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Leave Europe arguments betray cultural amnesia

  • 23 June 2016


Before the British referendum on the European Union, leaders of other European nations, as also President Obama and Australian ministers, have spoken strongly for the union.

But some commentators in the Australian media have welcomed the prospect of Britain's leaving. It may be helpful to consider their arguments in the light of the ideals that underlay European union.

The chief arguments for leaving appeal to the infringement on national sovereignty, the threat to a distinctive culture and the limitation of economic freedom that are entailed in Britain's ties to Europe.

In the critics' view the union has limited the capacity of the British to decide who comes into Britain as migrants, and has subjected British laws to review by the European framework of human rights. These limitations on sovereignty have weakened the cohesion of society and its Judaeo-Christian heritage.

The regulations governing trade within Europe, too, are a burden for business and stifle individual economic initiative. A Britain freed from its ties to Europe would regain pride, independence, a distinctive cultural homogeneity and economic freedom.

The roots of the European union lay in the experience of war. Such men as Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Jules Masson and Alcide de Gasperi were determined to ensure that there would be no third European War, and so to avoid the conditions that had led to war.

These included an understanding of national sovereignty that privileged competition over cooperation and disregarded human rights; an understanding of national cultures that was based on homogeneity of religion or race; and an understanding of the economy that cheerfully excluded many sections of the community from its benefits. Out of these conditions had arisen popular resentment, authoritarian and ideological regimes, and eventually war.

The post war European leaders at the time had seen these effects first hand. Many had been driven into exile. Adenauer and Gasperi had been imprisoned for their opposition to Hitler and Mussolini respectively. Schuman had been a member of the French Resistance.


"The case made in Australia for leaving the EU can be seen to argue for precisely the political conditions that the founders of the union wanted to remedy."


They were also linked by a deep knowledge of European history and by an informed respect for its Christian roots. Their opposition to a politics of exclusion and their principles of cooperation and peace built on unity resonated with the Catholic social tradition. They saw that antipathy, particularly between France and Germany, had to