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26 April 2016

What kind of Europe?

What kind of Europe?

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, we need to provide a vision for Europe that goes beyond the mechanics of institutions, the newspaper headlines or the economic scales.

For the first time since 1975 voters will have a say on the UK's membership of Europe's political club. 

As a result of a Conservative manifesto pledge, the vote on 23 June is a straight decision to either leave the EU or to remain. Whichever side attracts more votes will win, although it will require a further set of negotiations and parliamentary approval for the outcome to take effect. 

The European Union has its origins in a 1951 trade agreement for steel and coal between France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. This led to the creation of the European Economic Community in 1957. The membership of this pan-European grouping has expanded over the past 60 years, with the UK part of the first expansion along with Denmark and Ireland. In 1993 the EEC was renamed the EU, and today it has 28 members with Croatia the most recent to join in 2013. 

Elsewhere in this special edition of idea, we set out how the EU operates, and present cases for and against continued membership. The Alliance takes no position on whether the UK should leave or remain. Our position is only that Christians should engage fully in the debate and vote in the referendum – because the voice of evangelicals matters.

In order to do this we offer these four conversation starters. You might find it helpful to have these conversations with your small group or with friends. We aren't expecting churches to take a position on the referendum, but we do hope that they can find a space to encourage political engagement at this key moment. For more in depth support and information on these topics visit eauk.org/eu

First, who are we?
That might seem like a strange place to start, but where does our identity lie? Are we British, or English/Scottish/Welsh/Irish? Are we European or Yorkshiremen? Are we citizens of earth or of heaven? Where we give our loyalty, and to which institutions and government bodies we accept as having authority over us, is important. 

Beyond this, it's also instructive to ask what  reates these bonds of community. If we call ourselves Scottish, what makes us Scottish? If we are to think of ourselves as European, what is at the core of that identity? In terms of membership of the EU, one of the core foundation blocks is the freedom of movement across the Union, what difference has that made to how we understand our national identity? Has it weakened it or strengthened it? 

As Christians how do these identities relate to our identity in Christ? How has the historic role of Christianity within Europe influenced the identity of the EU and the citizens of its member countries? Read a more about identity, Christianity and the EU referendum

Second, how are we free?

The EU operates through a series of institutions, but is primarily built on four pillars of freedom: of movement; of trade; of providing services; and of moving capital. For most people, the freedom to move between countries is the most tangible, but we also benefit from the freedom of trade and services across national boundaries. These freedoms have an impact on many parts of our life, and the role of freedom was a key value at the heart of the development of the EU.

Freedom, however, is always contested, and usually requires a restriction of some form to ensure it. If we are free to cross borders, others are as well. If we can sell our products abroad to commercial advantage, others can sell in the UK to our disadvantage. What freedoms do we value most highly, and how does membership of the EU affect them? Critically, in what ways does membership of the EU aid or hinder the religious freedoms necessary for proclaiming and living the gospel? 

It's important to note that the European Convention on Human Rights, and its court, are not part of the EU and we would continue to be a signatory to this convention if we voted to leave. Read more about the EU referendum, freedom and Christian thought

Third, who governs?

Every five years we are able to vote for members of the European Parliament. However, in 2014 only 35 per cent voted – which is about average for UK turnout in these elections. The EU Parliament is directly elected and the other institutions that make up the EU are either made up of national government ministers, or appointments made by the national government. It's a complicated picture. 

With the low turnout, and the sometimes uncertain lines of authority and accountability, the democracy of the EU is often called into question. So, when considering continued membership of the EU it's worth thinking about who governs. Do we know who has authority over which decisions are taken, and have we considered what affect those decisions have? 

Importantly, as Christians how are we  applying our worldview to systems of government? Subsidiarity – that decisions are taken at the level closest to the people they affect as possible – is a principle of EU law, but how much is that principle reflected in reality? Read more about the EU, democracy and political engagement

Fourth, follow the money 
Money is not the answer to all of our problems, but if you've followed the referendum debate with any level of interest you would think it is all that matters to either campaign. Will leaving the EU leave you better off? Will staying mean you can stay in your job? What do we know about the economic impact of leaving or remaining, and what are the opportunities and challenges that are likely to lie ahead in the coming years?

The EU is an institution that says it aims to benefit all its members, but inevitably some will benefit more sometimes. So, what role is there for a Union that provides financial assistance to some countries at the cost of others?

Either way, staying in the EU or leaving will affect people financially in different ways. However, these are not the central issues at stake, and as the referendum approaches it's worth considering what weight we put on our wallet in making political decisions. Read more about money, economics, and whether our wallet should influence how we vote on the EU

Where next?
If we vote to leave on 23 June we will have to work out what that means for us as a country. If we choose to stay we'll have to get on with being a member of a body many would prefer we weren't part of. The referendum is a valuable opportunity to have a political influence, but more than that, it is an opportunity for us as Christians to think about what kind of Europe we want. 

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, we need to provide a vision for Europe that goes beyond the mechanics of institutions, the newspaper headlines or the economic scales. We can have a voice for that future of Europe through debating and voting in the coming months. 

Globally, Christianity has a bright future. Although Europe is often described as somewhat of an exceptional case, the Church is present and active across the continent. So, what is the role of Christianity in the future of Europe given it has played such a vital role in the past, and perhaps more interestingly, what is the role for Europe in the future of Christianity? 

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