Editors commentary: Our future in Europe?


Late May saw elections to the European Parliament.

It is the largest exercise in democracy in the world apart from in India, with nearly 400 million EU citizens eligible to vote.

The main story in this country was the success of the UK Independence Party, UKIP, led by Nigel Farage. (He grew up in Downe, in Kent, and attended Downe Baptist Church Sunday School as a youngster). But this was part of a wider move across Europe, as voters got behind anti-EU and nationalist parties in many countries.

Freedom of movement

Political commentators put UKIP’s success mostly down to concerns over the EU immigration laws. It is argued that free movement of workers across Europe is good for the economy. But it lacks common sense in the eyes of many people.

First, our island is small and how can it possibly absorb the numbers of people who want to settle here? Don’t we already have a chronic shortage of affordable housing? And to be labelled a ‘racist’ for even asking such obvious questions does not help.

second situation stares me in the face. We have a family in our congregation whose son was born here, grew up here, went to school here and later decided to study at Moore Theological College in Australia. There he took out dual British-Australian citizenship and married an Australian girl and they now have children. Before God he feels he would like to work for the Lord and pastor a church in the UK. But that is not so easy. Though he is English and is married to a Commonwealth citizen there seem to be insuperable hurdles to his returning with his family. Why?

Thirdly, a few months ago we had the strange spectacle of the government pleading with Muslim women to try to dissuade British Muslim men from going to fight for Al Qaeda-related groups in Syria (and now Iraq). They were worried that such men would promote violent jihad on their return to this country. Of course, people have the freedom to choose to go, but it seems that the government under EU rules can do nothing to stop their return. There was nothing from the government along the lines of ‘if you go, you can’t come back’. Go and fight for a terror group and you can come back; go to Bible college and marry an Australian and you can’t.

No wonder many voters wanted to give the main political parties a kick up the backside by voting for UKIP in May.

Low turn out

But beneath the Euro headlines there is another story. It has to do with lack of participation. Only 43% of those eligible to vote across Europe participated. And it is age related. Two thirds of those aged 18-24 did not vote in the 2004 elections. Abstention rates were even higher in 2009 and I am informed that this trend is likely to have continued in May. Church is not the only thing young people have given up on. They also appear to be giving up on democracy. Brought up on a ‘feel-good’ world of entertainment, virtual reality and social media, are young people turned off by the hard world of politics, which rarely feels good, especially that of the distant and bureaucratic ‘kingdom’ of Brussels? Former EN Chairman Sir Fred Catherwood, an MEP himself in times past, would remind us that the EU has been instrumental in keeping the peace in Europe since WWII. Whether he’s right, I don’t know. But such things are perhaps being forgotten by a rising generation.

John Benton

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper.

One thought on “Editors commentary: Our future in Europe?

  1. As a Christian who is generally positive about the EU I’d like to pick up on the last point in your commentary and bring it more to the forefront – rather than leaving it as an afterthought.

    You mention (unsurely) the point which is sometimes made about the EU being instrumental in keeping the peace in Europe.

    It’s well-known that a visit to a concentration camp in Poland or to a bullet-riddled town in the former Yugoslavia can be a very sobering experience.

    Once, when on holiday near Calais, I came across a massive, and quite menacing, concrete bunker in some woods near St Omer. It was the Blockhaus d’Éperlecques built by the Nazis, using local slave labour, during the Second World War. Its function was to house the launch pads for the V2 rockets which were designed to wage destruction on an unimaginable scale. But who were these horrifying weapons of mass destruction targeted at? Were they aimed at some unfamiliar foreign place whose annihilation would be tragic but would have little personal impact on our lives? No. It was a chilling and unsettling experience to read, on a plaque, that these terrifying rockets were targeted at our own country. The Nazi’s plan was to literally destroy the whole of London and South East England. This wasn’t science fiction – it was here in front of me. Neither was it a relic from ancient barbaric times – it was built only 70 years ago just 50 miles from Dover.

    It drove home the frightening fact that aggression, violence, and war is never far away – it is constantly simmering away just beneath the surface We can see this from history – especially recent history …. and also from the news. We are all capable of stooping to the depths of human depravity.

    A plaque at the entrance to the Blockhaus explained that a determination to prevent such orgies of violence, destruction, and death was a major driving force behind the formation of what is now the European Union.

    However, it struck me that, especially in “pragmatic” and Eurosceptic Britain, such a view is regarded as ideological nonsense. At best, it is regarded as just a weak idealistic argument which carries very little weight. If it is mentioned at all, it is usually just as an afterthought.

    I wonder……are we being realistic……..or have we got our heads stuck in the sand?

    A policy of coming together in co-operation is never going to be easy. It is never going to work perfectly and, by definition, must involve some give and take. But it has got to be better – and much safer – than our natural inclination towards mistrust and suspicion …….. and the horrors that can potentially result from that.

    Do we cling too closely to the idea of the nation state for our identity? The current notion of the nation state doesn’t go back very far – it’s surprising how quickly something can become an “ancient tradition”. The nation state is also a very flexible entity, highlighted by the ever changing borders of Europe over the last 100 years (our own included). It is not something that is rock solid …….so should we as Christians be more wary of clinging to it too closely for our identity?

    Many people seem to regard the EU with mistrust and suspicion. I don’t identify with that outlook. My own experience of the EU through work (as an architect) has been a very positive one and, as a participant, I don’t think of the EU in terms of “them and us” – Britain and the rest of the EU. We’re all in it together.

    I’m sure that a more positive spirit of participation – of getting involved – would result in British people (and not just business people) appreciating the EU’s benefits more.
    Peace is something which needs to be worked at. We mustn’t take it for granted. When we hear about death, destruction, and devastation in “faraway” places, those who take the view “it can’t happen to us; not here; not in this day and age” are not living in the real world.

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