UK CITIZENS may be given the opportunity in a few years' timeto
vote in a referendum on the country's relationship with the
European Union. As a Christian, I think that the UK should remain
in and fully engaged with the EU.
From the perspective of a British person who works for the
European Commission, but who remains passionately concerned about
her native country, I would like to pass on my understanding of
what the main issues are.
The European Union is a young organisation (only 60 or so years
old). But it was formed primarily to promote peace after the
horrors of two World Wars, when the founder members - among them
strong Roman Catholic Christians - vowed never to go to war with
each other again.
For some people, this reasoning is now outdated. For me, its
validity remains: with so many conflicts in our world, institutions
that maintain peace are surely to be prized. My ageing father
describes himself as dismayed at the idea of the UK's "coming out
of the EU"; for him, the experience of the Second World War should
never be repeated.
THE EU began as the European Coal and Steel Community. Coal and
steel were the key war-making materials. So, in sharing a common
space in this exchange, the founders engaged in new and trusting
relationships with each other. The EU has built on this solid base.
It has been through progressive enlargements, involving different
policies, as more European countries have seen it to be in their
interests to join this club. The EU now stands at28 member states,
and collectivelyis the largest trading area in the world.
Individuals, companies, nations, and regional trading areas need
to be able buy from and sell goods to each other to prosper. Over
the years, the EU has created for itself the so-called internal
market, where common standards have been set up to make trade
across national borders easier. This has brought economic benefits
to the UK, which are estimated to be worth more than £3000 per
person, per year.
The EU has been given the power by its member states to
negotiate trade agreements on their behalf because, by acting
together, better agreements can be achieved than by countries'
acting individually. Discussions on a new trade agreement are
beginning between leaders from the United States and the EU, which,
if concluded successfully, promise benefits to both regions.
CHRISTIANS are often concerned about fair trade. I know from my
work with the European Commission that it is increasingly
incorporating sustainable development and corporate social
responsibility clauses in trade agreements.
By trading well, the EU puts itself in the position of the
largest provider of international development aid in the world. We
have built up expertise over the years, sought out many successful
partners, and made a difference in tackling poverty. We have
contributed to the partial fulfilment of the Millennium Development
We are actively working with other nations and regions to secure
a regime to follow on from the MDGs, which will focus on
sustainable development - and will include concern for the
environment, as well as for poverty-reduction.
As a Christian, I want to care for God's creation. Climate
change does not respect national borders, so I believe that the UK
needs more than a UK-only approach. Coordinated action is required,
which can be achieved if EU member states agree, for example, to
work towards common standards to reduce carbon emissions, or pool
resources to develop energy-saving technologies.
WHEN he was Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams affirmedthe
need to work together fora better environment. In a sermon in
Copenhagen in 2009, he said: "We cannot show the right kindof love
for our fellow humans unless we also work at keeping the earthas a
place that is a secure home for all people, and for future
We know that some of the greatest threats to livelihoods from
climate change are likely to be among vulnerable people in
developing countries. Arguably, a common EU approach, where
activities form a coherent whole, is better than individual
countries' deciding to try to achieve what could turn out to be
The EU has a "European social model", the aim of which is to
foster a more equitable sharing of the benefits of trading
together, while trying to avoid a widening gap between rich and
poor. There tends to be suspicion in the UK of what this model is
about, epitomised recently by reports on so-called "benefits
tourism" by newspapers in the UK. I have been indignant at the
nature of some of this coverage.
The European Commission has published a report saying that there
is little impact from mobile European citizens on national social
security systems, and that these systems do what they are supposed
to do by providing protection for those in need. Some British
newspapers, however, have portrayed the opposite to be the case.
The spokesman for the Commissioner (one of my bosses) said on BBC
news at the time that he thought this coverage "a gross
misrepresentation" of the truth.
There are other areas of concern to Christians, where being a
member state of the EU makes a difference. Addressing human rights
and combating trafficking through information-sharing is one
example. Another example is that the EU provides funding
specifically to address the needs of inner-city areas, where other
funding might not be available.
Further examples concern efficiency: common transport systems
across Europe (railways that connect with each other rather than
stop at a border); common IT networks; and cross-border recognition
of educational qualifications, so that EU citizens are better
prepared to work outside their home countries, if they choose to do
I HAVE a vested interest in the UK-EU debate, as do two million
other UK nationals who are resident outside the UK in other areas
of the EU. My employment with the European Commission might also be
in question if the UK were to leave the EU - but my concerns go
It is not always a bed of roses with the EU, however, and we
should always look for improvement. There is always a tension - not
necessarily an unhealthy one - at the heartof the EU on the
question of "subsidiarity" (which has its origins in Roman Catholic
This was about who does what, at what level of governance. For
example, member states have given the European Commission the job
of monitoring competition policy on their behalf, while they have
largely given themselves the job of dealing with education
provision. Without stretching the analogy too far, this reminds me
of the healthy "vine and the branches" of John 15: unity at the
centre, but diversity in working out our relationships with each
For me, Romans 12.18 encapsulates what my Christian duty is
concerning the relationship of the UK with the EU: "If it is
possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with
If I have a vote in any referendum, I will vote for my countryto
remain a full member of theEU. Whether the concern is peace, fair
trade, the environment, social policies, or other issues that
Christians are concerned about, this, for me, is the way to
flourishing relationships, aligned with Christian principles, with
our European neighbours.
Sue Bird is lay vice-chair of the Council of Holy Trinity
Pro-Cathedral, in Brussels. She works as a Policy Co-ordinator in
the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and
Inclusion at the European Commission, and is also a member of
Pro-Europa - the Brussels Council of the British European Movement,
which was set up to work for the UK's remaining part of the
The views expressed in this article are of the author only,
and may not be interpreted as expressing an official position of
the EC, or of Holy Trinity Pro-Cathedral, Brussels.