Quakers and European Politics was the subject of a course in Birmingham at the weekend. It was organised as a partnership between Woodbrooke (Meet – Stay – Learn) and the Quaker Council for European Affairs.
It mostly attracted Quakers who are already very involved in European politics. However, we still managed to challenge each other to think differently and deeply.
Participants considered the question ‘What does Europe mean to me?’. We analysed William Penn’s 1693 proposals for interstate cooperation to halt the almost endless war on the European mainland, and discussed QCEA’s peace and human rights work in 2018.
After a presentation about the European institutions and how they fit together, we each played the part of a different body within the EU system. Three of us were governments (Germany, France and Greece) with our different political flavours. Five participants each became a political party within the European Parliament. Others took roles within the European Commission, etc.
We followed a draft law on gender equality through the EU system, thinking about who would be likely to take what position and why. Our mock European Parliament voted 3-2 in favour of the new law, but our governments voted 2-1 against. This gave us the chance to see how the two decision-making bodies of the EU find compromise when they don’t agree.
On Saturday afternoon we focused on dialogue.
We set up the Cadbury room for a bilateral meeting between the European Commission and Turkey to discuss EU policy on migration, climate change and space. We saw how confrontational and hierarchical international politics can be. We then moved to a circle of chairs set up as they would be for quiet diplomacy in Quaker House Brussels, and whilst staying in character, heard how participants would be welcomed and introduced to a QCEA lunch discussion. It was clear that the second approach offered a much greater chance of finding common ground.
Open discussion and reflection sessions on Saturday night and Sunday morning focused on what we can do in the future. This included a thoughtful dialogue on Brexit. Sarah Dodgson shared the findings of her Eva Koch fellowship on Quakers and Brexit, and her extensive knowledge of more than 900 groups working, planning or campaigning on the issue. These include the leading ‘Remain’ organisations: the European Movement (attached to Scientists for Europe, Healthier In and politicians such as Ken Clarke and Stephen Dorrell); community network Britain for Europe; Open Britain (calling for close trade relations after Brexit, and linked to Peter Mandelson); Best for Britain linked to Mark Mallock Brown; and the online network – The 48%. We heard that some of these groups are trying to work more closely together.
On Sunday morning we also heard from Lina Jordan, Clerk of Quakers for Europe – a grassroots group hoping to help people in Britain stay connected with others parts of Europe. Over the next year they’ll be planning some interesting public discussions – such as on populism in Europe. This group was formerly called QCEA British Committee. It will continue to support QCEA, whilst also working locally to educate, inform and inspire discussion on important European issues.
Woodbrooke is such a wonderful environment to study. Their courses bring people together from a wide range of places to learn about a huge variety of subjects. This was the first time they had run a European politics course. Every participant brought something special and it was refreshing to hear so many different interests and approaches to Europe, to dialogue and to staying connected.
My weekend ended with a talk at an Anglican Church near Oxford. This focused on the Quaker vision QCEA brings to Europe and its instutions, and how to create the conditions for dialogue. To my surprise, as this event there was not a single question on Brexit!