The EU Referendum
The report of the Public Questions, Religion & Morals Committee to the recent General Assembly contained a section on the referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union which is due to be held on 23rd June. The Assembly came to the following finding on this section:
"The General Assembly thank the Committee for their consideration of the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. They instruct the Publications Committee to place the text on the Church website and to give it appropriate publicity. They pray that the Lord, who is sovereign over all things, would be pleased to deliver the UK from membership of this ungodly union, and to restore to us godly laws;"
The text of the section on the referendum follows:
Referendum on Membership of the European Union
A referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) was promised in the Conservative Party’s manifesto at the General Election held on 7th May 2015. When they formed the Government the Conservatives initiated the necessary legislation, the European Union Referendum Bill being introduced to the House of Commons on 27th May. At the second reading on 9th June only the SNP MPs voted against the Bill. The House of Lords approved the Bill on 14th December and it received the Royal Assent on 17th December. A separate act was passed by the Gibraltar Parliament to allow the referendum to take place in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory which is part of the European Union and is represented in the European Parliament as part of the South West England constituency. All British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over the age of eighteen who are resident in the UK or Gibraltar will be able to vote in the referendum, as will British citizens who live abroad but have appeared on the UK electoral register during the past fifteen years.
After the legislation had been passed the Prime Minister held a series of one-to-one talks with the leaders of the other twenty-seven EU countries concerning the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU; this was followed by a meeting of the European Council, the EU’s supreme political body, on 18th & 19th February, at which a deal was negotiated giving the UK “special status” in the EU. It included restrictions on welfare payments for EU migrants, protection for financial services in the City of London and a recognition that the euro is not the currency of the EU. There was also an exemption for the UK from the EU’s declared aim of continuing to create an “ever closer union”, but precisely what that phrase means and whether the whole deal is actually legally binding has been disputed. The following day the Prime Minister announced that the referendum would be held on 23rd June. The question which will appear on the ballot paper is:
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
Voters are to select one of two possible responses:
Remain a member of the European Union
Leave the European Union
We believe that this is a very important issue and one which should not be neglected by the church. As with the question of Scottish independence which we dealt with in our report two years ago, while the question of whether the UK should remain in or leave the EU may appear to many to be an entirely political one, it does in fact have a strong religious dimension to it. Our intention is to provide some background information on the EU and then to focus on the spiritual side of the subject.
The PQRM Report to the 1994 General Assembly
It is of interest that the PQRM Committee, and therefore the General Assembly, has considered the subject of the European Union on a previous occasion. In 1994 the Committee included in its Assembly report a section entitled ‘The European Union’. The following justification was given for its inclusion:
“Much of the debate about Europe is fuelled by irrational fears and claims on both sides of the debate. From the Christian perspective it is never right to argue from prejudice or ignorance. If nothing else this report hopes to be of help to Christians in the Free Church of Scotland in thinking through this important issue. In particular this report is concerned to consider moral and religious questions in the light of recent developments such as the 1986 Single European Act, which introduced the Single Market and increased political co-operation, and the Maastricht Treaty, which has laid the basis for greater European union.”
We are in agreement with that general assessment and the declared aim. In the paragraphs which follow there are several intriguing passages. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy appeared to have some support from the Committee: “If agricultural subsidies were to be dropped then most British farmers would find it impossible to survive. The resultant damage to the economy and the environment would be catastrophic. It is doubtful whether the crofting community could survive without EU subsidy. Perhaps reform of the CAP is the best option.” The idea of a single currency [out of which the euro emerged] also found approval: “The aim of European Monetary Union is to provide an honest currency which holds its value. This can only be a laudable aim.” Finally the Committee appeared to have an ambivalent attitude towards the ceding of sovereignty to the EU: “although we accept the nation state as a Biblical concept it is not the only model of government. Romans 13 was written in the context of city states and the Roman Empire!”
In the light of subsequent historical developments, the above statements are seen to be incautious and to lack something in regard to wisdom. More importantly, we believe that these statements are – to some degree at least – in conflict with scriptural principles. However the most naïve statements in the section come in a sub-section on Religion, which begins with the following paragraphs:
“As already indicated, a number of evangelical Christians are concerned about the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the European Union. They are fearful that the Roman Church’s political ambitions mean that it is wanting to take over the community, and that the freedom of Evangelicals to preach the Gospel will be greatly hindered.
Although we acknowledge the papacy’s political ambitions, we believe there is no evidence for viewing the EC as a Vatican plot aimed at domination of Europe. The Treaty of Rome had nothing to do with the Vatican, and the European Union has certainly not helped any tyrannical ambitions that the Vatican may have. The European Union guarantees freedom of religion. In 1984 the old Catholic privileges were withdrawn from Italy. In 1991 the withdrawal of State subsidies to the Catholic Church in Spain occurred. All over Europe the Catholic Church is in decline. However, this is not a cause for rejoicing, as it is not being replaced by Biblical Christianity. Islam and secular humanism are by far the greater threats to the Gospel at the present moment. In some respects the Catholic Church is an ally of Biblical moral standards. Whether it is abortion, or the increasing power of the homosexual lobby – the Catholic Church has a far clearer and more Biblical stance than some so-called Protestant Churches.”
The whole section concluded:
“The Free Church of Scotland should not hold the view that the European Union is intrinsically evil. We recognise the fears that many have, although many of these fears are based on ignorance or political considerations, rather than Biblical ones. It may well be that the British state as we know it is under threat (something which many will regret), but to equate liberty of the Gospel with defence of the British state as some appear to do is an unwarranted, unbiblical and indeed alarming conclusion to draw. Whatever the future may hold we believe that the Church should seize every opportunity to proclaim the Gospel, and to be salt and light in Europe.”
How our own view differs from the opinion reflected in these statements will be evident as we proceed. There is one further point of interest in the 1994 report. A paragraph in the Proposed Deliverance stated:
“The General Assembly express concern about the lack of democracy in the running of the European Community. They urge all Christians to pray for those in authority in the Community so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
The paragraph was the subject of an amendment at the Assembly, that it be deleted and replaced by the following:
“The General Assembly urge all Christians to pray for those in authority in the European Union, that they might have a concern for righteousness and acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ in their governing, so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
The thinking behind this proposed amendment is indicated in a report on the Assembly which was carried in the Monthly Record:
“Another proposal was made by John W Keddie. The Committee expressed concern at the lack of democracy in the European Union. He thought that it would be better to refer to the need for righteousness rather than democracy. The Deliverance was stated negatively and imprecisely. We can’t assert a divine right of democracy. One thing we can assert is the worship of Jesus Christ; we should make an affirmation along these lines. Our concern for government is not so much the form of it but the nature of it. It is righteousness, not democracy that exalts a nation.”
On a vote the amendment was defeated and the Proposed Deliverance was carried by a majority and became the Finding. The then editor of the Monthly Record, Rev. Ronald Christie, commented: “The Assembly unfortunately preferred democracy to righteousness.” We agree with that assessment.
The Origins and Aims of the European Union
The origins of the European Union go back to the period following the Second World War. A desire was expressed for European integration by peaceable means, to curb the sort of nationalism which twice that century had led to devastating conflict on the continent. In particular it was felt that the historic tensions between France and Germany needed to be dealt with. The Hague Congress in 1948 brought together delegates from across Europe to discuss co-operation, and a call was made for a political, economic and monetary Union of Europe.
The first significant move in this direction came in April 1951, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, leading to the creation in 1952 of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Six nations were involved: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The UK refused to join on the grounds of national sovereignty, and because doing so would mean sacrificing relations with the USA and the Commonwealth. The ECSC was not merely an economic venture. It was declared to be “a first step in the federation of Europe,” and had as one of its aims the encouraging of world peace. The ECSC was run by four institutions: a High Authority composed of independent appointees, a Common Assembly composed of national parliamentarians, a Special Council composed of national ministers, and a Court of Justice. These bodies were the blueprint for the institutions of today’s EU.
The EU acknowledges eleven men as its ‘founding fathers’ – two each from France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, and one each from Belgium, Luxembourg and the UK. Chief among them is Robert Schuman (1886-1963), a Christian Democrat politician who was Prime Minister of France for two brief periods and has been given the title of ‘Father of Europe’. In 1949, when Foreign Minister of France, Schuman stated in a speech in Strasbourg: “Our century, that has witnessed the catastrophes resulting in the unending clash of nationalities and nationalisms, must attempt and succeed in reconciling nations in a supranational association.” The Schuman Declaration, a document proposing European integration and stating the principles of ‘supranational democracy’, was issued in the name of the French government on 9th May 1950 (in 2008 the European Parliament recognised 9th May as ‘Europe Day’). A devout Roman Catholic, Schuman was a knight of the Order of Pius IX; proceedings for his beatification have been underway since 1990.
Three of the other ‘founding fathers’ were closely associated with Schuman and shared his Roman Catholic faith in varying degrees: Jean Monnet (1888-1979), a French economist and diplomat and an advocate of the gradual development of European unity, drafted the text of the Schuman Declaration; Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), a Christian Democrat politician and Chancellor of West Germany from 1949-63, gave his agreement to the Declaration; Alcide de Gasperi (1881-1954), an Italian statesman and founder of the Christian Democrat party in that country, strongly supported the Declaration (proceedings for his beatification began in 1993).
The Briton claimed by the EU as one of its founding fathers is Winston Churchill (1874-1965). In a speech given at the University of Zurich in September 1946, when he was leader of the Opposition, Churchill declared: “We must build a kind of United States of Europe.” The background to his speech was the plight of Europe after the War, and Churchill’s remedy – one that “would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and as happy as Switzerland is today” -– was to “re-create the European Family”.
He envisaged France and Germany taking the lead, with Britain, its Commonwealth, America, and (he hoped) Soviet Russia, being “the friends and sponsors of the new Europe”.
There is no doubt that Churchill was an advocate of European integration and of a new structure for Europe, but it is less clear that he wanted the UK to be part of that new structure. In 1930, when an opposition MP, he wrote a lengthy piece for an American newspaper which bore the actual title ‘The United States of Europe’. In the article he set out his basic view on the subject: “We are bound to further every honest and practical step which the nations of Europe may make to reduce the barriers which divide them and to nourish their common interests and their common welfare. We rejoice at every diminution of the internal tariffs and the martial armaments of Europe. We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European community. But we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not compromised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed.”
When the Treaty of Paris was signed Churchill was still leader of the Opposition. By October 1951 he had become Prime Minister for the second time and the following month he wrote a note for his Cabinet which included the statement: “I never thought that Britain or the British Commonwealth should, either individually or collectively, become an integral part of a European federation, and have never given the slightest support to the idea.” By the time the UK was actively pursuing entry into the EEC Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister and Churchill had largely retired from public life.
The History of the European Union
The EU of today has come about by a series of treaties, each one of which has come into effect through ratification by the individual member states. In 1957 the six countries of the European Coal and Steel Community signed the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1958 and establishing a customs union. This is what was known as the ‘Common Market’. The six countries also signed another pact creating the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), a vehicle for cooperation in developing nuclear energy. In 1967 the Merger Treaty created a single set of institutions for these three Communities, uniting them as the European Community (EC).
In 1973 the EC was enlarged to include Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, and in 1981 Greece became a member of the EC. In 1985 the Schengen Treaty paved the way for the creation of open borders, doing away with passport controls between most member states and some non-member states. The aim was to allow, not only the free movement of people, but also ultimately of goods, services and capital. In 1986 the Single European Act was signed, with the object of creating a Single Market within the EC through the harmonisation of the relevant laws in the various member states. Portugal and Spain became members of the EC that year, and in 1990, after the fall of the Eastern Bloc, the former East Germany became part of the EC following German reunification.
In 1992 the signing of the Maastricht Treaty led to the creation of the European Union, and later the euro. The Maastricht Treaty arose from the desire of many member states to extend the reach of the European Community to foreign policy, and to move towards military and judicial cooperation. The EU was inaugurated on 1st November 1993, incorporating the European Communities and introducing European citizenship. In 1995 Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU. In 1997 the Treaty of Amsterdam was signed, in which member states agreed to hand over powers to the EU Parliament in areas such as immigration law and foreign and security policy. Monetary union was established in 1999 and came into effect in 2002, with the euro replacing national currencies as the legal tender in twelve out of the fifteen member states (the eurozone now covers nineteen out of the twenty-eight member countries). In 2004 the EU saw its greatest enlargement yet when Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia joined. In 2007 Romania and Bulgaria became members of the EU.
On 1st December 2009 the Lisbon Treaty entered into force and reformed many aspects of the EU. In particular, it changed the legal structure of the EU, creating a single legal entity with a legal personality. It also created a permanent President of the European Council, and strengthened the position of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Interestingly the Lisbon Treaty contains a clause providing for a member state to leave the EU. (Greenland, which became part of the EC in 1973 when Denmark became a member state, left the EEC in 1985, having gained home rule in 1979 and having held a consultative referendum on EEC membership in 1982: it remains a constituent country of Denmark.) In 2013 Croatia became the twenty-eighth EU member state, bringing its estimated total population to over 500 million. There are fifty countries on the continent of Europe altogether (three of them extend into Asia), with a total population of nearly 740 million. Five further countries are recognised candidates for membership of the EU, namely Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. Turkey has nearly 80 million inhabitants, whose living standard is generally far below those of the EU countries, and given that citizens of EU countries have the right to live and work within other EU countries, the prospect of its joining the EU has caused concern.
The Institutions and Powers of the European Union
The European Union is made up of seven key institutions, each having its own carefully-defined function:
i. European Council
The European Council was established as an informal summit in 1975 and became a formal institution in 2009. It is based in Brussels and consists of a President, the President of the European Commission (see under iv) and either the head of state or head of government of each member state, making thirty individuals in total. The President is elected by the members of the Council and is appointed to the position for two-and-a-half years. The European Council has no legislative power but sets the EU’s policies, especially in foreign affairs, and negotiates changes to its treaties. Its decisions are generally arrived at by consensus.
ii. Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union is based in Brussels and represents one half of the EU’s legislature, or law-making body, although it cannot itself initiate legislation. Dating back to 1967, its role is to coordinate the EU’s economic and social policy and to conclude its international agreements. The Council is sometimes referred to as the Council of Ministers, being made up of one government minister appointed by each member state, the actual individuals present at any meeting changing according to which of ten separate policy areas (the three major ones are General Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Economic and Financial Affairs), is under consideration. Most of its decisions are made by qualified majority voting, some by simple majority, and those on foreign policy generally by unanimity. The Presidency of the Council is not held by a single person but by the governments of the member states in rotation, changing every six months.
iii. European Parliament
The European Parliament is based in Strasbourg but also meets in Brussels; in addition there are administrative offices in Luxembourg. It is the second half of the EU’s legislature, yet, like the other half, it cannot propose legislation but only amend or reject it. The Parliament began in 1952 as a consultative assembly, comprised of appointed parliamentarians from the six member states. The first direct elections took place in 1979, and it remains the only EU institution thus elected. The Parliament presently has 751 members, or MEPs, the number of seats allotted to each country corresponding roughly to the size of its population. The UK currently has 73 seats, or just under 9.7% of the total (Scotland’s share is six, or 0.8% of the total). Elections take place every five years, with the member countries using different proportional representation systems. A national of one EU country can vote and stand as a candidate in EU elections in another EU country, if resident there. MEPs are elected on a national basis but sit in EU-wide political groups rather than in national groups. The MEPs elect the President of the Parliament, whose term lasts for two-and-a-half years and whose main function is to preside over debates.
iv. European Commission
The European Commission dates back to 1967 and is based in Brussels. It might more accurately be called the ‘European Government’. It is the ‘executive’ arm of the EU, proposing and drafting its legislation and running its operations, being responsible also for drawing up its budget. The Commission operates as a cabinet government but the commissioners are appointed rather than elected, being comprised of one individual proposed by the government of each member state. Commissioners must swear an oath at the European Court of Justice, as follows:
I solemnly undertake:
• to respect the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in the fulfilment of all my duties;
• to be completely independent in carrying out my responsibilities, in the general interest of the Union
• in the performance of my tasks, neither to seek nor to take instructions from any Government or from any other institution, body, office or entity;
• to refrain from any action incompatible with my duties or the performance of my tasks.
I formally note the undertaking of each Member State to respect this principle and not to seek to influence Members of the Commission in the performance of their tasks.
I further undertake to respect, both during and after my term of office, the obligation arising therefrom, and in particular the duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after I have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits.
It is clear from this oath that the commissioners are meant to represent the interests of the EU, rather than those of their own country. The European Council proposes one of these commissioners to the European Parliament for appointment as President of the Commission, with a term of five years. The Commission has a civil service, with a staff of 34,000.
v. European Court of Justice
The European Court of Justice was established in 1952 and is based in Luxembourg. The Court has the function of ensuring that EU law is observed, in terms of the way in which the EU treaties and the provisions of EU institutions are interpreted and applied across the member states, and its rulings on treaty obligations can result in fines. It comprises one judge nominated by each member state, the nomination being subject to ratification by all the other member states. The judges elect one of their number as President of the Court, serving a term of three years. Most cases are dealt with by small panels of three or five judges and the Court receives hundreds of cases annually. The Court does not hear appeals against the decisions of national courts. It is not to be confused with the European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg, the jurisdiction of which is recognised by all forty-seven member states of the Council of Europe.
vi. European Central Bank
The European Central Bank was established in 1998 and is based in Frankfurt. It administers the monetary policy of the eurozone, and is required to maintain price stability within the eurozone. The capital stock of the bank is owned by the central banks of the member states. The President of the Bank is appointed by the European Council, in practice by the representatives of those countries which have adopted the euro, and serves an eight-year term.
vii. European Court of Auditors
The European Court of Auditors was created in 1975 and is based in Luxembourg. It has one member from each state, who together elect one of their number as President of the Court for a three-year term. Despite its name, the Court has no judicial function, its main role being to oversee the implementation of the EU budget.
Given the way in which it is structured, and the authority it possesses, how may the EU be described, in political terms? It began as an association of nation states, developed into a confederation and has now added many of the aspects of a federation. Decisions by its Commission, Parliament and Court are made at a level above the national governments; other decisions are made between the national governments. For this reason it may be regarded as one of a kind and might be classified as a union of nation states. This may be contrasted with the UK, which is a union of nations, and the USA, which is a union of states. Whereas the UK and USA both have a head of state, the EU does not. What it does have is sovereignty over significant aspects of the affairs of all the nation states of which it is composed.
The United Kingdom’s Relations with the European Union
The UK’s attempts to join the EEC in 1963 and 1967 were vetoed by France under President Charles de Gaulle, a situation which changed with his resignation in 1969. In 1972, with the Conservative Party led by Edward Heath in power, the UK agreed to an accession treaty with the EEC states and the three other countries which were applying for membership at the time. The European Communities Act was passed by Parliament later that year and on 1st January 1973 the UK became a member of the EEC.
During the 1970 General Election campaign Heath said that further European integration would not happen “except with the full-hearted consent of the Parliaments and peoples of the new member countries.” During 1972 one of the three other applicant countries, Norway, held a consultative referendum on entry to the EEC, and voters rejected membership. There was no referendum in the UK prior to entry, despite an attempt by a Conservative backbencher to amend the European Communities Bill to that effect. In their manifesto for the February 1974 General Election, the Labour Party under Harold Wilson promised a renegotiation of the UK’s terms of membership; this would be followed by a consultative referendum on continued membership under the new terms. Labour won with a very narrow majority, a situation which led to another election in October 1974, with Wilson remaining as Labour’s leader. The Labour manifesto this time promised a binding referendum on staying or leaving and the party won a clear majority.
The Referendum Act 1975 legislated for a UK-wide referendum with the following question:
Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Community (the Common Market)?
Voters had to select one of two possible responses:
Yes or No
Voting took place on 5th June 1975, with 67.2% voting ‘Yes’ and 32.8% voting ‘No’. The overall turnout was 65%. Scotland and Northern Ireland were less supportive of staying in the European Community than England and Wales. The UK was divided into 68 voting areas and just two of these voted to leave the Common Market: Shetland, where the vote was 56.3% in favour of leaving, and the Western Isles, where it was 70.5% in favour of leaving.
The years since the Common Market referendum have seen significant shifts in the attitude of the public towards the UK’s membership. Areas which voted most strongly in favour of membership now tend to be the most strongly opposed to it, and vice versa. The position adopted by some of the political parties has changed radically too.
In 1975 the ‘Yes’ campaign, which went under the name ‘Britain in Europe’, had official support from the Conservatives (although a tenth of its MPs took the opposite position), the Liberals, and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (an Irish nationalist party). Two-thirds of Wilson’s cabinet favoured continued membership but Labour MPs were evenly split: at a special conference nearly two-thirds of the party, including the trades unions, voted against continued membership; the outcome was that the party did not campaign on either side. The ‘No’ campaign, or ‘National Referendum Campaign’, was supported by the Scottish National Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalists) and most of the Ulster Unionists.
In the early 1990s the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty caused considerable problems for the Conservative government of John Major. Unlike in some other member countries, there was no referendum in the UK to approve the changes brought in by the Treaty. A group of Conservative backbenchers who opposed ratification, known as the Maastricht Rebels, repeatedly voted against the government during the parliamentary consideration of the Treaty, and since then the Conservative Party has become increasingly ‘eurosceptic’.
Now in 2016, forty-one years after the Common Market referendum, the Conservative and Labour parties have virtually exchanged places in their stance on the EU. Labour, currently the main opposition party, is officially backing the ‘Remain’ option in the June referendum, with a handful of its MPs on the other side. In the governing Conservative party, a large majority of Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet supports continued membership, with Conservative MPs evenly split and most party members against continued membership; the party is officially neutral on the issue. The SNP and Plaid Cymru are now in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, a position also supported by the Liberal Democrats. The ‘Leave’ option, sometimes referred to as ‘Brexit’ (meaning British exit from the European Union), is officially supported by the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland, and by the United Kingdom Independence Party, which was founded in 1993 for the express purpose of campaigning for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. In terms of the campaigning organisations, ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ has been designated by the Electoral Commission as the official campaign in favour of remaining in the EU, while ‘Vote Leave’ occupies the same place on the other side; ‘Leave.EU’ and ‘Grassroots Out’ are two further non-party organisations campaigning for withdrawal.
There has been some ecclesiastical comment on the referendum. Two days after the date of the vote was announced the Church of Scotland declared its position. Rev. Angus Morrison, the Moderator of the General Assembly, stated: “While each individual will reflect and come to their own decision with integrity, the Church of Scotland takes the position that in this time of enormous international challenge, it is better for us as a country to remain within the EU.” The Church of Scotland has a policy on the EU which goes back twenty years, as the following deliverance approved at the 2014 General Assembly indicates: “Note and reaffirm the deliverances agreed by the General Assembly of 1996 which give thanks for the work of the European Union in promoting peace, security and reconciliation amongst European nations, note that Scotland has been part of the European Union since 1973 and believe that Scotland should continue to be a member; affirm that, whether as an independent nation state or as a part of the United Kingdom it is better for Scotland, Britain and Europe for the United Kingdom to remain in the EU.” (It should be made clear that Scotland is not a member of the EU, and neither is England, Wales or Northern Ireland (or Gibraltar): it is the United Kingdom that has membership of the EU.) More recently two prominent church leaders south of the border have commented on the referendum. In March the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that there is no “correct Christian view” on the referendum. In April Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said that the “Catholic stance towards an effort such as the EU is largely supportive”.
The official campaign period for the referendum began on 15th April. When the polls close at 10.00pm on 23rd June, counting will begin at 382 centres around the UK; Scotland will have 32 of these, corresponding to local councils, as in the referendum on Scottish independence. Local results will be declared as the counts are completed, before being collated at twelve regional centres, the one for Scotland being in Glasgow. The overall result will be announced in Manchester, and a simple majority of votes throughout the UK will decide the matter, rather than which voting option has the support of the majority of voting areas. If the vote is in favour of leaving the EU, the UK Parliament would need to pass certain legislation to effect withdrawal, beginning with the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act. In theory MPs could refuse to do this, but that is highly unlikely.
The European Union and Biblical Principles
As with the rival campaigns in the referendum on Scottish independence, the two sides in the EU referendum have been concentrating largely on economic arguments, with claims and counterclaims regarding living standards, employment, markets and trade agreements. Many of the assertions are highly speculative and incapable of any proof. There has been some mention also of more tangible things such as workers’ rights and immigration, and some discussion of issues such as security, democracy and sovereignty. There is plenty of information and opinion on these matters for those who desire it and care to seek it. Yet we believe that there are higher things to consider. We believe that we must weigh the EU in the balance of the Bible, for it is the measure of everything. Specifically we must weigh it in terms of what the Bible has to say regarding the duty which nations owe to God. We believe that this concern lay behind the failed amendment at the 1994 Assembly, although in our view the amendment did not go nearly far enough. There are three principles which are of relevance here:
(1) Nations are called to serve and glorify God. This principle goes right back to creation. God commanded our first parents: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion...” (Gen. 1:28). The command is for our race in general – whether as individuals, families or nations. The sense is that man is to fill the earth, and, as God’s representative, build godly societies that glorify Him in all their activities: for this reason the command is sometimes known as the ‘cultural mandate’. The mandate remains after the fall, but now it depends for its fulfilment upon the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
As the Old Testament unfolds we see the development of the individual nations, with the chosen nation of Israel alone serving God, by His grace. Each nation has been allotted its time and its place, as Moses said in his song: “When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” (Deut. 32:8) Paul says the same thing in the New Testament: “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). Why has God done this? Paul continues: “That they should seek the Lord...” (v.27). Since the fall the cultural mandate is connected to the cross and to the gospel which Christ has commissioned His church to preach to the nations (Matt. 28:18-20).
Apart from grace, sinful man always resists the revealed will of God, and refuses to serve Him. This was seen before the Flood, and also after it. Having judged wicked humanity, the Lord reissued His original mandate to Noah and his descendants, saying, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” (Gen. 9:1) Yet within three generations Nimrod and his associates were doing the very opposite, settling in Shinar and beginning to build a great city and a massive tower. They were uniting in their ungodliness, seeking to make a name for themselves rather than carry out God’s mandate to fill the earth. The Lord punished this rebellion, confounding the universal language of mankind and causing the people to scatter (Gen. 11:1-9). This was perhaps the beginning of the individual nations. The tower of Babel is a warning against all efforts to create godless empires – those which exalt man rather than the Lord – and against having any part in them. God said to Eli, “them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam. 2:30), and we believe the same truth applies to nations. God judges them over time according to the honour they give to Him – something especially true for nations which have enjoyed the light of Scripture. “For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted” (Isa. 60:12).
The general pattern in Scripture and history for the government of nations is the nation state. Sometimes nation states have entered into unions, or been absorbed into empires. However we believe it is wrong to imply, as in the 1994 PQRM report, that because Christians were found under the Roman Empire, that Christians in the UK ought to be content with the EU. The Jewish nation was part of the Roman Empire by military conquest and subjugation: unlike us, its government and its people had no say in the matter. The problem with the Roman Empire was not so much its form of government but its whole foundation, which was pagan. A thing may exist by divine permission, without having divine approval.
The EU certainly has many of the trappings of a state, and some indeed of an empire. It has (or soon will have) all of the following: presidents (one for each of the seven institutions), a parliament, civil service, currency, army, police force, court, bank, tax (EU VAT), anthem and flag. It also has a top-level domain on the Internet – something generally reserved for a sovereign state. But what foundation is it built on? Is it a godly one?
There may be a clue in the EU Parliament building in Strasbourg. Some maintain that this structure, an unusual 60 metre tower completed in 1999 and left deliberately unfinished on one side, was designed to resemble the unfinished Tower of Babel, after the famous painting by Pieter Bruegel. If so, does it not amount to a hint that the whole EU project amounts to a defiance of God? The thought of many is that the EU can re-unite the nations – but only God can do that. Only the gospel of Christ can end the divisions in our race which God willed as a punishment for man’s sinful pride, and bring about a new humanity. Others have suggested that the building was modelled on the ruins of the Colosseum in Rome, where many Christians were martyred during the early New Testament centuries for refusing to honour the Roman gods. If so, it would suggest that the EU represents the resurgence of the Roman Empire, with all that is implied in such a thing. Whatever the truth is on this, the EU certainly does not have a godly basis, being secular in its outlook. When the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe was signed in 2004, a proposal from a group of member states, mainly Roman Catholic, to incorporate an explicit reference to Europe’s Christian heritage in the constitution was rejected. Instead, the preamble to the Treaty began simply: “Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe...”. In the event the document was abandoned when the French and Dutch voted against the treaty in national referendums – although many of the treaty’s provisions, including the preamble quoted from above, were later included in the Lisbon Treaty of 2007, which is effectively the constitution of the EU. The official position therefore is that the EU does not acknowledge God.
(2) Nations should base their laws on God’s law. How are nations to honour God? The Bible says that their rulers must be “just”, and that they should be ruling “in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3). They ought to “Kiss the Son” (Psa. 2:12), the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lawgiver for the nations, and submit willingly to divine authority. A nation’s laws ought to be consistent with the moral law revealed in the Bible. This principle obviously applied to the nation of Israel under the Old Testament (Exod. 20:1-17), but it also applies to nations under the New Testament, for the moral law is the only standard of righteousness and obedience which God will ever approve.
The laws of the EU consist chiefly of regulations, which come into force in the member states in their entirety, and directives, which bind member states to goals they must pursue by passing their own laws. EU law is therefore supreme over national law. As far back as 1964, the European Court of Justice ruled that EEC member states had transferred their sovereign rights to the EEC, and thus member states have in a real sense lost control of their own laws. The supremacy of EU law means that member states cannot ignore it or set it aside without finding themselves brought to book.
What of the character of EU law? Is it righteous? The EU’s law surely cannot be better than its foundation, and so we find. The Lisbon Treaty states: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, nondiscrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” (I-2) The meaning of ‘non-discrimination’ here is ambiguous, but a later section states: “In defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union shall aim to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.” (II-10) Thus the EU’s member states, in framing their laws and pursuing their policies, are expected to ensure ‘non-discrimination’ with regard to religion and sexual orientation, which effectively means that they can make no judgment on what is true or false, or right or wrong, concerning these things. That is not a Biblical position. It is a position which is only possible in a pluralistic society – one where there is another source of legal authority beside the Word of God. Consequently EU law does not reflect God’s law.
(3) Nations that honour God should not unite with nations that do not honour Him. The Lord forbad Israel from entering into any bond with the heathen nations in Canaan, whom they were rather to root out: “Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.” (Exod. 23:32) Adam Clarke explains the command thus: “had the Israelites contracted any alliance with them, either sacred or civil, they would have enticed them into their idolatries, to which the Jews were at all times most unhappily prone.” The principle which applies today is that a nation which is Christian, in the biblical sense of the term, ought not to make covenants with nations that are not truly Christian. What then is the religious make-up of the EU?
Figures indicate that 72% of the EU’s population identifies as ‘Christian’, 48% being Roman Catholic, 12% Protestant, 8% Eastern Orthodox and 4% other Christians. Although the EU is officially secular, Roman Catholic laymen were instrumental in its formation, as we have seen, and a strong Roman Catholic influence remains to the present day. It is exercised chiefly through the ‘Christian Democrat’ parties which appeared at the end of the Second World War and are based on Roman Catholic social teaching regarding the role of the state. In 1976 the Christian Democrat parties in the EU founded the European People’s Party (EPP), which since 1999 has been the largest and most influential group in the European Parliament, currently having 215 out of 751 MEPs. It is by far the largest representation of any party among the members of the two most powerful EU institutions – the European Commission and the European Council: their current presidents (Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk) are members of the EPP and are Roman Catholics. The only country in the EU where there is no EPP member party is the UK.
According to the witness of Scripture, our Confession of Faith and history, the Roman Catholic Church is not truly Christian. Neither can we accept any state as truly Christian in which Rome has a leading role. The Church of Rome is a counterfeit of true Christianity, and is and always will be the most dangerous threat to the cause of Christ. Rome would undoubtedly like to weaken the Protestant countries of Europe, especially our own. Because the EU erodes national sovereignty, and because it has a significant Roman Catholic component, it is a useful means to achieve that end by stealth. As part of her overall strategy Rome engages in dialogue with other churches and religions, but it is always on her own terms. It is notable that the EU also has a very ecumenical, ‘multi-faith’ outlook. Since 1988 a number of ‘spiritual leaders’ have addressed the European Parliament: Pope John Paul II (who was interrupted by Ian Paisley MEP, holding up a poster declaring the Pope to be the Antichrist); the Dalai Lama (twice); the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (twice); the Grand Mufti of Syria; the Chief Rabbi of the UK; and Pope Francis, the first (openly) Jesuit pope. We are not aware that any Protestant leader has ever been invited to speak to the Parliament, and certainly not any evangelical. With such evidence before us we have to say that the EU does not honour the Lord.
Observations and Conclusions
Our observations and conclusions on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union are:
(1) We do not believe that a political union between nations is necessarily wrong. It depends upon the foundation and purpose of the union, and whether it will help or hinder the nations concerned from serving God as they ought. The Union of 1707 was a union between Christian nations which rested on an avowedly Christian basis. The treaty which led to it preserved for all time in Scotland the distinct religious identity for which safeguards had been rightly sought. By contrast the EU is a union which is secular in character and is constantly evolving, with new treaties being signed which change the terms of the union for the member countries. The EU has not yet reached its final form, and so the ‘Remain’ option in the referendum cannot rightly be regarded as a maintaining of the status quo. The direction of travel is surely clear enough.
(2) We believe that because of our Christian basis there is an obvious incompatibility between the UK and the EU. In terms of its constitution the UK is a country which honours the Lord. Christianity is the established religion and our head of state promises, to the utmost of his or her power, to “maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel”, and to “maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law”. After the coronation oath has been taken, a Bible is presented to the new Sovereign, with the words: “Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.” By contrast the EU does not officially acknowledge the Bible, the Trinity, or the Lord Jesus Christ, and this is reflected in its various laws and policies. Because of its avowed secularism, the influence of Romanism within its ranks, and the sovereignty it exercises over its constituent states, the EU is a danger to a Protestant Christian nation and the UK should therefore cease to be a member of it.
(3) We believe that membership of the EU has contributed to the rapid degeneration in the UK’s religious and moral health and strength. The decline was underway prior to our entry into the EC, but it has been exacerbated by our involvement in a secular union, which has taken us further away from our Christian foundations as a nation. Having set aside the law of God in our thinking, and belonging to a body which dictates so much of our practice, the laws passed by our parliaments in recent generations have not been righteous or pleasing to the Lord. In addition, the principle of free movement of people within the EU is contributing to a situation where an increasing proportion of our nation’s population is out of sympathy with our Protestant Christian heritage, a situation which could worsen if Turkey with its overwhelmingly Muslim population is granted membership – something our government sadly supports.
(4) We believe that there will be little ultimate benefit in the UK withdrawing from the EU unless it is followed by national repentance and a reassertion of our identity as a Protestant nation. The UK has a wonderful Christian heritage: the problem is that we have departed from it and begun to despise it. We need to return to it as a nation – before it is too late.