The latest feeble Christian case for remaining in the EU: “Let’s forge a meaningful common European identity based on the fluffiest and least well defined parts of our faith!”
More hand-wringing waffle from the Reimagining Europe blog, this time from regular contributor and former British diplomat Francis Campbell:
Whatever the outcome of the UK referendum in June, there will be equally important questions for EU leaders in the years ahead. The process of Britain’s renegotiation has led many to consider their own national identity and how it fits within the identity of the European Union. With a rising tide of Euroscepticism in countries across the continent, the challenge for Europe’s leaders is to instil a sense of European values which enhance rather than threaten national and regional identities.
Right-o. The challenge apparently is not to question whether the decision to unite the countries of Europe under a single supra-national government was a smart idea in the first place. No, the challenge is simply to do a quick PR job, to “instil a sense of European values” and force the restive people of Europe to come to terms with this government that has been designed for them, without their input or their permission.
Campbell at no point questions the wisdom of the project to establish a supranational government of Europe in the first place, taking its existence and benefits as a given despite the current referendum offering a once-in-a-generation opportunity to question old assumptions and break out of stale ways of thinking.
But Campbell has no interest in doing any of this – he is concerned that the EU try to “build bridges” with its citizens, even though the EU project was largely created behind their backs and without their permission. Saying that the EU needs to build bridges with those it has the nerve to call its citizens is like saying that a robber should be polite and avoid leaving a mess while they ransack your house – when the real issue, of course, is that they have no business walking off with your DVD player in the first place.
We are then treated to more of the same woolly, vague and undefined hand-wringing ecumenism which sadly typifies too much of the church’s response to the EU referendum debate. Campbell writes:
In such a context the EU’s task of building bridges between citizens is a daunting one. But perhaps there is an opportunity in the current crisis for EU member states to identify common interests and shared values in among the obvious cultural differences across Europe.
One powerful shared value that is missing from the negotiation tables in Brussels is religion. Faith plays a huge part in the lives of many millions of EU citizens, yet it has been all but barred from the political arena. Whether they profess to have a faith or not, political leaders should look to religion for inspiration when forging the future identity of the EU.
Christianity is arguably something that is common to all European member states and a potential value or source of identity around which they could unite. But how do we reconcile that sense of shared identity and history with those of other faiths or none?
Catholicism, and indeed all major faiths, teaches us to believe in the intrinsic dignity of every human person. If we can look beyond our differences and guard our national interests less jealously, every EU citizen has shared values and a common identity and a commitment to live within and promote a shared pluralist space.
Okay, but how does that translate into the necessity for a powerful and activist supra-national government to sit above the nation states, claiming exclusive competency in a wide array of areas to speak and act on behalf of a group of people as diverse as Brits, Germans, Poles and Greeks?
The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t. Campbell’s background is in the Foreign Office – including a number of postings to the European Union – so he of all people should understand at least the basic history of how and why the EU came to be and took its present form. Is such a complex and inherently antidemocratic structure in any way necessary to express whatever limited sense of European-ness which may exist in our hearts and minds? Of course not, and Campbell knows it. The only reason you create an organisation with institutions mirroring those of a nation state and staffed with people who constantly agitate for more power and competencies is because you ultimately want the new organisation to be an independent actor on the world stage, replacing the nation states from which it was built.
Of course we all share a common humanity, that much is self-evident. But the sheer disingenuousness required to make the huge leap between all of us believing in the dignity of human life and all of us wanting or needing to be governed by the same common set of institutions in Brussels is simply staggering. And hardly Christian.
Trying to shoehorn Christianity in to fill the spiritual and democratic void at the heart of the European Union also brazenly overlooks the rapid growth of secularism, particularly in Western Europe. If Campbell is seriously suggesting that the EU base its social law on the values of the Roman Catholic Church, as would no doubt be popular in much of Poland, how does he think it will go down in France, Germany and Britain?
And if we attempt to base European values partly on other assertively growing faiths (i.e. Islam), what will then be the consequences for fundamental rights such as freedom of speech? And if this isn’t what Campbell means, then what exactly is his suggestion, than more hand-wringing, morally relativist waffle from the Christian Left?
Pete North hammers this point home in a recent blog post on European disunion:
We are persistently told that Eastern European countries are just chomping at the bit for Western liberalism and that is the justification for root and branch social reforms at the behest of the EU. Anyone who objects is clearly regressive in their eyes. Except the problem with EU foreign policy is that EU elites speak only to other political elites who tell them what they want to hear.
But as with the UK the metropolitan view is somewhat different to the provincial view which is seldom ever heard. It’s all very well demanding sweeping reforms but this rather forgets the lessons we learned in the UK. All economic and social reform has casualties and too much too soon creates resentment that lasts generations. That is why the Tories still can’t win seats in parts of Yorkshire and the North East.
Now apply that same revolutionary industrial reform to Poland and Ukraine while demanding social reforms that do not sit well with the catholic population. Attitudes are nearly thirty years behind in some regions. Try being an unmarried mum in rural Poland. Even today there are still objections in Ireland to reforms to abortion laws. That goes double for Eastern Europe.
So Francis Campbell’s bright idea to base our perpetually missing common European identity on Christianity or religion is clearly a dud. As the Anglican church has discovered, there is such wide and irreconcilable difference between its own traditionalist and progressive wings that some people find themselves unable to remain part of the same congregation or communion. And that’s just one branch of Christianity! How, then, is forming the kind of robust, multi-layered identity required to legitimise a powerful supranational government going to be possible merely by reeling off a few bland pronouncements about Christian “values” and the dignity of human life?
In short, this is exactly the kind of desperately small, unimaginative thinking which is responsible for so much of Britain’s current democratic malaise. When presented with an historic opportunity to look again at European and global systems of governance and regulation, all that Francis Campbell can do is propose minor tweaks to the status quo – tweaks which in his heart of hearts he must realise are empty words which will make no discernible impact in bridging the gap between an increasingly powerful, unloved European Union and the citizens of its member states.
And this is why Brexit must be more than an event – it must be just part of a larger process of democratic renewal and reform of our governance. There is precisely zero point in reclaiming powers and competencies from Brussels through Brexit if we are only to give them back to a government and Foreign Office staffed by rent-a-bureaucrats, who have the “vision” only to ploddingly execute the instructions placed in front of them, and will probably end up giving power away again to someone else in exchange for a few magic beans.
Francis Campbell, like too many other prominent Christian EU apologists, begins from the lazy and unsupported starting point that the European Union is inherently good, virtuous and necessary, without so much as examining its history or asking why similar structures have not developed in other part of the world. The brain then only truly engages when considering how the people might be better made to realise all of the wonderful good being done on their behalf, at which point we get lots of flowery language about shared Christian values but no intellectual meat on the bones. And the analysis is worthless anyway, because the initial assumptions were flawed from the start – the EU is not inherently good, virtuous or necessary.
So still we wait for that most elusive of things – a structured, intellectual Christian case for the European Union, and for Britain remaining in the EU. Many have stepped forward to try, but none (to my knowledge) have yet succeeded. Some have made themselves look quite silly in the process.
And time is running out.
Top Image: Times Higher Education
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