Bishop Nick Baines joins the Euro-fray
Bishop Nick Baines was formerly Bishop of Bradford and is now the Bishop-designate of Leeds. He is one of the few in the episcopal hierarchy who understands the modern media and actively engages with it for the purpose of mission, even to the point of running a 'real' blog (ie one upon which people may leave comments, to which he very often responds). Bishop Nick's portfolio of responsibilities includes membership of the House of Bishops’ Europe Panel (they issue the occasional report), which is probably what stimulated him to write on the matter.
Having dissected Bishop Pete's tweets yesterday, His Grace is of the view that Bishop Nick's blogpost merits a thoughtful fisking by Archbishop Tom today:
It's interesting to watch the political parties responding like headless chickens to the Euro-elections. Short-term reaction again, or taking a long-term view of future threats and opportunities? I guess time will tell.This is absolutely right: the immediate responses have been trivial and ephemeral. But that, of course, is essentially the nature of political discourse in a representative democracy that runs in 4/5-year cycles and is attuned to churning out soundbites for the latest grievance du jour. And yet, from the outset, it appears that in talking about 'political parties', Bishop Nick is excluding Ukip from his thinking, since their grasp of "future threats and opportunities" is rather more coherent and consistent than that of the 'main' parties: the "headless chickens" are manifestly those who are baffled by Ukip's rise and flail about without a clue what to do about it. While the cocks wonder what happened to their cock-a-doodle-doo, Nigel Farage is strutting about like a peacock, head firmly fixed on shoulders.
What interests me in all this is less the dramatic interpretations of the immediate and more the question that lies at the heart of the current debate: what sort of Europe do we wish to create?Here we go to the nub of the matter, and the division in respective "what sort of" visions is stark, to the point of being mutually exclusive. There are those who talk about a trade area or customs union - which is what we thought we joined in 1973 and affirmed by referendum in 1975, and which involves no erosion of "essential national sovereignty", as Ted Heath assured. And there are those who talk about a social Europe, a political union, an economic governance leading to a United States of Europe, which is actually what we have, and which most certainly involves the erosion if not the eradication of vast swathes of "essential national sovereignty".
Go to young countries like Kazakhstan and you can't help but be struck by the constructive optimism of young people. Yes, there are problems and there are serious questions about power and corruption; but the young people believe they are building something better than what they had in the past. Come back to Europe and it feels like we are tired, cynical and trying to justify hanging on to something we have inherited.His Grace will bow to your superior knowledge of Kazakhstan. But it isn't clear at all how one can even begin to compare the hopes and aspirations of a 20-year-old nation emerging out of the Russian Empire and the oppressions of the Soviet Union with those of a nation which has a thousand years of evolved cultural mores, political traditions and a cohesive religion. If Britain were liberating itself from the yoke of dictatorship, yes, the European Union might offer a relative freedom. But we are not: the British have been free by increments for centuries - certainly coming to some minority groups later than others - but while the people of Kazakhstan may be persuaded that they are building something better than Communist uniformity, Soviet famine and religious eradication, the people of Britain are increasingly persuaded they are being absorbed into something far worse than what they had in the past.
And this has less to do with European institutions than it does with a European narrative of identity and purpose. We can easily re-shape institutions without properly addressing the core question of meaning. Who and what is Europe for?We can agree on the first sentence, for the whole UK-EU debate is really one of identity and purpose. But the second sentence belies a certain naïveté, for the bold assertion that "we can easily re-shape institutions" is fundamentally nullified by the reality of European Council unanimity, Commission exclusivity and an insurmountable QMV boundary.
I was interested in Archbishop Cranmer's piece on Europe. He claims that the bishops of the Church of England are uncritical europhiles. He further claims that they/we accept Europe as it is. Neither is actually true.This two-sentence summary is something of a caricature, if not a touch of convenient misinformation (but thanks for the link so your readers can assess for themselves what His Grace actually wrote). It is curious that you say His Grace claimed the bishops are "uncritical europhiles", when he specifically wrote: "They may quibble about aspects of its functioning or raise scruples over its institutional aloofness.." It is plain to anyone that Church of England bishops are not uncritical of the EU (eg HERE), but you are, nonetheless, as His Grace wrote, "fervent supporters of Britain's membership of the European Union", and His Grace explained that this is undoubtedly because you "are all persuaded that a divided continent is a tragedy for the Church; that mission is best served by a unified polity with a strong social dimension..". You are all 'pro-Europe'; just not pro the kind of 'Europe' we have. But that is the only one on offer, which has been our national destiny ever since we subscribed to "ever closer union".
I have written before about the need for a new guiding narrative in Europe if a younger generation is to be engaged in any way. I made this point at a round table discussion with Herman van Rompuy in Brussels a couple of years ago. I made it again at a meeting of the House of Bishops recently. I continue to ask how we can establish a process that explores a new narrative without getting bogged down in arguments about institutions alone.The linked article is highly informative, not least because it essentially calls for a "guiding narrative" toward "ever closer union". There is no apparent awareness of subsidiarity or any appreciation of the limitations of anti-democratic supranational engagement. What is this "guiding narrative" to consist of when the demos is diffused by a myriad of historical national 'myths'? How is it to be inculcated? And why should it be? Again, even in the philosophical debates around identity, you actually prove His Grace's point: all the bishops are 'pro-Europe' because it is seen to be the enlightened thing to be. His Grace, too, is 'pro-Europe', but he doesn't want to be governed by an unaccountable elite, which is the EU, which is, for the House of Bishops, synonymous with 'Europe'.
The House of Bishops Europe Panel, of which I have been a member, was not set up to defend the European Union. It was set up to take seriously the nature of European identity, and to consider our European ecumenical relationships in the light of wider European political and cultural contexts.Uh-huh. How many members of the House of Bishops Europe Panel favour UK secession from the EU? If none (which is the case), how can you justify this political imbalance on a parliamentary committee when Parliament is manifestly divided on the issue? You have said the Union is run by a distant elite with an opaque bureaucracy which is antithetical to democracy, but no one took any notice of your considered report. How long do you go on issuing diagnostic reports before prescribing a remedy? What are the limits of that remedy?
And here lies a further challenge. The post-war ecumenical project arose from the blood of European conflict and the resolve to establish relationships that would make war impossible in the future. It mirrored (and sometimes led) the political drive towards closer relationships. But, just as the ecumenical generation is ageing, so is the generation of those who grew up with the political project.Yes, indeed. The community of brotherhood forged out of Christian ecumenism is the theological equivalent of the European Coal and Steel Community. But European conflict has not been eradicated by the "political drive towards closer relationships". Indeed, the very 'Soul of Europe' that sometimes led the political drive has been subsumed to a kind of Euro nationalism which is now fomenting discord and exacerbating fascistic nationalisms across the Union. This isn't about institutions; it is about cultural identity, fear, resentment and (in many countries, most notably Greece and Spain) severe economic pain and acute social desperation. What kind of Christian leadership is it that helps perpetuate unemployment, recession, inflation and poverty? How can you support a political project which causes hardship, depression, homelessness and repossession? The total number of suicides, heart attacks, divorces and mental breakdowns will never be known. What monumental inhumanity.
Both need a new narrative – one that can be created by and engage the imagination of my children's generation and younger. Only then will they know what they are building, and why. Creating something generates energy and vision; hanging on to something inherited does not necessarily do the same job.Again, the teleological presupposition is that the construction of the House of Europe must continue, and this is simply contingent on finding a "new narrative", something a bit more postmodern - Cool Europa, if you will.
That's the challenge. I am interested to explore how we begin that sort of conversation – one that goes beyond, and is not captivated by, the institutions that should reflect our purpose.It is heartening and profoundly encouraging that you are interested, and His Grace is sincerely appreciative of an Anglican reflection which goes beyond Bishop Pete's rather condensed analysis. But the answer to the present Euro-crisis is not 'more Europe with a new narrative', for the people won't be inclined to swallow that. As you observe, the Church of England must return to the beginning and ask "Who and what is Europe for?" If the House of Bishops' sub-committee were to meet and prayerfully consider that fundamental question, the Holy Spirit might just open your eyes to the irrefutable truth that the Europe we currently have is for the self-perpetuating elite, and they are resolutely still seeking to address the concerns of two generations ago.