The European Union and the Anglican Communion

I just learned that the Irish have rejected the Treaty of Lisbon. We still don’t know exactly what the effect will be, but I think two developments may arise:

1. Clamor throughout the other EU countries, especially with strong anti-EU constituencies, for a popular vote of their own. The UK, I suspect, will be nudged in that direction, something Prime Minister Brown does not want to happen. (An anti-EU vote can be hijacked by the Conservatives, dominated by Euro-sceptic forces, as a referendum on the government.) Given that high fuel prices are causing problems all over the Union, and it seems the Union is not acting on it as quickly as people want, the popularity of the EU may suffer.

2. On a longer-term scenario, I think the EU might lose, to some extent, its political role as such. While I admire what the EU has managed to achieve a lot in terms of getting disparate economic systems together, opening borders, and coming up with unified responses to global crises (like the ECB’s crisis management during the subprime crisis), I think in many countries, on the ground, there is a sense in which it is perceived as impersonal, uncaring, and disrespectful of local norms and traditions.

At some point, it would have been better, I think, to adopt a minimalist approach to EU governance. That point should have come with the influx of new members from Eastern and Central Europe. I think subsidiarity should have been the name of the game from the beginning; local governments and states alike should have more influence over what goes on in their neighborhoods than the latest directive from Brussels.

Maybe the time has come to consider different sets of sub-regional relationships within a European umbrella. The Union should slowly start reducing its regulatory role where possible, and perhaps further limit its involvement in certain areas over which states (like those in the British Isles) would want to continue some degree of autonomy. There may be a case, for instance, of maintaining common defensive structures, but (crucially) under the umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

I think though that the biggest consequence is that some sectors in the US will (albeit very, very quietly) welcome this development. I am sure that they would prefer a state-to-state relationship, a close one, between them and each of the EU’s members, rather than dealing with a strengthened bloc that has, to date, been in many a trade dispute with America. There is more than something significant when the US and Britain advertise their special relationship; I believe that more than the Europeans themselves, the US does not want a United Europe of any sort. Whether that is a good thing or not is something I leave to the reader’s judgment.


On that note, perhaps it might be interesting to examine Graham Kings’s proposal on the future of the Anglican Communion, noted here earlier. While a Communion is not comparable to a political/economic system like the EU, some provinces, especially the Episcopal Church (USA) have consciously paralleled the political models of their home countries. A comparison may thus be possible, but only at the structural level.

It is clear that the relationships in the AC and the EU are very different, but what binds the former is supposed to be a common sense of arising from an instantiation of the church catholic, in both its historic and ever-reforming way. (Of course, what’s supposed to bind the EU is Christianity, but that is something a lot of people in Europe are in denial about, to some extent.) The AC has always been proud of being a grouping of autonomous churches, but the problem arose when, to use my favorite phrase of late, some churches did not realize what autonomy meant. The ordination of women and homosexuals, and the question of homosexuality itself, has been the chief flashpoint of late, but it reflects the fact that in many ways, the church in America has adopted a way of thinking very different from the rest of the world. (Canada is struggling to maintain a sense of moderation, but the civil society there is more liberal, I believe, than that of the US.)

In other words, what kept the Communion together, and what keeps the EU together, was the implicit understanding that a consensus would have to be achieved in many aspects of the common work. I do think that this consensus was well-maintained until 1998. That was when divisions became clearer on the subject of homosexuality at the Lambeth Conference. After that, nothing was ever the same again.

I think the two groupings have a lot to learn from each other, about the role of subsidiarity and its tension, for example, with common identities and beliefs, and about the role of institutions as a way of keeping communications and relations open. I do think that the Anglican Communion will not be the same after Lambeth 2008; there will have to be changes made in the way the Communion operates. These are changes that the EU, with its increasingly diverse populations, may well have to consider and learn from.


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