‘Europe Day’ on May 9 commemorates the beginnings of the EU, but few people know its Christian roots

By Chris Eyte |
European Parliament
Marius Oprea / Unsplash

Jeff Fountain, a journalist by trade, is the founder and director of the The Schuman Centre for European Studies. Originally from New Zealand and now living in Holland, he led Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Europe for 20 years. He also helped create Hope for Europe, an umbrella initiative for evangelical groups on the continent.

In a three-part series by Christian Daily International, Fountain shares his perspectives for evangelicals on the spiritual landscape driving Europe, both past, present and future.

In this first of three articles, the former YWAM leader recalls the faith background to Europe Day celebrated today, on May 9. 

The celebration of Europe Day on May 9 marks 74 years – and counting – since French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed a new European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), in anticipation of the future European Union.

Schuman understood the personal terrors of war: as a French resistance fighter, the Nazis once captured and imprisoned him. In his subsequent postwar political role, he wanted to do something about the suffering of Europe in the 1950s when the continent came to terms with the aftermath of the bloody conflict.

Schuman had the idea to unite coal and steel industries, particularly in France and West Germany, with the aim of prospering Europeans, so that another war would be “impossible”.

“Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements, which first create a de facto solidarity,” read the original Schuman Declaration on May 9, 1950. “The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.

“The setting up of this powerful productive unit, open to all countries willing to take part and bound ultimately to provide all the member countries with the basic elements of industrial production on the same terms, will lay a true foundation for their economic unification.”

Jeff Fountain calls the Schuman Declaration the “defining moment in postwar Europe.”

He argues, however, that few people realize the powerful Christian history behind the politics after WWII came to an end and people started looking to the future of the continent.

“The day before Schuman’s declaration, there was no plan on the table. He put this plan on the table,” Fountain told Christian Daily International. “And ever since then we've had a movement underway. 

“We haven't necessarily kept to his plan, but the story that we don't really realize is this was very much a Christian-initiated project. It started with Christian forgiveness and reconciliation, and therefore it's been recognized by the European Parliament as the real starting point of a movement that has continued on in all sorts of erratic and stumbling ways.”

Fountain recalled how he did not realize at first how significant the Christian faith had been to the launch of the postwar European movement. In 1991, he went to Brussels “to find out what’s happening” with the development of European politics, telling his YWAM leadership team at the time they needed to “know how to relate to it.”

An official in the European Commission met the YWAMers and invited them to pray together – something that surprised Fountain. 

“Well, that was the last thing I expected in the European Commission building. And it turned out this official was a leader of a prayer network of Christians in the whole commission there. And then he began to tell this story that was not in line with the story that I had been raised up with [about the creation of Europe].”

Fountain had heard of the views of some evangelicals equating the ECSC, then the European Economic Community (EEC) and subsequently the European Union (EU) to “the beast” in the book of Revelation, “but now came a whole different story.”

“I'd never heard it before, about a small key bunch of people who were highly motivated by their Christian faith.”

These influential people included American Lutheran church minister, The Rev. Frank Buchman who founded the Oxford Group, a Christian revival movement, leading to the international ‘Moral Re-Armament’ peace-seeking movement, striving for conflict-free dialogue between nations.

Schuman asked Buchman whom to trust in the newly formed West Germany, after the war, according to Fountain. The influential church minister recommended Konrad Adenauer, the former Lord Mayor of Cologne who had opposed the Nazis to the point that he was sent to a concentration camp for some time. 

In 1933, Adenauer refused to receive Adolf Hitler when the dictator visited the city. Adenauer’s biography on the European Parliament website notes he had “a Christian faith that guided him throughout his life.” The former Lord Mayor subsequently became the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of West Germany. 

“Konrad was a very devout believer, a Catholic, as was Schuman,” Fountain recalled. “Both these men had the same backgrounds of understanding of Catholic social teaching, which started off with an understanding of human beings created in the image of God, therefore there's only one human race.”

Both men, Fountain argues, therefore rejected the perverse Nazi ideal of the Aryan superior race and sought the common good for all mankind. “And this was really the beginning of the Christian democratic movement that so dominated the first four decades after the war on the continent.” 

Fountain realized “we’ve got to take this seriously now” after hearing about the spiritual background to the creation of modern Europe from the European Commission official. He started “looking for ‘mothers and fathers’ who had something of God’s heart for Europe amongst evangelicals.” 

“It was very hard to find evangelicals who even thought about Europe,” said Fountain. “We just didn't go there.”

The late Sir Fred Catherwood, former President of the Evangelical Alliance in the U.K., wrote a book called ‘Pro-Europe’, which helped Fountain form his own ideas on Europe at the time. “He brought a lot of biblical thinking in his understanding why we need to work together in something like what became the EU. He greatly influenced my thinking.”

Fountain asked the European Commission official to help organize a consultation for evangelical leaders to hear the same story about the Christian influence on modern Europe’s creation, and examine the responsibility and attitudes needed by evangelicals engaging in Europe. This led, amongst other things, to the setting up of a permanent office in Brussels by the European Evangelical Alliance.

Fountain felt so inspired by the story of Schuman that he set up The Schuman Centre for European Studies, after moving on from leading YWAM Europe after 20 years. 

According to its website, the centre’s virtual, interdisciplinary network “strives to ‘jog memories’, ‘stir consciences’ and ‘awaken imaginations’ concerning Europe and her Christian heritage. Through courses, events, tours and publications, the centre promotes biblical perspectives on Europe’s past, present and future, informing effective social, cultural and spiritual engagement towards a society based on biblical values.”   

Fountain notes that Europe Day this year (2024) is the same day as Ascension Day. “Very few people could tell you what Ascension Day is, and very few people can tell you what Europe Day is, but even fewer people could see any connection between the two events.

“But there is a connection because Ascension Day is part of the Jesus story, which is the greatest story and the greatest factor actually in shaping Europe’s story.”