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A Vision for Europe

A short summary

Faith in Europe is an educational charity that originated in concern for religious freedom in totalitarian regimes. With a faith perspective, it now focuses on political, social, and cultural issues in the European Union and the wider European continent. It holds briefing events four times a year and publishes accounts of these on its website and elsewhere. It is a Body in Association with CTBI (Churches Together in Britain and Ireland). At a time when the post-Second World War global order seems increasingly under threat, we have asked our theologian colleague Ken Medhurst to take a faith-based look at the aspirations, achievements and future options for the European Union.

Ken begins by noting how the values which we have been able to take for granted - liberalised trade, liberal democracy, and above all liberal conceptions of human rights - have been undermined by economic crisis, policy failures, mass migration and a retreat into nationalism. Individuals or populations have lost a sense of belonging to a world seemingly run by established elites. There has been a growing nostalgia for an idealised past. Inequality has grown in spite of a general rise in living standards.

Europe has been caught up in these developments. Postwar politicians with a Christian-inspired vision, alongside more secular socialists, aimed to reconcile the war-torn nations by collaborative economic development. They drew in former dictatorships, and then territories liberated from the communist embrace. The idea of greater political unity has gained support but created strains. The European Union has achieved some of these aims but now faces nationalist, centrifugal pressures. These changed realities call for a new vision. This paper sets out suggestions under headings partly drawn from Catholic social teaching.

Service is the first of these. The EU brings nations together by force and not by conquest and should serve them by providing a platform of justice and law. This implies that some of its institutions may need more political control.

The concept of Solidarity implies a feeling of common identity. This already applies to citizens with common experiences in politics, education, faith and working life, but not to those who find supra-national rather than national loyalties foreign to them. Demagogic leaders have encouraged this populism. The EU could aim more to share burdens, to enhance a civil society that faces up to common problems, to dethrone the worship of markets, and above all to engender trust. Younger members of the community may have most to offer here.

Subsidiarity is a principle recognised in theory by the EU but not always in practice, seen as a way to avoid the imposition of rules that would be better adapted to local cultures and circumstances. On the German federal analogy, this may not have to be even on a national basis. Freedom to take local decisions will enhance self-respect among local people.

Stewardship represents the faith-based view that Christian values and those shared with other faiths need guardianship, and that the EU is a well-placed to exercise this. The EU can offer inspiration not only to its member states but to candidate countries and to others outside its borders.

Security is a need that the EU as a peace project has always set out to meet, and not by its own force of arms. The EU's concern for the whole of Ireland in the 'Brexit' context has been an example of this. The EU is and can be a pace-setter for the rest of the world.

Sustainability depends on confronting climate change and environmental degradation. The EU has a status and economic weight to achieve more than any independent nation. It can recognise the need for right investment, for the employment of its population, and for the management of energy problems. It can highlight the plight and problems in these fields for the world's poor.

As a conclusion, Ken insists that British faith communities have an opportunity and a responsibility to recognise the need for bridge-building and dialogue with fellow-believers across Europe, regardless of the UK's relationship with the EU. They should pursue understanding and awareness among their members, but they should also have their voices heard in public debate on all the topics covered in this paper.

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