The Future of the European Union: UK Government Policy

FEU 07

Written evidence from The Church of England, The Archbishops’ Council

Summary of Main Points

· The Church of England is a Church established by law in the UK but it is also by virtue of its history a European Church. It recognizes that to have any influence in Brussels it needs to work in partnership with others. To this end it has invested time, energy and resources in building appropriate bilateral and multilateral relations with key strategic partners across Europe.

· At the December 2011 European Council, the United Kingdom found itself not only without allies, but without credibility as a negotiating partner as it opposed measures which were intended to achieve broad policy goals which are fully in line with UK national interest. This exposed the domestic constraints on the British government and left its partners with the impression that it was an unreliable partner. An opportunity to show solidarity with partners was missed. The UK must work to rebuild trust with its EU partners.

· Successive British governments have failed to articulate a policy towards the United Kingdom’s closest partners that sustains public opinion while enabling it to take a constructive line across the board. Unless future governments develop more constructive and positive conceptions of and commitments to the EU and are able to sell them to an increasingly skeptical domestic audience then Britain could find itself slowly drifting towards the exit. Rather than looking to formalize a two-tier structure the Government should use existing Treaty provisions on enhanced cooperation to press for a more flexible multi-speed Europe with variable membership across different policy spheres.

· By agreeing a legally binding intergovernmental agreement outside the scope of the EU Treaties, signatories to the fiscal compact have marginalised the EU institutions and in so doing weakened their ability to defend the single market. These new arrangements could also have significant implications for the EU’s common judicial space and common foreign and security policy. There is a very real worry therefore that the fiscal compact while saving the Euro might over time contribute to the EU’s demise.

· It is in the fundamental interests of the UK that the problems of the Eurozone are resolved and it is in the UK’s interests that this fiscal compact is folded back into existing EU Treaties as soon as possible. Those wishing to press ahead with a stability union should be able to do so using existing Treaty provisions that allow for enhanced cooperation. The development of a two-tier or even a multi-speed Europe is not without its risks but it is preferable that such a development builds on existing Treaties rather than departing from them.

Introduction

About the Mission and Public Affairs Council

1. The Mission and Public Affairs Council is the body responsible for overseeing research and comment on social and political issues on behalf of the Church. The Council comprises a representative group of bishops, clergy and lay people with interest and expertise in the relevant areas, and reports to the General Synod through the Archbishops’ Council.


A European Church

2. The Church of England, established by law in England, is a European Church active in all the member states of the European Union. It counts among its members nationals of all the member states and many others.

3. The Church of England maintains very close links with the Anglican churches of the rest of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. It works in partnership with the Old Catholic churches in Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the Lutheran churches of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania. Special agreements also exist with the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Roman Catholic Church in France. It maintains 25 companion links with churches in Europe and is active in the Conference of European Churches.

4. It is from this broad base that the Church of England engages with the European Union. The Archbishop of Canterbury has a permanent representative to the EU institutions in Brussels and members of its Europe Bishop’s Panel are frequent visitors to Brussels and Strasbourg.

5. The Church of England’s policy on Europe has been framed by a succession of papers which have been endorsed by the General Synod, its representative assembly. The Church of England engages with the European Union to ensure a values based approach to Europe's development. It does so in order to build a humane, socially conscious and sustainable Europe at peace with itself and its neighbours.

To what extent should the December 2011 European Council and its outcome be seen as a watershed in the UK’s EU policy and place in the Union? 

6. The 2011 December European Council was less a watershed in Britain’s relationship with the EU as it was the natural and inevitable consequence of decisions taken by successive British governments over the last two decades.

7. The decision not to join the Euro until the economic conditions are right, and only then if approved by referenda, has meant that Britain has always been detached from conversations regarding the governance of the Eurozone. One of the stated reasons why past governments have opposed membership of the Eurozone is that along with monetary union must come closer fiscal integration. There is therefore a ‘remorseless logic’ of closer integration in-built into the Euro project that Britain has rightly or wrongly decided to exclude itself from.

8. Moving beyond Eurozone specifics, the 2011 European Union Act acts as an emergency brake on Britain's relationship with the EU by requiring any proposed EU Treaty or Treaty change to be subject to a referendum. As a number of Lords Spiritual pointed out at the Second Reading, the Bill ties the government’s hands in future Treaty negotiations by delegating authority to the people acting through a referendum. The relatively negative state of public opinion towards the EU (in 2011 opinion polls indicated for the first time a majority in favour of leaving the EU) opens up the prospect of referendum defeat for any future government.

9. The December 2011 European Council showed, however, that the 2011 European Union Act does not serve as an emergency brake on the integrationist tendencies of others. That other countries, even non-Eurozone states, are now willing to openly press ahead without Britain, even if that means working outside the formal structures of the EU, is symptomatic of Britain’s waning influence in Europe and its declining ability to cultivate allies in Europe.

Between now and 2020, what institutional architecture and membership should the UK seek for the EU? Should the UK embrace a formalised two (or more)-tier EU and start to develop ideas for multiple forms of EU membership?

10. Institutional architecture and membership should be the servants of the issues and priorities that can be anticipated, not goals in themselves. Economic austerity and its consequences are likely to dominate policy, not just in the United Kingdom, but across Europe, well beyond 2020. In these circumstances it will be more than ever necessary for government policy to project hope and to demonstrate solidarity, not just domestically, but with our partners.

11. Against this uncertain background future British governments need to develop constructive and positive conceptions and commitments to the EU, sell these ideas to an increasingly sceptical domestic audience, and find friends in Europe. Unless it does so the UK could find itself slowly drifting towards the exit. That would be a travesty given the positive contribution that Britain has made to the EU since it joined in 1973.

12. Any notion that the UK could somehow turn to ‘like-minded’ member states to define an alternative to a core of more ‘integrationist’ member states was shown by events in December to be unrealistic. The problem of the December European Council was not that of two camps, but of a single camp with one major player outside it, despite its vital interest being at stake.

13. The events of December have shown that, despite differences of approach between member states, almost all wish to travel together based on a recognition of continuing shared interests and a desire for solidarity in the face of the most significant policy challenge for the EU since its inception. A two-tier Europe is simply not on the agenda. We suspect Europe’s future will be more messy and complex with Europe developing a multi-speed approach with variable membership across more closely coordinated policy spheres.

14. Existing European Treaties provide for enhanced cooperation between member states. Britain should look to use this Treaty provision to develop permanent areas of structured cooperation with like-minded member states on issues of strategic concern across the other two pillars of the EU. An obvious area which would benefit from enhanced cooperation is the field of defence and security and it is an area where Britain can play a leadership role. Such an approach might ensure that Britain is seen as a full and committed EU member, even if it absents itself from the Eurozone and its governance structures.

15. Under this arrangement member states are likely to find themselves operating in different contexts with a different mix of partners and travelling at differing speeds rather than travelling together in convoy at the speed of the slowest. The Europe of tomorrow might therefore more closely mirror the Europe de Parties envisaged by Charles de Gaulle than the supranationalism pursued by Jean Monnet.

16. We anticipate that the break with the one-speed model to a multi-speed Europe, could help unpack some of the obstacles that currently impede the future enlargement of the European Union. Enlargement has run into the ground within the current EU. But a messier and more variable multi-speed Europe might prove a vehicle through which to integrate Turkey, Ukraine and others.

17. We accept that there are as yet un-assessed risks with this model of European cooperation. Is enhanced cooperation fragmentation by any other name? Will an a-la-carte approach to Europe generate a strong-enough sense of common purpose for Europe to survive? At what point in the process does Europe's policy making become incoherent and ineffective? How might the move to various sub-groups possibly with their own institutions and procedures impact on the EU's institutions and other policy areas? Will smaller member states feel marginalised such that the trust that binds all member states together is eroded?

18. Whatever the answer to these questions, ideas regarding the future of Europe must seek to close the gap between Europe and its citizens. Popular disenchantment with the EU, might be most marked in the UK, but the EU’s crisis of legitimacy is a Europe-wide rather than a uniquely UK problem. As suggested by the Lord Bishop of Guildford in the House of Lords debate on the EU on 16 February 2012, Europe needs a revival of the vision of Europe which fired the EU's founders and which is deeply rooted in Europe's many cultures and, now, its many communities of faith.

19. From a UK perspective the Government needs to move beyond the defensive measures provided by the 2011 European Union Act to articulate new channels by which voters can be engaged in the political choices facing the EU. These measures need to be complemented with steps to tackle at both a national and European level some of the issues that fuel populist debates about Europe, some of which are based on miscommunication.

What is the relationship between the new ‘fiscal compact’ Treaty and the EU’s acquis? What impact might the conclusion of the ‘fiscal compact’ Treaty have on other aspects of the EU and its policies, such as the EU budget, enlargement, or the Common Foreign and Security Policy?

20. As the Lord Bishop of Guildford made clear in the EU debate of 16 February it is to be welcomed that Britain has taken a more pragmatic line when it comes to the use of EU institutions in the workings of the fiscal compact.

21. We remain concerned, however, that the fiscal compact weakens these institutions and makes it harder for them to perform their role of defending the single market and ensuring that all member states are treated fairly. At the very least these institutions will have to try and reconcile two sets of rules and procedures which can only absorb time and resources so making it harder for them to protect and extend the single market. We suspect that over time the relationship between the EU institutions and the fiscal compact will be determined by the European Court of Justice.

22. It was possible that over time the ‘Euro core’ even without the complication of the fiscal compact would increasingly speak with one voice within the EU as well as outside it. The fiscal compact threatens to accelerate this process. Although history suggests that countries tend not to act as a cohesive caucus there is clearly a risk of signatories to the fiscal compact agreeing a single position and only then negotiating with others. It is important that assurances are in place beyond those set out in the fiscal compact that key policy areas such as the single market, common trade policy and the common budget will be negotiated at the level of all 27 member states rather than being decided by a subset of the EU.

23. Externally, there is a danger that these new arrangements will impair the EU’s ability to present a coherent and unified position to others and in international forums with the result that the benefits of a common foreign and security policy remain unrealized. The EU has built a reputation for being fiercely committed to a global order based on strong, multilateral rules and institutions. It supports free trade, the United Nations and global solutions to challenges such as climate change, economic marginalization, poverty and organized crime.

24. As suggested by the Lord Bishop of Exeter in a supplementary question in the House of Lords on 8 December 2011 the EU’s international reputation has already been dented by its handling of the Eurozone crisis, but its soft power could be further eroded if others find the way it organises itself less attractive. We suspect it will be hard for the EU to meet future challenges if an important geopolitical country such as Britain is excluded from its core.

25. We note here the ongoing discussions between France, Germany and Italy as to the possibility of unilaterally establishing their own joint representation at the IMF which might in time provide a core multi-country seat around which all euro area members might be included. We worry that in seeking a solution to the Euro crisis member states might have weakened Europe’s ability to play a role in a world which is seeing a significant transition of power from West to East. That is not only regrettable but shortsighted.

Should the UK Government support the incorporation of the ‘fiscal compact’ Treaty into the EU Treaties? If it should, what demands and safeguards, if any, should it make its condition for doing so?

26. The EU and the Eurozone had various options available to them to resolve the institutional crisis that lies behind the euro crisis. They could have continued with the policy of incremental shifts without treaty change, changed the European treaties to create a stability union or broken free from existing treaties and signed a legally binding agreement amongst themselves.

27. None of these options provide(d) a cast iron solution to the problems affecting the Eurozone, but we consider the third option the most risky and least attractive. It potentially threatens the future of the EU itself by creating over time a tightly integrated core that undermines the single market and prevents Europe from exercising its collective power on the world stage.

28. It is in Britain’s interests that this fiscal compact and/or its provisions are folded back into existing EU Treaties as soon as possible. Those wishing to press ahead with a stability union should be allowed to do so using existing Treaty provisions that allow for enhanced cooperation. The development of a two-speed or even a multi-speed Europe is not without its risks, but it is preferable that such a development builds upon the existing Treaties rather than departing from them.

29. In terms of safeguards, the Government should press for a deepening of the single market in order to strengthen the ties that bind all member states together regardless of which lane they are in. This step might be productively linked to pressing for enhanced cooperation in other areas where Britain has a competitive advantage and strategic interest such as foreign and defence policy.

30. Taken together these measures might go some way to dispelling the impression given in December 2011 that Britain was being awkward for the sake of it. We recognise that this strategy is unlikely to find immediate favour with a euro-sceptic electorate, but over time it might help to refute the assertion that the EU works against British interests.

21 May 2012

Prepared 18th June 2012