On 22 September, Pro Europa hosted an event with Robert Innes, the Bishop of the Church of England Diocese in Europe. In his speech, the Rt Reverend Dr Robert Innes offered his take on what we should be thinking about in the context of Britain's relationship with the EU.
Having lived in Brussels for ten years, the Bishop has met many Anglican politicians and officials who have directly felt the effects of British Euroscepticism and the insularity of British attitudes when it comes to the 'continent'. This scepticism, not just prevalent in Brussels, has now culminated in a UK referendum. With his experience and background in Christianity, the Bishop was able to givehis very ownperspective on the EU debate.
In the first part of his speech, we are reminded of the deep-seated origins of the EU. In the run-up to the UK General Election, the Church's House of Bishop produced a teaching document entitled Who is my neighbour. This document, although mainly concerned with domestic political issues, encouraged readers to understand the origins of the EU in the context of post-war 'neighbourliness and togetherness'. In other words, the EU was created on the basis of'solidarity'.
European cooperation can, therefore, be seen in light of values such as forgiveness, peace-making and reconciliation. These are values that all people, and not just Christians, would probably describe as positive and praiseworthy.However, in the run-up to the referendum, the British people need to ask themselves if these are values they still cherish and uphold when they think of the European Union and their country's current membership.
Although these values inspired the formation of the EU, the Bishop recognised that, over the years, the EU has developed into a shared experience of global economic inter-dependence. The Greek economic crisis involved real grief while migration can be seen as a big contemporary crisis. He noted that many British people appear to think that the UK is especially targeted by migrants; however, we are reminded that migration presents challenges that span across Europe, particularly in the Southern and Eastern states.
Migration is therefore not a phenomenon that will go away. Migration in the EU is the result of European economic prosperity, something we should be proud of. However, the challenges that migration brings are caused by wealth inequality and activitiesthat are occurringwell beyondEU borders.
Migrants are not a threatening swarm but are "flesh and blood people" – they are "our neighbours".
On the topic of the referendum itself, we are told that it concerns questions of identity and culture as much as it does economic and political issues. The question we should be asking ourselves is whether the UK can really afford to be a Eurosceptic organisation with,a so-called, "island mentality". To remain a strong negotiator on the economic and political stage, the UK can't only rely on its special relationship with the USA: this is especially so in light of growing economic prosperity west across the Pacific. The UK needs to remain friends with those closer to home, those on its own continent.
We can't adopt a "little England" posture – internationalism is now an increasing part of our DNA.
In terms of how to see the EU today, its foundations inform the way in which all EU countries build structures of trust and cooperation. The key question we are asked to consider is whether Britain is a part of Europe just for what it can get out of Europe or whether it is in Europe to help achieve a common good?
While Europe may offer us a market that generates profit, are we committed (or do we want to commit) to the EU's founding principles?
To provide a little inspiration and help us answer that question, we are left with the words of John Donne, a poet who heavily influenced the development of the Anglican church:
No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
("MEDITATION XVII Devotions upon Emergent Occasions")