Open debate between those with strong views on Britain’s future in the European Union is essential in helping everyone form his own mind. To that end, it has been good to read those who argue from a position within the Catholic Church and have some sympathy with the EU project. A risk we must guard against is that we allow an accidental patina of moral authority to attach to one side of the debate: There is nothing intrinsically Catholic about voting to stay in the European Union, whatever the original motives of its founders were.
True, the Church has always had sympathy with the concept of international bodies that increase cooperation between nations, champion the cause of justice, avoid war, and better assist the poor and the displaced. Those who champion the EU from this side have a legitimate case to make.
But there is another view, one that is no less Catholic. Also part of the Church’s tradition is subsidiarity, the principle that decision-making power should be exercised at the most local level possible and that central authority should act only as a last resort. Few could seriously contend that the European Union, with its regulation of the acceptable curvature of bananas, acts only in cases of absolute necessity.
More worrying still, it is an anti-democratic institution. A Catholic, qua Catholic, need not have a problem with the famous notion of “pooled sovereignty,” and I know few who do. But among the democracies of Western Europe, the EU represents not pooled sovereignty but its concerted surrender to a higher, unelected, technocratic form of governance, which is neither necessarily responsive to the needs of the people, nor subject to them in how they achieve, exercise, or lose power. Pooled sovereignty is what the EU would have if its parliament, whose members we do elect, had the power to create, ratify, amend, or repeal legislation – it can do none of these. In fact, the Church has a term for a system in which a tiny, appointed, insular elite exercises power without reference to those they lead; we call it clericalism, and it’s a bad thing.
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