THE UK must rebuild trust with its partners in the European Union to avoid the “travesty” of “slowly drifting towards the exit”, the Archbishops’ Council has told MPs.
It warns that the UK lost “credibility as a negotiating partner” at the European Council meeting in December 2011, when the Prime Minister used a veto to block an EU treaty to tackle the crisis facing the eurozone.
The Council argues that the measures proposed — which are now enshrined in a “fiscal compact” — were intended to achieve goals “fully in line with UK national interest”, and that an “opportunity to show solidarity with partners” was missed.
This was a “natural and inevitable” consequence of decisions taken over the past two decades by successive British governments, who have failed to develop “constructive and positive” conceptions of the EU and sell them to an “increasingly skeptical” audience at home.
It is in the “fundamental interests” of the UK that the problems of the eurozone are resolved, and that the compact is “folded back into existing EU Treaties” as soon as possible, the paper argues.
The fact that other countries are willing to press on with integration without Britain, even outside the structures of the EU, is symptomatic of Britain’s “waning influence” in Europe, an illustration of “a single camp with one major player outside it, despite its vital interest being at stake”.
The paper envisages a “messier . . . multi-speed” Europe, with variable membership, and suggests that Britain should develop “permanent areas of structured co-operation with like-minded member states” on issues such as defence and security.
The EU must address a “crisis of legitimacy” by closing the gap between its institutions and its citizens.
The Council calls for a “revival of the vision of Europe which fired the EU’s founders and which is deeply rooted in Europe’s many cultures and, now, its many communities of faith”.
A recent Eurobarometer poll of EU citizens found that, of those it polled, the proportion who said that they had a positive image of the EU fell from 52 per cent in autumn 2007 to 31 per cent in autumn 2011.
A response to the consultation from the Minister for Europe, David Lidington MP, states that the Government is “committed to playing a leading role in the EU, whilst advancing the UK’s national interests and protecting its sovereignty”.
The veto used in December prevented the creation of a treaty that did not include “safeguards to protect the integrity of the single market” and was not in the UK’s interests, he says.
While this response echoes that of the Archbishops’ Council in its vision of an EU with “multiple forms of membership” with the “flexibility of a network and not the rigidity of a bloc”, and its call for greater legitimacy, it calls for a Europe that “respects and builds on national identities”.
Governments in the eurozone are struggling to prevent the zone’s break-up.
Last week, the Europe diocesan synod heard stories from churches in southern Europe about the impact of the crisis.
The Priest-in-Charge of St Paul’s, Athens, Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, said that a “Greek tragedy is being played out on the streets of Athens and far beyond.”
He was angry, he said, that a system into which people had paid in good faith was melting down, while the wealthy, who had probably gained wealth by “avoiding the commitments which they should have”, were “totally untouched by what’s around them”.
Politicians’ “incompetence” was also a source of anger. “It seems as though they are only interested in power.”
Commenting on the synod, David Fieldsend, who worships at Holy Trinity, Brussels, and chairs the European Christian Political Foundation, suggested that individuals, as well as governments and banks, must accept responsibility for the crisis.
“While the sun was shining, we were given the impression we could take out as much credit as we liked, and we wouldn’t have to worry about whether we would eventually have to repay it or not.”
The Church must care for the victims, and urge governments not to forget “the vulnerable and weak and the need for a safety net for them in our societies”, he said.
The Bishop in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, agreed. The crisis, he said, was the source of “real moral challenges” for “all of us who have . . . not heeded some of the gospel imperatives about the consequences of greed, unfettered possessiveness, and the accumulation of material goods”.