Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein.
As we look to the future of Europe and particularly the European Union after the vote by the British electorate living in the United Kingdom (many Britons living abroad are still angry that they were not allowed to vote in the Brexit referendum) it is clear by the examples of Austria and Germany that continental European nation states need to always be finding new ways of cooperating with each other so that they may maintain and live in peace with one another. This is the minimum requirement.
It is a security issue in which the British government must continue not only to be interested but also to play an active and constructive role. Although both the First and Second World War broke out on continental Europe, the United Kingdom as well as large parts of the British Empire were soon drawn into the conflict with devastating loss of life.
To what extent the vote to leave the European Union will undermine the peace that Europe has enjoyed in the main since 1945, no one knows. A parishioner in Vienna is always quick to point out that NATO up till now has been a strong component in the mix to secure and safeguard peace in Western Europe. This may be an uncomfortable truth for some. Coupled to the above is something worth keeping in mind. After two world wars Europe was worn out. Its people had little appetite for yet another war. It yearned for peace and stability.
As already mentioned, safeguarding peace is a minimum requirement, but what Christians must do is to continue to be interested in and foster human flourishing (not simply within nation states but also beyond). The European Union showed its interest in this aspect of a common life by seeking to invest in the economic poor regions of the Union. The need to share and spread wealth more evenly remains a challenge that must continue to figure high in the programmes of the European Union and its nation states – without alibis or scapegoating. That people within our nation states are interested that other peoples flourish is affirmed by the many projects in every country to aid and come alongside projects and initiatives in Eastern Europe, as well as Africa and Asia. One of the most successful programmes of the European Union has been the Erasmus scheme, allowing students to study away from home for a term in one of the nation states of the European Union. It has worked.
Last summer I had a significant birthday. I have lived, studied and worked in four different countries. These are Canada, Germany, England and Austria. This unique experience has taught me and teaches me that there is much more that can bind us together for a higher good.
It is not difficult for someone with the required language skills to converse at a deep level with people from one of countries mentioned. We may differ on how we govern ourselves – see France, Germany and the United Kingdom. But in general the values converge.
The contentious issues vary in degree in each country. Their resolution takes a different path in each case. Commonality regarding political developments is something that we can trace again and again: “no man is an island”. In Europe in the 1930s fascism was a common phenomenon. The rise of the popular right today is not limited to this or that country. It is much more widespread. But in the main these countries are headed in the same direction, for better or for worse, whether they like to acknowledge it or not. The metanarrative is bigger than any one nation state.
In concluding, the nation states of Central Europe need to seek to build lasting alliances with their neighbours to secure their own safety and security, and for this reason alone they will need to have an interest in the flourishing of neighbouring nation states. Remove geography and we can see that there are ties within Europe and between the Americas that go deep. If it is more natural for Northern and Western Europe to speak to and engage with North America, Australia and New Zealand culturally, intellectually, the same might be said for Southern Europe with regard to South America.
The return of the nation state, rising like a phoenix out of the ashes, may have obscured the necessity for peace that was a major impetus for the beginnings of what we today know as the European Union; this comeback may also go hand in hand with a growing amnesia concerning our common cultural, scientific, philosophical roots as they emerge out of both Jerusalem and Athens, the classical tradition and the Judaic-Christian heritage.
About the author
Patrick Curran is the chaplain of Christ Church, Vienna, Austria with a ministry that includes small congregations in Klagenfurt, Ljubljana and Zagreb. His parents, father British and mother German, met in northern Germany after the World War II. For the past thirteen years Patrick was also the archdeacon of the Eastern archdeaconry in the Diocese in Europe, which includes the Balkans, Greece, Turkey and Russia to name a few. He has lived, studied and worked in four different countries: England, Germany, Canada and the Austria. He is married with two adult daughters.