THE Archbishop of Canterbury has made a critical diagnosis of the European Union, home to what he calls the “biggest debtors’ prison in European history”.
Addressing the Catholic Institute of Paris, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate, Archbishop Welby condemned policies that were “pushing and keeping large sections of entire countries in increasingly desperate circumstances”.
The Archbishop, although he argued strongly for Remain during the EU referendum campaign (News, 17 June), said on Thursday of last week that there was “no common vision of what Europe is”, and called for a new one, based on the values of Catholic Social Teaching. Laïcité had served its purpose, he told a French audience.
He argued that religious language needed to be reclaimed, but his speech was overtly political. “We are aware of the cry of dispossession and alienation in the British referendum and the US election,” he said. “We hear the cry, and fear its echo across Europe, especially in those countries where the roots of democracy are shallow, and the weeds of authoritarianism spread far and wide.”
But a response to the election of Donald Trump that called for “more centralism, more imposed federation, less flexibility” was “wholly inadequate. . . We will find satisfactory answers only if they are grounded in a vision we can all recognise, and one that seeks the common good.”
Archbishop Welby maintained that the Brexit vote was not the end of Britain’s relationship with Europe. Responding to the result by a “raising of the drawbridge from all of our relationships with the European continent is something that none of us can afford. A vision for Europe must go beyond the boundaries of the European Union.”
He criticised the treatment of Greece by the other Eurozone members. It had been encouraged to enter the Eurozone on a “false prospectus, with declared debt well below the reality. . . There was a level of collusion by all concerned, who wanted more countries in the Eurozone. . .
“Because of previous mismanagement and even corruption by an elite, the poor of an entire nation have been put effectively into involuntary bankruptcy. The weight has fallen on those least able to survive, and when their own suffering was aggravated by the desperate plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees, and now millions, little help was given.
“What we have seen is the global market system, and especially the EU, lend people money to buy things, and then strangle their hopes and futures when they cannot repay. What we now have is the biggest debtors’ prison in European history.”
Although there had been a “huge increase” in prosperity in post-war Europe, he spoke of “policies that are pushing and keeping large sections of entire countries in increasingly desperate circumstances, with no apparent vision for how the circumstance might be overcome.”
The Archbishop levelled further criticism at “centralisation, corruption, and bureaucracy” in the EU, which provided “cheap and easy ammunition for the opponents of the European ideal, and, in the end, created a mythology which has been absorbed in popular imagination in northern Europe and on its fringes.”
The vision of the founders of post-war European co-operation had been “deeply moral, deeply Christian, and full of hope”, he said. “We seem to have lost sight of how economics was harnessed to enable human flourishing, rather than economic structures enslaving human beings.”
While some bishops have spoken in favour of a second referendum, the Archbishop has urged acceptance of the result (News, 1 July).
In Paris, he warned that a symptom of the inability to “define and live out a deep and confident European identity” was an inability to integrate immigrants. There had been an “assumption that, by and large, we are all the same”, but a “superficial likeness” should not be mistaken for a “deeper cultural likeness”, which required exploration and articulation.
Noting the “rapid rebirth of nationalism across Europe”, he argued: “We cannot say that the rebirth of the nation-state is a good or bad thing. If it is a reality, then it is one that we must put to good use. At this moment, when we are talking about the values and vision of Europe in the 21st century, then we must be having the same conversation within our respective countries.”
Archbishop Welby will soon lead a debate in the House of Lords on the shared values that underpins national life in the UK. These values were, he said in Paris, “rooted in stories of virtue, above all in Europe the stories of the Judaeo-Christian tradition”.
The vision for the 21st century must be “Catholic”, built on subsidiarity, solidarity, and gratuity, and “unwaveringly committed to the common good and to the flourishing of all”.