New blog from Church of England and Church of Scotland
Reimagining Europe, with the sub-heading “our shared futures”, a multidisciplinary blog hosted by the Church of England and the Church of Scotland with the editorial support of Crucible, the Christian Journal of Social Ethics was launched today, 1st September. Its central aim is “to create a space for Christian reflection and debate on Britain’s future relationship with Europe ahead of the forthcoming referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the EU.”
There are two complementary streams of reflection and deliberation:
- an in-focus conversation on current themes involving experts from a range of theological and political backgrounds from around the UK and Europe; and
- a more popular Postcard from … series involving shorter one-off contributions and reflections from around Europe.
Reimagining Europe’s working premise is that many of the issues that shape Britain’s relationship with the EU require a wide-ranging debate of comparable depth, seriousness and intensity to that which took place in Scotland prior to the independence referendum of September 2014. Although RE acknowledges that the process was far from perfect, it believes that “it did include a vibrant debate in homes, businesses, churches and public spaces about a range of social, political, identity, constitutional and economic questions”.
It has no editorial line other than a commitment to communicating Christian reflection and commentary in ways that enhance public understanding on an issue that many find both confusing and divisive; its sole only editorial requirement is “whatever the chosen topic, its contributors must be able to write articulately and persuasively from a Christian ethical perspective and to keep in mind that the blog exists to help others to think through the presenting issues ahead of any referendum.”
There are a number of expert contributors including: Justin Welby; Dr Angus Morrison, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; Caroline Spelman MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner; Suzanne Evans, Deputy Chairman of UKIP; Jonathan Chaplin, Director of the Kirby Laing Institute; and Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds (for the Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales. It also welcomes others contributors to the on-line debate, on a regular or occasional basis.
The site stresses that “[i]t is not the place of this blog to tell people how to vote in any referendum,” and states:
“The role of the Church of England and Church of Scotland in hosting [the] blog is to act as the curator of the views found on Reimagining Europe. It follows that the views and opinions expressed by the contributors to Reimagining Europe do not reflect the position of either the Church of England or the Church of Scotland.”
Writes David, “The site stresses that ‘[i]t is not the place of this blog to tell people how to vote in any referendum’.” I imagine not, because if it were to do so it might find itself drawn into the complex web of rules about third-party campaigning – about which we shall no doubt be hearing much more once a referendum date is set.
But coincidentally with the launch of Reimagining Europe, the Electoral Commission recommended a change to the question to be put to voters in the EU referendum. It said that the wording proposed by ministers – “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” – could be perceived as biased to the status quo and proposed adding the words “or leave the European Union?”. Almost immediately it was announced that the Prime Minister had accepted the recommendation and that the Government would table an amendment to the EU Referendum Bill to reflect the Electoral Commission’s proposed new wording.
No doubt that is just a start; and there will be seemingly endless recriminations between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps. It’s going to be a long, hard grind.
It would be interesting to be told precisely what the areas of European Union-related expertise are on which the “expert contributors” will expatiate. It goes without saying what the credentials of Bishop Baines are. I am slightly puzzled about some of the others.
Who are Frank and I to query the thinking of the team behind Reimagining Europe, though we would probably echo Archbishop Cranmer’s tweeted comments “’Reimagining’ (O, for a hyphen!) ‘Europe’ (they mean the EU)”? My particular expertise with Europe, apart from a knowledge of the beers, restaurants and hotels of Brussels, lies in the area of environmental law and the lobbying thereof, and clearly this doesn’t easily fit into the ambit of RE.
However, in view of the areas of commonality between the European Union and the Council of Europe, particularly in the area of human rights which is also on the agenda of the present government, “Britain’s future relationship with Europe ahead of the forthcoming referendum” could conceivably extend to these issues.
An underlying problem in promoting a debate beyond the RE forum itseld is the constant stream of misinformation directed at the general public from some sections of the UK media; the European Commission’s own site Representation in the UK continues to provide up-to-date examples and their rebuttal. Today’s example is: Daily Express’s “11 barmy EU rules” either do not exist or are rather sensible.
It also depends on exactly what you mean by “European Union-related expertise”. Like it or not, the EU debate tends to be driven by opinions, rather than by statistics or even (sometimes) by facts. So, for example, Suzanne Evans may not know anything at all about the Common Agricultural Policy: but presumably she’s an “expert” on what UKIP thinks about the EU – and UKIP (whether or not you agree with its stance) is part of the mix.
It strikes me that Reimagining Europe is intended as a resource for opinion and debate, rather than as an on-line policy institute. Always provided the contributors keep their cool and don’t end up simply slagging off those who disagree with them, then I’d have thought that it could be very worthwhile.
Thank you for such an illuminating response.