‘The will of the people’ has become a popular item in the current...
Six nations came together in 1957 to create the European Economic Community. The UK joined in 1972, endorsed by 66% voting in the 1975 referendum. The EU was formed in 1993 and the number of members gradually grew to 28.
Whilst trade and economics were always a central rationale for this body its founding fathers also had a vision for pursuing alternative paths for resolving conflicts of interest to those that had killed 44 million Europeans in two 20th century wars. Those founders were influenced by Catholic social teaching, in particular the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
Their successors have not always taken subsidiarity seriously and have pushed for greater integration towards a federal United States of Europe. The creation of the Eurozone, which Britain refused to join, was arguably a mistake because squeezing 27 economies with different strengths and weaknesses into one currency union has created serious problems, especially for Greece but for other members too. Nevertheless the pressure for further integration continues and this week Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, has threatened to resign if the Council of Ministers doesn’t back his plans for treaty changes to create a Eurozone treasury and Finance Minister. Germany, France and the Netherlands are thought to be opposing these proposals because they fear they will fuel euroscepticism in the elections they face this year.
Polls by the Pew Research Centre suggest that the UK is not the only member dissatisfied with the EU. Only 27% of Greeks, 38% of the French and 47% of Spaniards have a positive view of the EU, compared with the 48% of Britons. The nations with the strongest support for the EU are Poland (72%) and Hungary (61%). Even Germany musters only 50% favouring the EU. The migrant crisis, poor economic performance and unemployment are the probable causes but Eurosceptic parties such as Germany’s AfD and France’s National Front are emerging and pressures are growing for powers to be restored to national governments. Only a small minority in most member states want to see more powers going to Brussels.
This won’t surprise Brexit supporters but they need to reflect on two implications. First, it will make Theresa May’s negotiations for leaving the EU more difficult. She rightly recognises that we cannot cherry pick the aspects of membership, such as access to the single market and membership of the customs union that some want us to keep, but she will seek a unique relationship with the EU that allows us to trade freely with them. Their negotiators are likely to resist this on the grounds that if they make leaving easy other members with eurosceptic parties might be tempted to follow our example.
Second, for at least five reasons Europe needs to be working more closely together, not withdrawing into nationalist ghettos and we need to be part of this. Russia has expansionist ambitions. It has already encroached into the Ukraine and is seizing a dominant role in the Middle East through its involvement in Syria. It also uses its gas and oil reserves to bully its European neighbours. NATO leads the military response but is not concerned with the trade issues. Global warming and climate change, terrorism and international crime syndicates, migration and religious persecution are other big issues which require cooperative responses, not every country doing its own thing. Ideally, the Christian principles of solidarity and subsidiarity should guide the EU’s future and Britain’s relationship with it.