~ QCEA Council member Peter van Leeuwen shares his view on the UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union.
This is not the first time that Britain has considered walking away from European cooperation. In 1955 the British government withdrew from the Spaak Committee, where plans for the European Economic Community (EEC) were being discussed.
It was possibly too close to 1922, when Britain still ruled over a quarter of the world’s people. Joining the EEC might have felt humiliating for such a great independent nation. In 1973, however, the UK left the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) despite it having been its most important founder member in 1960. This was because Britain sought to be much closer to the “Inner Six” of the EEC, who had already, since 1957, promoted “ever closer union between the peoples of Europe” and the pooling of sovereignty in an age of increasing interdependence.
So what should Britain do in 2016?
Some Britons feel a closer affinity with to the Anglophone countries, such as Australia, Canada and the US. However, most of these countries have publicly recommended that the UK remain in the EU: a call repeated by Chinese and Indian leaders. Only Putin is said to be hoping for a Brexit.
The UK Prime Minister is keen to say that he has negotiated a new special status for the UK, should it remain in the EU.
However, it could be argued that the UK is already only a semi-member. It has so many opt-outs, that it can no-longer be considered to be part of a European project of further integration. This is well described in Guy Verhofstadt’s recent book: ‘Europe’s Disease‘.
Unlike the cold British attitude, Dutch and other continental politicians view the EU as a community of values (besides that of economic cooperation). These values include many the Quakers share, such as peace, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the protection of minorities. For example, since 1989, the EU “PEACE” programme in Northern Ireland has supported peace and reconciliation among different communities in the border region.
For countries to become EU members they must sign up to democratic values, required by the ‘Copenhagen criteria‘. These values are not automatic or to be taken for granted; they need to be maintained and protected. We only need to look at recent deviations from values in both Hungary and Poland to see how vulnerable these values are. Quaker values (sometimes described as SPICES: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, stewardship) overlap and go further than EU values, and thus Quakers should help to spread them in the EU.
However, after decades of anti-EU stories drip fed through parts of the British print-media, the British public may now have been Murdoched enough to leave the EU. After all, referendums are decided on gut-feeling. For me, leaving would also show significant disinterest and ignorance. I hope that during the next four months British interest in the EU may grow beyond the myths and irritations.
With or without the UK, there is an awful lot to be mended and healed in the EU. There is no quick fix and stamina is required.
Leaving is simply not an option for those who are serious about values, and about community. I am pleased to hear about a group of British Quakers that have joined together as Quakers for Europe! More can be found on their website quakersforeurope.com
If there are typical Quaker arguments for leaving the EU, I would love to hear them. Maybe I could still learn something from them. Maybe I could add another perspective.
Peter van Leeuwen
~ Click here to read about QCEA’s position on the UK’s referendum on membership of the EU.