DEMOCRACY, SOVEREIGNTY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY
There are many complex moral considerations and nuanced Christian perspectives to consider in the matter of the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union. Christian political theology is broad, and secular political truth is many-sided.
But there are some biblical principles on which Christians may draw to incline towards a ‘Leave’ vote, and these are based on issues of peace, justice and the use and abuse of power – themes which pervade the whole of scripture.
No one disputes that the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and European Economic Community (EEC) in the 1950s was for noble motives. Peace and national reconciliation forged through the pooling of coal and steel production – the means of war – did indeed help to end 1,000 years of Frankish-Germanic conflict. The political cooperation and economic interdependence helped to reconcile ancient enmities and forge an era of relative prosperity. But that was a problem of yesteryear.
To which contemporary question is EU supra-nationalism the answer? What is being gained by the subjection of our national democracy to an immutable corpus of overarching law decided by by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats? Certainly, elected national representatives participating in the Council of Ministers provide a degree of democratic oversight, but who votes for what and how may we know? And what national interest can be served when Qualified Majority Voting is incrementally eroding the power of veto?
One only has to consider the plight of Greece – with its rampant unemployment, rising poverty and spiralling debt (being compounded by more debt) – to appreciate that far from the EU sustaining peace, its policies have become a very cause of civil strife and political unrest. Where is EU solidarity for the young people of Greece, Spain or Italy, where youth unemployment ranges between 40 to 50%?
Across the EU, some 4.5 million young people are trapped in a soul-destroying spiral of unemployment and welfare. The ‘economic governance’ demanded by the euro is manifestly not working for them. You may say ‘we’re not in it’, but the point is that such supranational policies, imposed by an aloof and indifferent elite, ride roughshod over the real-life needs and concerns of the people who are incapable of doing anything to effect a remedy. Even when they vote against such policies in referendums or national elections, their voices are ignored.
The biblical model of nationhood (Genesis 10; Acts 17) does not equate precisely with the pattern of nation states forged in the 18th century, or with the modern political understanding of national defence, taxation, liberal democracy or ethnic identity. But broad principles may be drawn which incline us towards righteous government and, I suggest, towards Brexit:
- Power must be dispersed (Genesis 11:1-9)
- Authority must be limited and accountable (Exodus 9:13-19; Deuteronomy 17:14-16; Daniel 4:28-34)
- Rulers may not trample over the birthright and inheritance of the people (1 Kings 21)
When Babylon becomes a source of oppression, as many in southern Europe feel the EU has certainly become, Christians might want to reconsider the concentration of power in its institutions. Where are liberty and subsidiarity to be found when the EU Commission, Parliament and Court of Justice are all bound by the foundational precept of ‘ever closer union’? What national divergence or differences in identity are tolerated in ever-centralised governance within borders assimilated by Schengen? Where do you find 800 years of developed British jurisprudence when you can be extradited to Greece under the provisions of the European Arrest Warrant, to languish for months in squalor, without Habeas Corpus or Trial by Jury?
Finding the common good
Reasoned theological responses to address some of these urgent questions are readily dismissed as ‘nationalism’, ‘individualism’, ‘isolationism’, ‘xenophobia’, ‘racism’ or ‘populism’. Insults and derogatives hurled by Christians at other Christians only have the effect of entrenching partisan views and inhibiting constructive dialogue. I believe that a robust, passionate response to the EU’s failings is not only necessary, but demanded by those whose vocation it is to warn against impending disaster. Europe is not the EU, and the EU certainly is not Christendom.
If more pro-EU Christians would entertain the possibility that the desire to leave the EU may be consistent with global catholicity, justice, brotherhood, collaboration and cooperation, we might together discern the common good. It is entirely possible to love the diverse peoples, cultures, liberties, customs and Christian traditions of Europe while hating the coercive political and secular moral uniformity of the EU. If we exchange the steel tower of Brussels for the canvas tabernacles of the nations, we don’t necessarily come to the point of war or genocide. We might just begin to open our eyes and ears to the possibility of a Europe which is tolerant of political divergence, exulting of cultural difference and truly at peace with itself.