I am glad that Martin Beckford (Daily Telegraph) has picked up on the Church of England contribution to consultations by the European Union on its future development following the financial crisis and the Lisbon Treaty. The House of Bishops Europe Panel was responding to a policy document called EU 2020, (as Martin says) ‘a strategy to make the 27-state union a “smarter, greener social market” following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty.’ It also addresses questions in relation to improving education, low-carbon technology and the role of the European Parliament.

I understand why he puts it this way, but I think Martin is wrong to use the language of accusation. The content of the response demonstrates a serious and considered contribution to a serious debate. To question is not necessarily to accuse.

However, he goes to the heart of the argument when he quotes:

The European institutional public sphere is largely a public discourse for elites, it is a sphere in which citizens remain uninvolved. This has in turn contributed to the EU’s democratic deficit. The solutions to today’s challenges must come from society if they are to meet people’s needs. Europe’s citizens have to be placed more squarely at the centre of the agenda.

This picks up on the shift there has been from speaking about ‘market economies’ to now speaking of ‘market societies’ or ‘social markets’. The bishops rightly urge a broader consideration of Europe as more than a locus of economic transactions – that people are more than consumers.

Martin summarises the response well and concisely, but I add the original press notice below which also provides a link to the document itself. It demonstrates that the Church of England is pushing hard in contributing to the re-shaping of Europe and doing so robustly and intelligently.

Not just the economy: Bishops call for action to build a sustainable future for Europe

 A panel of senior Church of England bishops has told the EU that its plans for the next decade fail to reflect the needs of both the most disadvantaged and those ‘ordinary citizens’ who indirectly contribute to its financial and political viability.

In a submission published today in response to ‘EU 2020: a new strategy to make the EU a smarter, greener social market’, the bishops – led by the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, Bishop of Guildford and Chair of the House of Bishops’ Europe Panel – argue:

    • More effort must be made to improve the EU’s transparency – particularly its financial and accounting processes – and to reduce bureaucracy. The bishops add that the lack of progress in reforming the EU budget is “surprising” given the importance of the issue;
    • The environmental focus of the report is welcome, but seems to be based purely on an economic argument for efficient growth rather than any plea for the sustainable stewardship of global resources for future generations;
    • An emphasis on investment in vocational subjects that provide skills for industry ignores the importance of other subjects that sustain common life, and betrays “a fundamentally materialist approach that sees students as units of production subordinated to the demands of the market”.

Overall, while the bishops accept that “EU 2020 is a reasonable summary of some of the political and policy challenges that now, and over the next ten years, face the EU”, they argue that “the Commission’s hope of securing the active support of stakeholders such as the social partners and civil society in realising the EU 2020 vision would be made easier if the vision for an economically efficient and innovative market economy is supplemented more clearly by policies for solidarity that extend across national borders to assist the most disadvantaged.”

The response suggests that the EU faces much more fundamental issues than short-term economic problems: “If the financial crisis and economic recession has shown us anything it is that the very fabric of our economy and society was unstable. Europe’s citizens are now looking for something more stable and sustainable.”

The full submission can be found here:  http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/socialpublic/europe/europe2020sub.pdf