As a Greek Cypriot I am saddened at the humiliating injuries inflicted on a people by the financial policies of the European Union. The Greeks are a proud people, with much to be proud of, being rooted in a beautiful heritage and culture. Wherever the blame lies, this devastating debacle is not what was ever intended for our united Europe. These events in Greece and the pending UK referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU raise important questions about what our view should be on the European Union.
For some people it is enough to turn to the Bible and try to find prophetic passages that can be interpreted as referring to Europe. A favoured candidate is the reference in Revelation 17 to the ‘great prostitute’, the mysterious corrupting ‘female side’ of ‘Babylon’ who will seduce the kings and the inhabitants of the earth so that righteousness and Christianity are suppressed. However, for numerous reasons I do not believe that Europe is a fulfilment of Revelation 17.
Moreover, fears of an all-conquering Europe seem a little improbable at a time when the whole EU appears to be teetering on the edge of collapse. Across the continent the popularity of Europe is at a new low. Indeed, there are real fears that the moment one state, such as Greece, pulls out of the euro, other states may well follow and Europe will disintegrate. If present-day Europe reminds me of anything in the Bible it is the Tower of Babel.
For all its genuine achievements, the sad reality is that the once-proud edifice of the EU has turned into a wobbling house of cards. What has gone wrong? Let me suggest a few of the most obvious weaknesses.
- There has been an appalling amount of naivety. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the attempt to create a united Europe out of utterly different cultures. So, there are countries, mainly in northern Europe, where it is normal for income to be honestly declared and taxes to be obediently paid. Equally, there are countries – mainly in southern Europe – where it is totally normal for tax to be evaded. These are fundamental cultural differences and to imagine that two such fundamentally opposed worlds could be merged into financial unity was never a realistic prospect. Unions of any sort take time and are hard work, involving massive amounts of communication.
- There has been recklessness. Over the years the European Union persuaded cautious nations and peoples to imagine that there was limitless money available for any and every project. ‘Borrow now!’ the EU declared, quietly omitting any mention that there would be a ‘payday someday’. Yes, Greece is responsible for much of the mess in which it finds itself, but the fact remains that Brussels enticed Greece and others down the road to financial ruin, encouraging them to borrow.
- There has been overconfidence. The growing cracks within the EU have been obvious for decades but those involved in pursuing the ‘European vision’ ignored all the warning signs and continued moving ahead with reckless abandon.
- There has been foolishness. Take, for example, the dismantling of borders and border controls. Did no one foresee the obvious outcome in a Europe composed of rich and poor? Wasn’t it inevitable that, once barriers were removed, the most prosperous corners of the continent would be inundated by vast numbers of the impoverished seeking work and a more prosperous life?
- There has been irresponsibility. The present crisis has shown a failure of the system. The accountability structures (checks and balances) have proven inadequate and the failure to create an escape strategy for a country with an underperforming economy now seems like an extraordinary failure. The result is that we now face a situation in which a country like Greece slipping into the financial abyss may drag the rest of Europe down with it.
- There has been negligence in the failure to acknowledge and control widespread political incompetence, structural inefficiency and corruption.
- Perhaps most tellingly of all there has been arrogance to think that the passing of endless laws and rules was sufficient to heal wounds between nations and peoples that go back for centuries. The reality is that to build a genuine union between people takes grace and forgiveness, not governmental decrees. Legislation does not change hearts, minds and wills. Some people at the heart of the European project seem to feel that their task transcended politics and involved the reshaping of human society: to bring in a kingdom of heaven run out of Brussels. The result has been a familiar disaster; history tells us that human attempts to do what only God can do are inevitably disastrous.
It is my hope that in the aftermath of the present crisis – however it is resolved – and with the various moves currently being suggested towards reforming the European Union, there will be some serious heart-searching on where things have gone wrong and the humility to listen to advice.
We hope that there might be a Europe of the future that is based on wiser and stronger foundations than those that have so obviously proved to be inadequate. Lord, have mercy. Come and heal our land.
For more from J.John, visit www.canonjjohn.com