Listen closely to the recent political statements of certain European politicians, not least Chancellor Merkel, and you will realise that the terms of the Euro zone debate have changed significantly in recent weeks.
If you are interested in delving beyond the noise pollution of British media coverage of the crisis then take a look at this article from Der Spiegel which provides a sneak peek at plans being drawn up for Europe’s tomorrow.
The political challenge as always will be to come up with suitably ambitious proposals that can calm financial markets while also being electorally viable. That’s a huge challenge and it is far from certain that the summitry mechanism by which decisions are made will actually allow the right decision to be made.
These developments have yet to be fully picked up by a Eurosceptic British media intently pre-occupied with fuelling our self-righteous relief that successive governments have kept us out of the Euro. The problem, however, is that the way the Eurozone crisis is being reported here will make it that much harder for us to make an informed decision about Britain’s long term relationship with Europe.
Yesterday The Times carried two separate but related stories that are worth throwing into this mix. The first report was that of the Chancellor George Osborne urging business to be much more vocal in helping the government to make the case for a low tax economy and a smaller state. Without such support he argued, Chancellors would find it hard to “put their necks on the line” for cuts in the top rate of tax.
It’s worth noting here as an aside, that a similar logic affects the debate on the 0.7% aid target. If aid agencies can use next year’s UK G8 to pull off another Make Poverty History stunt then maybe, just maybe, there will be sufficient political and public consensus on the aid budget to allow the Government to introduce the necessary legislation. That’s political leadership for you.
The second story was an opinion piece by Daniel Finkelstein. He argues, rightly I believe, that it is only a matter of time before we have a referendum on our continued membership of the EU. The ‘remorseless logic’ of closer integration in-built into the Euro-project allied to the 2011 European Union Act, which requires any transfer of sovereignty to be subject to a referendum means that it is only a matter of time before we have a referendum on UK membership. The question is not if we have a referendum, but when we have a referendum and what the referendum question will be.
While Chancellor Merkel is carefully preparing the German public for the possibility that Europe’s future requires Germany to give up large portions of its national sovereignty, David Cameron’s reticence appears deliberately designed to engineer the repatriation of national sovereignty by allowing our gradual exit from Europe, ar at least a self-imposed isolation on its outer margins. How such a strategy might impact on any Scottish referendum for independence is anyone’s guess, but I suspect its going to be a complicating factor in whether the United Kingdom survives.
All of this brings me to the question of what role should the Church play in all of this?
For the Church the primary purpose of politics – even European politics – is the promotion of human flourishing and the conditions that are necessary to make this happen. On the whole the Church has over the years held that while it has reservations over certain characteristics of European integration – its democratic deficit etc – our propensity as humans created in the image of God to be creative, productive and responsible and generous beings is enhanced by pooling certain elements of national sovereignty in a common European project.
If that is the case, and I know that there will be many who disagree with me, why aren’t we as a Church actively pressing for a more informed debate here in the UK about our membership of the EU and, more importantly, what type of European construct best safeguards and protects human flourishing. This a debate that we can’t shirk and it is one that we need to actively encourage in the UK. In so doing maybe we need to spend less time trying to shape particular policy debates in Brussels and instead refocus our efforts on setting the terms of a wider national debate in Westminster.