Our ecumenical officer, Andy Lie has passed on this report on the NECAT-organised event recently held at Sunderland Minster
Canon Sheila Bamber, welcomed everyone and introduced the panel
Introduction – Dr. Mary McHugh
Dr. Mary McHugh, introduced some of the historical aspects of the European Union. Attempts to unite Europe in the past have been by conflict and conquest e.g. Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler and the Third Reich. The idea of Europe as a union of nations is not just something that emerged following the Second World War, it goes back further.
- 1693 William Penn argued for a united Europe to prevent war
- 1849 Victor Hugo proposed a united states of Europe
- 1945 It was suggested that a united Europe would be good economically as well as a force for peace. The history of Europe suggests that when countries put sovereignty first it tends to end in either argument and conflict. A union could bring peace and security and economic stability.
Robert Schumann, was involved in instigating coal and steel arrangements, his theory was that without coal and steel we can’t go to war, so if we work together on its production we can reduce war. These agreements eventually became the basis of EEC.
Initially all countries joining were from Western Europe – France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. They were joined in 1967 by the UK and Ireland, followed by Spain, Portugal and Greece. In 1993 the Maastrict Treaty was signed to form the European Union and bring in the single currency, the Euro. From 2004 onwards the EU has been joined by a number of Eastern European countries, for many this has marked a significant change in the EU. Prior to this there seemed to be a similarity between the nations, but the countries joining now are economically poorer, have a different shared history and we don’t always agree on common values and standards.
Some questions that we might ask, is the EU now too big, has it got too much control, do we need more subsidiarity as we work together?
To what extent does the European union enable us to love our neighbor……
How do we make up our mind, what is the economy we want for the kind of society are we trying to proclaim?
Is a Christian economy one that promotes the dignity of each individual? We might go on to say that following our personal freedoms would not deliver this. A Christian economy requires stable communities that are interdependent and support one another.
We cannot deny that in some ways there is something rotten in the state of Europe, its failure to tackle the refugee situation, the euro has become a nightmare. Things do need to change.
Much of the arguments we hear focus on TRADE, Pope Francis has said that trade is never the path to peace and justice (Europe and dignity)
So then is it possible to make the EU work? Certainly, by treating it as an overgrown trade union and threatening divorce isn’t constructive, it won’t help things to change. Perhaps what we should be asking ourselves is what can we as a country offer to Europe, instead of always thinking of what we can get out of it for ourselves.
Paul Brannen M.E.P.
The problem is that we are being asked to compare the known with the unknown, we are asking for facts but the facts will only get us so far and some are speculation. I cannot prove that we should stay in the EU and be better off, any more than I can prove that God exists, it’s about belief.
5 reasons to stay
- JOBS we are still a manufacturing region, in fact we manufacture and export more than any other region. 67% of jobs are linked with EU trade, and we don’t know what will happen long term, the EU may put up tariffs or change criteria.
- The EU has moved money from rich to poor countries, in the early 1970’s this was to Portugal, Greece and Ireland and today it’s to the former Eastern Bloc. If those countries become richer they spend money, they buy our goods. The North East is one of the poorest region so does benefit from Brussels money, we are a net beneficiary. A future government in London may re direct the money not sent to Europe to our region but we don’t know.
- SECURITY No member of the EU has gone to war with another EU state.
- WORKER’S RIGHTS. Most of the law we have in place around workers’ rights have come through Brussels legislation and not UK. The big 5 unions support remaining in the EU.
- Most laws that that protect environment are from Brussels and so our beaches are cleaner, bird environments protected,
Immigration is a concern, BUT the facts are that more than half of immigration is from outside the European Union. Also 2 million Brits have moved to Europe, most of these are elderly and requiring support from local healthcare, whereas the 2.3 million that are in this country from the EU are mostly younger, working and contributing to the economy. Research has shown that those migrants contribute far more to the UK economy than they take out.
Should churches take a stand on a position in the Referendum? The Church of Scotland has said yes to remain, and the RC church has said they feel the benefits of staying in outweigh those of going out.
Anne Marie Trevelyan M.P.
From a personal perspective, Anne Marie’s mother is half French and so in many ways she said she loves Europe, but hates the European Union. The EU is a political union that comes out of the ravages of World War 1 and 2 to establish peace but in order to do that had to remove the idea of nation hood, the nationhood that was seen to be the cause of war. She argues that war is caused by dictatorships, and that democracy is the underpinning of security and peace. The EU began as a good idea, but they have taken away democracy and the rights of individuals and countries to make decisions.
We are already part of a free trade group which will continue. We will be under world trade organization rules; it is not simply about EU trade. There are some unfair practices in trade. Those in the developing countries around the world, can sell basic ingredients without tariff, but if they set up factory and try and trade manufactured goods than they are hit with many tariffs. The result is that the biggest coffee producer is in Germany, which buys coffee cheap and then processes and sells for huge profits in the EU.
Europe has 40% youth unemployment in some areas e.g. Greece and Portugal. The Euro is in crisis. It costs the British tax payer to underwrite the euro, to try and keep it afloat, and the instability will continue because wealthy producing Germany is tied to a low economy Greece.
Immigration is an issue. We are one of the most densely populated countries in Europe and an attractive place to come and work because of higher wages. The UK needs a system like Australia that identifies need and allows immigration to those who offer what is needed and will not put a strain on our housing, schools and services.
The EU needs to change, however we have not been able to change things for 40 years and it is unlikely to change things as one of 28 countries in the future.
European cooperation can continue – Britain does not have to be in the EU for this to happen.
Prof Robert Song
The EU is in a mess. It has lost credibility, makes decisions that we have no control over, it is expensive, it has stagnated in decision making….
The euro is a mess, currency union without fiscal and political union clearly doesn’t work.
There is a huge migration crisis, over a million refugees in the last year
The EU is in a crisis and no one benefits if we don’t acknowledge this.
In this country we are having a Referendum. In other countries we are seeing a growth in support for right wing parties.
The original vision was beautiful, no more European war, but those generations that saw the horrors of war have now passed and the current generation are just weary. We need to acknowledge the scale of the crisis, and the referendum and Brexit campaign has forced that on us, given us a moment of crisis but also a moment of opportunity. If we do say yes then it cannot be a half-hearted acceptance of the status quo, but a new commitment to work with, challenge, and change, for this country to show leadership and a new vision.
What principles can that new vision be based on:
- Interdependence. We are parts of one body, at national and communal level all bringing and receiving gifts. We are not independent nor are we dependent, our identity should be acknowledged, we are not just recipients of their charity we are equal parts
- Offering help, at the appropriate help, decisions being made at the lowest possible level. If a decision can be made by individuals, then let them but some things need global decisions and subsidiarity is not something the EU has done well.
- Justice not just in the legal system but justice in production and trade Fairtrade movement economic production is fundamentally about relationship, producing coffee is not just about international trade but relationship, a different type of trade.
A selection of some of the Questions and responses
In 1975 we voted yes, but EU is undemocratic institution, taxation without representation, we have no say on VAT and how its applied yet the EU takes 25%. How do we take control of our own taxes?
The EU only controls a small proportion, our own Westminster government decides on our taxation
Leaving the EU would give us control of raising funds and spend them
The Immigration Points system is morally repugnant because it takes the brightest and best from poorer countries and leaves them struggling. We cannot simply cream off the best people for our own benefit.
We need a system that can control numbers so that infrastructure can cope. We do help the poorest, we have put the most money into Syrian crisis and have taken in refugees and the most vulnerable
We should be training our own people for the jobs that are needed not poaching from poor countries
Current migration system from Europe is fair, anyone can come, no health check. Some of our elderly pensioners are a drain on other countries health service
Environment, lower pollution and clean beaches. How does the EU need to change to better protect the environment?
The EU has a good record on the environment and needs to hold its nerve and continue with appropriate legislation. They could use the Common agricultural agreement to encourage farming in an environmentally way using less pesticides, planting more trees etc.
The Eurozone is in crisis, many of the same arguments were used to support Britain joining the Euro. Fortunately we stayed out, what have the economists say about this vote.
Economists haven’t got a crystal ball – they can’t be certain. Everything suggests that there is likely to be a dip in the economy initially because change always causes a downturn.
Economic models can be built on whatever you want, and the Treasury report that was published was based on very negative assumptions. No one has really chosen to model a scenario of a vote to stay and then the effect a collapse of the euro.
What will happen to the UK if we vote to leave?
If we voted to leave and this triggered a breakup of the UK , then England would struggle. Not everyone in Scotland wants to remain we don’t know what the vote would be.
There is a bilateral treaty in Northern Ireland and Eire is in place so it may be that there was no effect on the Irish borders. On the other hand, it would be our only land border with the EU and the UK may well want more border controls. Northern Ireland has received 2 billion Euros from the EU to support the peace programme and would be significantly affected by a leave vote.
William Hague has said that he believes the unity of the UK is more important than leaving Europe
Should we stay and dialogue with the EU?
We should not stay only because we fear the future or to maintain the status quo. We should stay and want to show leadership and work for change.