THE prime minister's call this week for a new Magna Carta granting basic human rights to citizens of all the European nations has once again called into question the kind of future we should seek for the Europe of the next millennium.
Mrs Thatcher spoke in Colorado of a charter to guarantee what is laid down in the European Convention of Human Rights, but added that "the freedom of the market place" should also be protected. The peoples of eastern Europe, she said, had not turned over communist regimes only to find themselves at the mercy of an overcentralised European Community. If the countries of the east chose to join the EC in future years they should see before them a "willing cooperation between independent states".
Whilst the prime minister's vision is a welcome step towards an all embracing federation of nations in a continent more used to war and ideological division, it begs the questions whether the component parts of Europe are to draw closer for monetary union alone. Or are we, perhaps, on the verge of rediscovering a part of the European heritage that has lain unstirred, in this country at least, since the second World War?
The re-awakening of the christian political tradition, so strong in Britain throughout the nineteenth century, comes at a time when the political vacuum left by the communists in eastern Europe has allowed christians there back into the vanguard of politics. The disappearance of Europe's eastern half into the halflight of a system alien to our own, where it remained for almost 50 years, led us to believe that we in the west were the sole beneficiaries of the European mainstream. Only after the revolutions began in eastern Europe did we adjust to the possibility that the European Community as we had envisaged was only half the story.
The new Movement for Christian Democracy, founded by Catholic MPs David Alton and Ken Hargreaves as "an all-party, non-denominational organisation committed to bringing christian values back into British political life", could, if it continues to attract support at its current rate, act as a catalyst for reminding us of the christian duties of society. And more than that, it could forge a valuable link with other christian parties on the European mainland, such as those in Italy, Germany, Belgium and Austria, together with their new counterparts in Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
The freedoms and privileges we have enjoyed in the west have become too much taken for granted. By looking for inspiration to the search of new-style eastern European politicians seeking a new way forward, we too can learn again to cherish the ideals of social justice, family life and a fairer future for all.