Europe: A Hamster on a Wheel

I’m in Paris this weekend helping to take forward conversations about the future shape of the Conference of European Churches.

It’s fascinating how the agenda of this ecumenical working group, which has to report by the end of the year, is grappling with many of the same issues and concerns facing Europe’s political leaders.

Euro-pessimism – whether of a political or ecumenical nature – is all the vogue at the moment. They are both easy targets and that’s a shame. It’s easy to talk them down as outdated and tired post-1945 experiments that have now had their day.

Both can all too often appear to be like hamsters on a wheel – constantly in motion but never making any progress. Both are subject to bouts of constitutional re-engineering that for the most part alienate their respective constituencies – citizens and congregations.

What does it Mean to be CEC in an Age of Uncertainty?

What is sometimes lost in the technical debates about competences and institutional arrangements is that both the EU, and to a lesser extent CEC, represent sui generis experiments and alternative strategies in relating to and dealing with the other. This new politics of relatedness is worth nurturing and preserving whatever turbulent waters lie ahead.

This isn’t to advocate a defence of the status quo. Both I think are in deep trouble very much because the traditional ways of doing things has reached, if not already exceeded, the limits of their usefulness.

The current operational code for managing European integration and ecumenism (the famous bicycle theory) can at times appear suffocating and forced, even if the gap between official rhetoric and reality(ies) has become more sharply marked.

All of this leads me to ask: Do we need to return to first principles – the politics of relatedness – and fundamentally redesign European integration and ecumenism in a way that takes ‘unity in diversity’ seriously?

Much here, I think, depends on whether we can recall and reclaim the inner strengths and beliefs of earlier days, while ditching much of today’s operational practice and command and control structures.

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