With increasing tensions in the Ukraine we would do well to remember that the European Union was set up to promote peace in Europe after the horrors of two world wars. The founder members - among them strong Roman Catholics - vowed never to go to war with each other again. Coal and steel were the key war-making materials, so the EU began life as the European Coal and Steel Community. Nations had to re- engage in sharing and trusting relationships.
It is currently fashionable to decry this reasoning as outdated, but with so many conflicts in our world, institutions which work actively to maintain peace are surely to be prized.
Elections to the European Parliament take place on 22 - 25 May 2014. The outcome will have major implications for the Union over the coming years. The EU is not perfect; there are challenges for example about who does what at what level of governance. But they are not reasons to deny the EU's core value or not use your vote.
HERE ARE SOME ISSUES TO CONSIDER
We, as people of faith addressing fellow believers, assert that the European project should not be put at risk nor abandoned under current duress. It is essential that all of us - politicians, candidates for office, stake-holders and citizens young and old should contribute constructively to fashioning Europe's future. We have too much to lose if the European project is derailed.
- Millions of young citizens will be voting for the first time: some still in education, others in the labour market, but many, alas, unemployed. Young people need to make their voices heard by engaging in the political debate and, above all, by voting.
- You should challenge candidates seeking your votes to show that they are aware of the plight of the poor and vulnerable, the young and the disabled and those pushed into poverty by the global financial crisis. The numbers of "new poor "are growing at an alarming rate.
- The Christian message is one of hope. The EU has a "European Social Model" (ESM) which aims to foster a more equal sharing of the benefits of trading, whilst trying to avoid a widening gap between rich and poor. Collectively the EU is the largest trading area in the world.
- Some of the UK media have grossly simplified the ESM and rubbished it as leading to 'benefits tourism. There is very little evidence for this according to a European Commission report published in 2013which found little to suggest that the main motivation of EU citizens to migrate and reside in a different Member State is benefit-related as opposed to work or family related. There is little impact from mobile EU citizens on national social security systems and these do what they are intended to do, which is provide protection for those in need.
- Many Christians engage with Fair Trade. By virtue of its strong trading the EU has become the world's largest provider of international development aid. The EU makes a difference to tackling poverty and contributes to the partial fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals.
- Perhaps one day climate change will be as high on the Christian radar as Fair Trade is now. Certainly, a disrupting global climate is no respecter of borders. If member states can agree to work towards common standards to reduce carbon emissions or pool resources to develop energy-saving technologies, everyone benefits. 'Going it alone' will not work for the UK or any other single country.
- We know that it is vulnerable people in developing countries who are under greatest threat from climate disruption. A common EU approach to the needs of the global south with activities which are part of a coherent policy is going to be more effective than a piecemeal approach.
IN MANY OTHER AREAS OF CONCERN, YOU NEED TO KNOW THAT
BEING A MEMBER STATE OF THE EU DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE
- Thus for example, human rights and combating human trafficking are being addressed through cross-border information sharing. And in areas blighted by rural and urban poverty, the UK like other member states, has received EU funding to help address problems.
- Everyone benefits from common transport systems across Europe (railways that connect with each other rather than stop at a border),common IT networks and cross-border recognition of educational qualifications so that we can work abroad if we choose to do so.
- And Europe has been a force for good in UK women's lives, pushing reluctant British governments over the years into adopting legislation including equal pay for work of equal value and giving more rights for part-time workers. Nearly half of all British women workers are employed part time and thanks to EU legislation they now enjoy pro-rata paid leave, pensions, maternity rights and access to other company training and benefits. Families have also gained from improved maternity and parental leave, shorter working hours, the right to paid holidays and equal rights to a pension.
This leaflet has been written, edited and produced by Sue Bird, Andrew Bowden and Helen Hutchison on behalf of
Faith in Europe. FiE is the Churches' European Relations Network, a body in association with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.