How Britain looks from the EU

by
03 June 2016

We asked Anglican chaplains in other EU countries how the referendum debate was viewed by locals and expats.

A few common themes emerged, notably anxiety about the financial and legal implications of Brexit for expats, and frustration that those who have lived abroad for more than 15 years — despite being directly affected — are not allowed to vote. But they can also help us to see ourselves as others see us. . .

THE Church of England currently punches far above its weight in Europe. We’re often treated equally with the Roman Catholics in the South, the Orthodox in the East, and the Lutherans in the North. That’s partly because of the size of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and partly because we are the established Church of a major EU nation. If Britain leaves the EU, a first implication will be that we lose our cherished seat at the table in the formal dialogues between senior EU officials and religious leaders. Politically, our status in the EU moves from respected Church to foreign sect.

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) recently relocated from Geneva to Brussels because dialogue with EU political leaders and officials is such an important part of its work. Of course, if we vote to leave the EU we will still be a part of CEC, but we will presumably no longer be contributing to its main activity — or only from the sidelines. Our reduced influence within Europe will mean our views are less interesting to our partner Churches.

The bigger impact, though, will be at an emotional level. A vote to leave the EU feels like a deliberate decision to distance ourselves from our neighbours. Many European Christians know and love British Christians because our nation has been their friend and their liberator. I have heard this put most strongly by Danes, but also by Dutch and Belgians.

You can say that the EU isn’t Europe. But the political structures are what we’ve got, and how we have chosen to structure our common life. It’s one thing to complain about them, or get exasperated with them, but quite another to walk away. It will feel like a divorce. So we can expect reactions such as shock, disbelief, and anger. As the Bishop in Brussels, I envisage a lot of painful listening and difficult explaining with my ecumenical colleagues.

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Dr Robert Innes, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe

 

Amsterdam

ANGLICANS have been worshipping and ministering in Amsterdam for more than 300 years. Although we began life with mostly British members, today the congregation is about 50 per cent Dutch, with about 40 other nationalities represented; so the church already feels less “English” than it used to.

Of course, we were here before the EU began, but the EU has made it easier for the Church to become more diverse, and a better representation of the reality of Christ’s Church worldwide. If the UK leaves the EU, then we may see less of our much loved Brits, and as a Church we will be seen, perhaps, as rather more of an anomaly in Amsterdam. But it won’t change anything about our identity as the body of Christ, and what he calls us to.

The Revd James Hill, Chaplain of Christ Church, City Centre, in the Amsterdam chaplaincy

 

Aquitaine

HAVING lived in France for 20 years, we feel European, although our British roots undoubtedly remain significant. Immersing ourselves in French rural life (as early retirees) in the mid-1990s, we were made welcome from the start. We came with school-level French and, although we are still not completely fluent in the language, find that our French neighbours accept our attempts to communicate with great good humour and, I would say, affection. Dialogue is always at its most animated during the Six Nations, and the bond became even stronger when the Tour de France started in Yorkshire.

Ecumenical links are very important indeed. Some ten years ago, I was ordained priest in a nearby abbey, our local Roman Catholic priest having first asked his parishioners how they would feel about having an Anglican woman ordained in their church. I thank God that their response was (apparently) unanimously in the affirmative.

Yes, we are British, but we find our identity in being European. An isolationist, self-orientated approach to politics can surely benefit no one; we are stronger and safer together, when we acknowledge a commonality that binds and builds.

Them or us? No. We.

The Revd Gill Strachan, Assistant Chaplain in the Aquitaine chaplaincy

 

Austria

THE refugee crisis looms large in the minds of most Austrians, who feel abandoned by the rest of the EU, with the exception of Germany and Sweden. For others, the forthcoming referendum reinforces the perception that the UK is concerned primarily with itself, with little or no regard for the achievements of the EU.

Should the UK vote to leave, there is concern that this will further weaken the EU, particularly with regard to the newer member states of Eastern Europe, who are inclined to more national and isolationist policies. The example set by the UK in repeatedly negotiating special terms for itself (now amounting to a special status within the EU) earns admiration from some opposition politicians and their voters, who suggest that Austria should do likewise. Others would regret seeing the UK leave, but would recognise that it has been a rather reluctant member.

It was the UK that, with others, pressed for a quick expansion of the EU to weaken the Germany/France alliance within it. Having achieved this, it is now seriously considering leaving. The recent Austrian presidential election has commentators foreseeing the end of the Second Republic; a UK vote to leave would cause the same commentators to sound the bell for the end of the EU. Endings are usually messy.

The Ven. Patrick Curran, Chaplain of Christ Church, Vienna.

 

Berlin

WALKING from my home in former East Berlin to the local Underground station, I pass concrete blocks that are remains of the Berlin Wall, now overgrown on the edge of a company car park. I take the train to the former Garrison Church, near the Olympic Stadium built by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The grave history of the 20th century is still visible in Berlin, a history that is etched in the German consciousness. Appreciation of the Allies for the liberation of Berlin in 1945, for the Berlin airlift, for the vision and scope of the Marshall Plan, shaped the way many Germans see their country. The European Union grew out of this post-war consciousness, and a determination that European countries should stand together.

“Solidarity” is the name of the tax introduced to pay for the improving of the infrastructure of the former East Germany. If not popular, it is accepted as the price to be paid for reunification, and the bloodless revolution of 1989. Solidarity with refugees from war is the motive behind the “Welcome Initiative” introduced across the city and country in 2015 by thousands of volunteers (including some 120,000 Protestant Church members).

What is not understood by mainstream thinking here is the argument that the UK should leave the EU because remaining is not “in its national interest”. The challenges that Germany has faced in the past 70 years, and continues to face with the arrival of a million refugees in 2015, have been met on the basis that the key national interest is solidarity.

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It was on the basis of standing together as Europeans that the Merkel government pushed for agreement with David Cameron, as it did (in different circumstances) last year with Greece. Fears of an unravelling of the EU, of a weakening of the European voice in the world, and of a southerly shift of the centre of gravity of the EU which would lessen the influence of the more competitive Northern European economies are shadows that are not lost on a country thathas had to remake itself within living memory.

Canon Christopher Jage-Bowler, Chaplain in Berlin

 

Brittany

THE long love affair between Brittany and “Grand Bretagne” across the Channel continues. British people in their tens of thousands flock to Brittany’s gîtes and camp sites each summer, or buy holiday homes, or become permanent residents. Bretons warmly welcome those who bring empty houses back to life, contribute to local economies, and enrich their communities.

One resident sees Brittany’s distinctive identity within France as a model for the UK within the EU: mutual benefit accrues from cultural diversity, along with economic and political strength.

Most British residents are uneasy about the absence of hard information about the effect of an exit vote on their existing rights — things such as state pensions, health cover, benefits, insurances, tax agreements, and residence status. The possibility of adverse property values also causes concern. Those who have lived in France for more than 15 years are furious at being disenfranchised by European rules. Currently they can register and vote neither in the UK nor in French regional and national elections.

The perspective of British residents generally has been summed up like this: “We might be down if we were ‘out’, but we want to stay retirees here, and not be returnees in the UK.”

The Ven. Fred Trethewey, Priest-in-Charge of Christ Church, Brittany

 

Brussels

IF THE EU needs reform, is threatening to leave the best contribution that the UK can make? While the people of Europe are collectively confronted with the crises of migration and the war on terror, there is more than a hint of selfishness in that threat. Does the achievement of decades of peace count for nothing in British eyes?

From Brussels, many Continental Europeans watch the debate on the EU referendum with weariness. It seems to be marked by plenty of misunderstanding and misinformation. Many Brits here, who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years, feel frustrated and disenfranchised because they have no vote on something that so deeply affects them. The referendum may turn out to be merely a temporary blip in a relationship — it may prove to be a mistake of epic proportions. The vote deserves to be taken seriously.

Canon Paul Vrolijk, Senior Chaplain and Chancellor of Holy Trinity, Pro-Cathedral, Brussels

 

Cannes

ANGLICAN churches in Europe aren’t just ministering to Brits abroad, and Holy Trinity, Cannes, is no exception. Our congregation is made up of people from many parts of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, south-east Asia, and North America: if Britain left the EU, it would have very little direct impact on them. What would affect them would be a reverse Brexit, with Brits leaving France, since British members of the church still make up more than half the congregation.

We don’t know what would happen to reciprocal health-care, tax arrangements, and pensions. Would our European hosts show exasperation towards the UK, and Brits in general? No one really knows. Some British folks tell me they would return to the UK; others that they would apply for French nationality. Our British clergy would have to apply for residence permits, work permits, and ID cards — but that already applies to, say, Canadian clergy working in the diocese. So, we would adjust, and carry on, as long as there’s useful gospel work to be done.

Canon Giles Williams, Chaplain of Holy Trinity, Cannes

 

Costa del Sol (West)

THE Costa del Sol (West) Anglican Chaplaincy covers 55 miles of coastline, and has probably 80,000 expats and 43 golf courses. “Conservatives Abroad” in the Costa are split 50:50 about Brexit; but the majority of those I meet as their pastor are worried by the prospect. While there is wealth on the Costa, there is also loneliness and poverty, often hidden, particularly among the widowed and less mobile expats. For many of them, the prospect of dumping the reciprocal health agreement and having to have private health-care would be a financial disaster, but the alternative — moving back to the UK — is often seen as a non-starter. Property values have slumped in the past decade, and relocating would mean, at best, a catastrophic drop in living standards. There are fears, too, that the UK old-age pension would be pegged, as it is for expats in Australia; that currency would be hard to move; that the value of the pound and of pensions would diminish; that visas would be required, even to go to Morrison’s, in Gibraltar, for Shreddies and Bovril. And many want to know why people in the country they love want to disengage from the country they live in. What a mystery!

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The Revd Professor Adrian Low, Priest-in-Charge of Costa del Sol (West)

 

Croatia

CROATIA is the newest member of the EU (1 July 2013). The road to accession lasted several years, and involved some steep learning curves, as the country strove to put its Yugoslav Communist past behind it and move forward towards democracy, after a crippling war in the early 1990s. The requirements of the EU during that preparation period awoke a new spirit of progress in relation to social themes and citizen awareness, so that Croatia today is evolving into a truly modern European state.

None of this would have been possible without the senior member states and their combined experiences, tried and tested over decades, and even centuries. So it is disappointing to think that one of them — the United Kingdom — might bow out, taking with it its accumulated wisdom.

Croatia has a love-hate relationship with Great Britain at the best of times, and looks more to Germany and Austria for leadership. Brexit would undermine much of the hard work that goes on in building up good British-Croatian relationships, whether political, economic, educational, or cultural. It would deliver a severe knock to trust, and allow misconceptions to re-emerge. I have yet to meet a British person in Croatia who is in favour of Brexit.

Janet Berkovic, Reader-in-Charge of the Anglican congregation in Zagreb

 

Cyprus

CYPRUS became a member of the EU in 2004, and remains a member of the Commonwealth, with considerable economic, social, cultural, and personal links to, and relations in, the UK. There are currently estimated to be 60,000 Brits living in Cyprus, 40,000 of them owning second homes here. Being a part of the EU gives them security: if Britain were to leave the EU, would they be asked to leave Cyprus? Would the reciprocal health-care agreement between Britain and Cyprus continue?

The fragile Cypriot economy is still recovering from an extensive “haircut” in 2013, which cost many people their jobs and large amounts of their savings. Expats believe that Brexit would weaken the pound in the short term, and pensions would thus lose more value. The expat community contributes significantly to the local economy, and there are Anglo-Cypriot families with financial and cultural interests in both places. Many of the present arrangements (tax and pensions) pre-date Cyprus’s joining the EU. If Brexit happens, the government of Cyprus would be under serious pressure to see current conditions continuing. But the EU referendum raises many questions about the relationship between the UK and Cyprus which cannot be answered at the moment, because we simply don’t know.

The Very Revd Jeremy Crocker, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Nicosia

 

Czech Republic

THE Czech Republic’s joining the European Union on 1 May 2004 was seen by most Czech people as the final stage of their being reconnected to that part of Europe from which they had been cut off, since 1948, by the Iron Curtain. The country already had the best GDP of all the eight former Communist states admitted to the EU at that time, and it has since continued to enjoy economic growth and prosperity.

There is disquiet, however, over certain aspects of current EU policy, in particular the imposition of refugee quotas by diktat from Brussels. There is great fear that taking in Middle Eastern refugees will change the country’s culture, which is very much bound up with the Czech language. There is a belief that refugees will not learn to speak Czech, nor adopt the country’s cultural norms.

But there is an even greater fear — that Brexit could lead to the disintegration of the EU, and allow Vladimir Putin to achieve his goal of re-establishing Russian hegemony over the Czech Republic and the other nation states of Central and Eastern Europe. Having regained control of their own destiny at the end of 1989, after nearly 42 years of Communist oppression orchestrated from Moscow, the Czech people are very reluctant to lose it again.

The Revd Ricky Yates, Chaplain of St Clement’s Anglican Episcopal Church, Prague

 

Finland

ORDINARY Finns do not understand the fuss. Bilateral relationships between Britain and Finland are excellent, both politically and economically. The number of British citizens living in Finland is uncertain, but — based on the number of families flying between Helsinki and London airports — it can safely be assumed that connections are close.

But it is also clear that travelling to the UK is an effort: one needs to change euros into GBP and go through border controls at airports. From this point of view, Britain is already very different, and very isolated (or independent?) from the rest of Europe. This naturally, raises the question “Why is Britain demanding more?”

In Finland, the possibility of Brexit is seen as a loss for the EU, especially during these geopolitically difficult times; but also for the liberal Nordic countries, which would lose an ally and friend in the EU institutions. Brexit is causing uncertainty for British citizens, an uncertainty magnified by the generally difficult economic downturn in Finland at the moment.

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The Revd Tuomas Mäkipää Chaplain of St Nicholas, Helsinki

 

Hungary

ST MARGARET’s, Budapest, is perhaps 30 per cent British, another 30 per cent Hungarian, tenper cent North American (myself included), and a smattering of other nationalities. Our church council’s responses to Brexit are of a practical nature: what will happen to British subjects living in the European Union? What about any property they own there? How will a British exit affect Europeans who wish to travel to the UK to study business, or English, or Business English, all of which are essential to their work? Neither council nor I, of course, have answers to such questions.

Hungary was a constituent part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: a prototype, if you will, of a European union, but one that did not work out well, alas. On the other hand, more than two centuries ago, 13 small, disparate mini-states in mid-North America came together and ultimately forged a union that is still the source of their strength as a nation, in spite of their many differences. As both a US and Hungarian citizen, my hope and prayer would be for more unity among Europeans, not less — but that is a personal view rather than a theological one.

The Revd Frank Hegedus, Chaplain and Area Dean of St Margaret’s, Budapest

 

Ireland

IN HIS opening address to his Church’s recent Synod, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, warned that a British exit from the EU would be problematic for life in Ireland. “Regardless of one’s views on the matter, there can be no doubt that life on this island, and hence in our Church, may be rendered very difficult if the referendum in June results in the United Kingdom’s moving outside the European Union.”

Warning that Brexit would have a serious impact on the country, north and south, “socially, economically, and politically”, he said that he was conscious, however, that his views were personal; and it was not a theological issue.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said that to change the relationship with Europe flagged up “tremendous warning lights about leaving”. He recognised, he said, that the Northern Ireland First Minister, Arlene Foster, who is a member of the Church of Ireland, was in favour of leaving the EU, and he would not want to contradict her. But, he said, “I would want to say there are warnings. It’s very often when something’s gone that you realise it was quite good.”

 

Italy

A CHARACTER in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s 1958 novel The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) utters what is perhaps the most celebrated aphorism attributed to Italian politics throughout the ages: “If we want things to stay the same, we will have to change.” Although voiced by a young Sicilian aristocrat, Don Tancredi, at the point of civil turmoil just before Italian Unification in 1861, it might well have been the Italian reaction to the signing of the Treaty of Rome in March 1957. Belonging to the EEC and its successor, the EU, has meant a great deal of change in Italian political, fiscal, legal, and community practice — it has become a great deal more like, for example, Britain. Obviously, Italy retains its distinctive features, but, by adopting business practices common in the north of Europe, it has, in the period of the EEC/EU’s existence, been transformed — most would argue for the better, and to Italy’s advantage.

Much of the debate in Britain about leaving the EU seems to come from the opposite end. You could argue that an instinctive British political and cultural response (or is it really just an expression of temperament?) is, “We won’t change so that things will.” The British “Leave” movement seems not to take account of the amount of good that Britain’s membership has brought to other member states. Its position deliberately appeals to what is easily and damagingly described as a brutal self-interest, and any sense of “the common good” in an increasingly unstable global community is being dangerously undervalued.

The inhabitants of the mid-Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, from where the aristocratic author of The Leopard in part derived his noble status, have (together with Greek islanders) shouldered the biggest burdens of the continuing migration crisis. These islanders have, at huge cost, acted generously and responded to need; the islanders of Great (rather than “Little”) Britain should reflect that being part of Europe helps them to do something similar.

Canon Jonathan Boardman, Chaplain of All Saints’, Rome

 

Latvia

FROM the perspective of a country that has only fairly recently (2003) voted in a referendum to join the European Union, the coming vote in the UK seems rather perplexing. Aside from the “What has the EU ever done for us?” rhetoric, an Eastern European view generally is that the challenges facing Europe are better addressed co-operatively than by individual nation states all separately reinventing various wheels: security, climate change, migration, injustice, and the possibility of renewed financial meltdown.

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Whether the EU currently does all this well is a secondary question; clearly, we could all do better at alleviating poverty and injustice. But it seems equally obvious that we are likely to do it even less well if we break away from the transnational agencies associated with the EU rather than look to reform and renew them.

Many of the issues that face us are not amenable to short-term, popular, political fixes. For governments, always with an eye to future electability, solving the burning issue of food security, for instance, is never going to be a priority; it is institutions such as the EU, together with Churches and ecumenical agencies such as ACT Alliance or Christian Aid, that are able to take a longer-term view, and find solidly founded and researched solutions, grounded in compassion, human rights, and sustainability rather than political interests. For this reason, we should be looking to strengthen our bonds and joint missions; Brexit will not do the world any favours.

The Rt Revd Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, Chaplain of St Saviour’s, Riga

 

Luxembourg

ONE of our organists at the Anglican Church of Luxembourg played a big part in the development of “E numbers” — the code of complex substances that are now detailed in a common format throughout the European Union. The common format means that food-suppliers can sell their products well beyond their own borders; it also means that, wherever they live in the EU, concerned consumers can now see just what it is that they are buying. Our congregation is full of people who do this kind of back-room work, making everyday life easier for 500 million people throughout Europe, including those who live in the UK.

Nobody I know wears rose-tinted glasses, even if they arrived here as naïve idealists. Those who work for the EU are often very critical of it. But my experience is that British workers in Luxembourg have a deep, illusion-free commitment to a Europe of diversity, prosperity, and peace, which can only be achieved by dealing with many gritty issues, and engaging with the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be.

Besides hosting many of the EU institutions, Luxembourg is one of the world’s largest financial centres. About 6000 UK citizens live and work here, most of them working for institutions or banks. The challenge is always to get the details right so that they are accurate across all the legal and linguistic frontiers within the EU, and beyond it. This can be stressful: it’s not easy, for instance, to manage the translation process of a document so that it can be published quickly and simultaneously in all the different languages of the 28 countries that make up the Union. But it happens every day, and it almost never makes the headlines.

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What British people here find so frustrating is that the headlines often comprise half-truths, or sometimes plain falsehoods, which reflect the permanent anti-EU bias of an important section of the British press. (One parish magazine recently described the EU as “anti-Christian”.) The problem goes beyond the toxic diet of “blame and shame” which sells some popular newspapers. At a deeper level, British news values seem geared to a nostalgic world-view that continually celebrates yesterday’s glory, but which ignores what Britain is developing today with its European partners. I have sometimes found myself talking with “sherpas” who have done the research and preliminary negotiations for an agreement that was given space in the European press, but was not thought worth reporting in Britain.

Most of the British people in my congregation have strong attachments to their home communities in the UK, but very many are not able to vote in the referendum because they have lived outside Britain for more than 15 years. They believe that what they do produces many good developments that people back home just take for granted. Everyone I deal with wants Britain to stay. To them Brexit seems crazy.

The Revd Chris Lyon, Chaplain of the Anglican Church of Luxembourg

 

Madrid

FOR the 16 million British people who visited Spain last year, this is a land of sun, sea, and sangria. For those of us who live here, it is a very different picture. The economic climate in Spain does not match the natural one. Spain has 283,000 British people registered as residents, and over the past few years we have seen the country undergo three recessions. Many expats have suffered considerably as a result, and some have returned to the UK.

And yet confidence is beginning to return. Sales to Britons of homes in Spain in 2015 rose by nearly 50 per cent to 9700 properties, compared with 6700 the year before.

The prospect of Britain’s leaving the EU would add to the uncertainty here, as people worry about reciprocal health-care, pensions, and social security, which are obviously important to those retired here. There may also be the loss of the right to live and work on an equal footing with other EU nationals.

Many of those who attend St George’s, Madrid, feel disenfranchised, because they have lived in Spain for more than 15 years, and yet still have links with the UK.

The Revd Paul Ormrod, Chaplain of St George’s, Madrid

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Malta

UNLIKE her former British overlord, Malta is happy to be in the European Union, at all levels. Since it joined in April 2004, membership has given this archipelago a status it has not known since the Knights of Malta secured their stronghold on these faraway shores. In the 16th century, the Maltese were subject to raids by corsairs, privateers, and others, when overnight their destiny changed. The island became a fortress, the Roman Catholic faith the people’s bastion.

In just over a decade since Malta’s accession to the EU, the sheer persistence of President Guido de Marco as a member of the Council of Europe means that Maltese and expats alike have enjoyed financial stability and wealth. As a result of EU membership, It has basked in a greatly improved infrastructure, cultural expression, and social mobility. Malta will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2017.

Few people, if any, have been aware of the subtler changes that accession has meant; and politicians and churchgoers alike have embraced the EU bureaucracy with the laid-back alacrity associated with an island where the sun shines for 320 days of the year.

Canon Simon Godfrey, Chancellor of St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, Valletta

 

Monaco

In Monaco (which is part of the EU customs territory, and a de facto member of the Schengen area), supporters of Brexit are few and far between. Most British expats here will, or would if they could, vote against the project. To most of us, the referendum seems similar in kind to the one last year proposing the independence of Scotland. The 2012 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union, with the citation that the organisation has “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”. Recalling this with pride, Stephen Kenyon-Slade, a member of our church council, observes that the UK holds an essential share in that Nobel Peace Prize, and that Britain continues to add the force of its high moral standards to the continuing development of the European project. He argues that the dysfunction of the European bureaucracy can, and must, be addressed, but that the very suggestion that the world might in any way be better were the UK to shrink from its place at the centre of the EU seems, from the Christian perspective, rather like Yeats’s falcon who “cannot hear the falconer”.

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The Very Revd Walter H. Raymond OGS, Chaplain in Monaco

 

Moscow

THE migration into the UK is observed here from a pan-European perspective from “outside” Europe. The influx of non-Christians (without prejudice, and perhaps partially balanced by Roman Catholics from Eastern Europe) is seen as a challenge, since it further dilutes the already huge decline of Christians in the UK.

The liberal human-rights legislation in the European Court — for instance, defending the rights of convicted violent foreign criminals to stay in the UK — is of concern; Russia takes the opposite approach. This is not to claim that in Russia all is well, but in the EU it seems to have gone to the other extreme. There is a strong feeling here that this issue will not be resolved by Britain’s staying in the EU.

The Russian Christians in our church observe that Britain is already “apart” from Europe anyway. We are an island. We do not have the same currency. We have a world-class financial centre, and a mature legal and parliamentary system. Why be in the EU? On the other hand, from a former Soviet perspective, leaving would be an uneasy step, because sooner or later isolation leads to degradation.

In our discussion, we were reminded of our history when Henry VIII’s “No” to the Pope and Europe gave birth to the Church of England.

In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas proposed a democracy in which the monarch would be kept in check by a group of elected individuals, who would in turn be answerable to a polity of the masses (a parliamentary approach adopted by Oliver Cromwell). This is a far cry from the EU Council of Ministers who hold power that, from a British perspective, is undemocratic. But any decision made about the future, or about our personal future, is, as a concluding contribution to the discussion reminded us, an act of faith.

The Revd Clive Fairclough, Chaplain to St Andrew’s, Moscow

 

Paris

I HAVE yet to meet any British member of the congregation — of whatever political stripe — who is in favour of Brexit. Attitudes vary from bemusement, to incredulity, to anxiety: some speak of taking out joint French nationality; others are worried about pensions, or access to health-care, or jobs.

The debate in Britain revolves around three connected points: economics, immigration, and sovereignty. The economic argument involves difficult forecasts — the known versus the unknown, and, therefore, huge risk. On immigration, it is not surprising that those (1.2 million) British people who live in EU countries are quite keen on the free movement of people and goods. We are those who have done it, live it, and see the benefit of it. The argument on sovereignty in the UK appears, from this side of the Channel, particularly simplistic. All our sovereignties are limited in some way — and, mostly, for the good of us all, individually and collectively. The attitude that says, “I don’t like this game and I’m taking my bat home,” reduces life to a self-reliant unwillingness to engage.

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The EU may need reforming, but our French friends are very worried that Brexit would encourage their own right-wing nationalists, too. So, from the Paris pulpit the message on the referendum is clear: vote to stay in, and get on with the job.

Canon Matthew Harrison, Chaplain of St George’s, Paris

 

Poland

ON COMING to Poland, I had to change my thinking completely, because Poland is very much at the heart of Europe, and depends for its peace and prosperity on getting on with neighbouring nations.

There seems little doubt that most people here in Poland would like Britain to stay in the European Union: the Polish government because it is Euro-sceptic and sees the UK as an ally, and the Polish people because they are mostly Euro-friendly, and appreciate the advantages of mobility of labour, support from Euro funds, and a strong Europe to protect peace.

From a distance, it seems sad that the “in” arguments are concentrating on the fear of what might happen if the UK left rather than on the vision of all that can be done as a positive player in the Union.

Sadly, the referendum seems be polarising opinions, and being divisive. The worst result would be a close one, in which the Brexit campaign narrowly lost, because then they would be looking for a re-match.

The Revd David Brown, Chaplain of the Anglican Church in Warsaw

 

Portugal

FOR UK citizens living in the Lisbon area, there is naturally apprehension at the idea of Britain’s possibly leaving the European Union. While individuals might be glad to see the back of Brussels (nothing against our diocesan Bishop!) — and certainly the part played by the EU in the austerity imposed by the late government has done nothing to endear it to many of those working in Portugal — there is, nevertheless, practical concern about the implications of any exit for the continued right to reside in Portugal, to work, have health cover, receive pensions, and so on. All of these questions are at present unanswerable.

For those like myself who believe profoundly in European unity (however sceptical we may be about European — and, for that matter, British — politicians and bureaucrats), a UK exit would be a political and ideological catastrophe. It would also go completely against my understanding of Christian teachings of inclusiveness, of openness to all nations, colours, and creeds. It is about learning to compromise where possible, and living together with difference where it is not. Hiding away and exclusion are not, in my view, Christian options.

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David Cranmer, Lay Vice-Chairman of the Greater Lisbon chaplaincy

 

Sweden

BREXIT? It probably doesn’t bother our churchwardens: Don is American; Charles is from India. Nor our Reader: Pamela is British, but has taken Swedish citizenship. No one I know is getting quotes from Pickfords.

Most Swedish politicians want the UK to stay in. It’s a non-Eurozone ally. It’s Sweden’s fourth largest export market. And they don’t want Britain to diminish the club — nor the better-together vision that the EU represents.

There is principle here as well as pragmatism. Politicians also fear that Brexit would bolster the far-right Swedish Democrats, who want Sweden to get out, too — which could give the extremists the balance of power.

Meanwhile, we continue to plant our trees in exile. Nigel from church has just bought a bright white loft conversion in central Stockholm. He intends living there until he retires. That’s 20 years away. He doesn’t look like a worried man as he cradles his baby daughter, months of paid parental leave ahead of him. “I’m not sure I really understand the pros and cons,” he says, unabashed and unconcerned. If Brexit happens, Sweden, he reckons, will sort something. With Swedes there is principle and pragmatism — but they are particularly good at pragmatism.

The Revd Nick Howe, Chaplain of St Peter and St Sigfrid, Stockholm

 

The Hague

THERE has always been a special relationship between the Netherlands and the UK; and David Cameron and the Minister-President of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, are said to be close personal friends. There is also a close relationship between the Dutch and the British peoples — and the Dutch very much want the UK to remain in the EU. There is a real sense that the Dutch and the British can support each other when it comes to arguments against what are sometimes seen as the bigger, more aggressively “European” countries of Germany and France.

And the Dutch love the British — on the whole. This may not extend to the British stag parties that often seem to head for Amsterdam, and keep the consulate staff there busy with emergency travel documents needed just before the partygoers travel home; but the Dutch love the English language, British history, and food and drink from across the Channel.

The Dutch would share many of the same concerns as the British about migration, and the integration of refugees. While many here are sympathetic and welcoming, others would be protective of Dutch housing, jobs, and welfare. There have been riots in one or two towns in the Netherlands by those opposed to refugees moving into their area, and this tension is being encouraged by Geert Wilders, the leader of the political party PVV (Party for Freedom). Wilders has created alliances with the National Front in France, with Belgium’s Flemish Interest, and has held talks with Nigel Farage of UKIP. The PVV advocates greater border controls, less immigration, and, ultimately, departure of the Netherlands from the EU.

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The Dutch are very much hoping that Britain does not leave the EU, as it would potentially leave the Dutch isolated and vulnerable.

The Revd Andrew Gready, Chaplain in The Hague

 

An EU view

SUCCESS is built on relationships. But relationships are demanding. When the going gets rough, the temptation is to turn on our heel and walk out. It is the wrong reaction, especially if we may need each other again, later. To succeed in marriage, work, friendships, and with our neighbours, we need to stay the course and find agreement, however difficult.

The UK is threatening to walk out of the EU. But our European neighbours will still be there afterwards, and we will need each other. Could we rebuild our relationship with the neighbours that we had spurned?

Good negotiation is about reaching an agreement that all parties can accept. Then everyone has an interest in putting the agreement into effect. The irony is that the UK has mostly been a constructive and effective negotiator in Brussels. But serious negotiation cannot be sustained if the results are reported only in terms of winning and losing. Relationships are not built on winning and losing, but on hard-won compromises, loyally defended.

Would Brexit make those compromises easier to achieve? We will still need them. Or do we comfort ourselves that after Brexit we would always be winners?

David White, a retired Director of the European Commission

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16-18 February 2018
Church Times Festival of Faith & Literature

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5-6 May 2018
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