Papists Under The Bed

There’s an utterly mad article in this week’s Spectator, in which a rather overheated Tory called Adrian Hilton argues, with apparent sincerity, that the EU is a grand Papist conspiracy to subject Protestant Britain to Roman Catholic tyranny. I mention it, not just to point and laugh, but because one passage in it illustrates a peculiar blind spot that is very common amongst UK Europhobes:

There are significant structural parallels between the Roman religious system and the political subsidiarity principle, which is itself a concept of papal origin. In the theory of ecclesial authority, an important part is played by the concept of the representation of One Christ, who combined in himself all the offices for the dispensation of salvation (prophet, priest and king). If the Church is ruled by God, then God must necessarily flow down from above, step by step, so at the apex of human order there must be a single channel, directed by God himself, and only at the lower levels could the streams of God’s will begin to branch into subsidiary levels. Subsidiarity was designed not to permit the tributaries to ‘claw back’ what may best be performed at a lower level, but to permit the infallible centre to decide what freedoms to grant the subsidiary levels. Whether it be termed federalism or centralism, ‘subsidiarity’ denotes the downward devolvement of certain powers for the practical outworking of the Supreme Power’s objectives.

This is strikingly similar to the way devolved governments in Scotland and Wales were set up. The Westminster Parliament chose which powers to devolve to these two nations, and the only choice given about those powers was that Scotland was graced with the opportunity to forgo the ability to vary its own taxes. Local government in England works along a similar principle: local authorities can do nothing unless explicitly permitted to do so by central government. I doubt Hilton would regard that as part of some Papist plot. Yet, when the EU acts in ways which mirror how the UK has developed, suddenly it’s a diabolical scheme which must be resisted by all True Patriots.

There are all sorts of practical political issues surrounding European integration, the single currency, the EU constitution, and so on. They’re worth arguing about, and worth trying to get right. What underlies a lot of the argument, though is a basic emotional reaction to the idea of pooling sovereignty with other nations. Maybe it’s because I come from a country which entered into economic and political union to form a powerful superstate way back in 1707, but I’m fundamentally pretty relaxed about the prospect of the UK doing the same. Some of the rhetoric I hear from British Eurosceptics, like that in the Hilton article, seems to be blind to the real history of Britain, and to the way our thinking about sovereignty and national identity has repeatedly evolved to suit new circumstances.

Notions of national identity and sovereignty in Britain are messy, complex and inconsistent. Partnership with other EU nations may violate some imagined Platonic ideal of Britishness, but out here in the real world we’ll reexamine and recreate our notions of identity as the world changes around us, just as we’ve always done.

25 thoughts on “Papists Under The Bed

  1. “a peculiar blind spot that is very common amongst UK Europhobes”

    That looks remarkably like a bit of the thoroughly familiar “label and smear” to me.

    Without following the byways of the Spectator’s mooted theological interpretation of the draft EU Constititution, there are valid reasons for concern over the many fudged boundaries in the draft between the competences of the EU and member state governments leaving ample scope for frequent recourse to the European Court to settle subsidiarity disputes.

    Least any here suppose my reservations are yet another tiresome manifestation of Europhobia, essentially this point is made also in the reported comments of Professor Siegfried Bross, a constitutional judge at the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe: “One of the biggest problems with the draft Constitution is that it does not account for a dispute over competences between the EU and its member states. ‘This is a big gap that should not be underestimated,’ said the judge.” – from:

    The implication is that disputed competences will be settled by judicial activism of the European Court, not by negotiation in inter-governmental conferences. In practice, such is the complexity of the political process in the EU that it will prove difficult, if not impossible, for member state governments to subsequently amend or reverse decisions taken by the European court.

    The draft Constitution accords broad powers with undefined scope for “coordination of economic policies” to the EU which could pave the way for extensive “harmonisation” of fiscal policies whatever reservations about preserving national prerogatives Tony Blair may wish to ensure in this area. As for any misguided notions about the inherent superiority of economic policy in mainland EU countries, we can note that since end 1995 the standardised unemployment rate in Britain has been lower than in France, Germany or Italy, and the employment rate higher.

  2. Iain,

    Daniel Dafoe, “True Born Englishman”, 1701 –

    ‘The Scot, Pict, Briton, Roman, Dane, submit And with the English Saxon all unite: And these the mixture have so close pursued, The very name and memory?s subdued; No Roman now, no Briton does remain; Wales strove to separate, but strove in vain: The silent nations undistinguished fall, And Englishman?s the common name for all. Fate jumbled them together, God knows how; Whate?er they were, they?re true-born English now’.

    Well, not quite ;). How I love discussions about Parliamentary Souvereignty, Euro Law supremacy and Competence Competence…

    I don’t know why, but I live under the suspicion that most Britons who are violently anti EU don’t know very much about it. Actually, that’s not only true for Britons. I have a close personal friend who is a Tory. She was opposed to even have EU written on the British passport until she had to write an extended paper on the subject. Suddenly she became interested, and in the end even midly pro European.

  3. Bob, on the one hand I agree with you, on the other I don’t see how it will effect the power balance other than on the margins. If a sense of judiciousness will not restrain the ECJ, political considerations will, there are limits to how radical interpretations and how much ‘butting in’ they are prepared to do. And I don’t think governments will let them, they’re not interested in letting the ECJ settle their differences, so there will be less oppurtunities.

    Also remember that the present constitution will only last for four to eight years.

    That doesn’t mean the constitution is great, but I’m saying eurocreep can only go that far. You won’t wake up one day and suddenly find yourself a citizen of a superstate.

  4. Hilton’s piece is a little overheated, but he isn’t entirely mad. Or, rather, he is entirely mad, but he’s also onto something which isn’t entirely trivial.

    Article 14.3 of the European human rights charter, for example, insists that it is the right of parents to “ensure the education and teaching of their children in conformity with their religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions”. That clause is widely taken (though not conclusively demonstrated nor legally tested) to prevent an elected left-wing government in this country from abolishing the private schools — still an ambition of most members of the governing Labour party, unless I’m very much mistaken — and the reason it’s there in the human rights document is that, roughly speaking, the Catholics insisted on it.

    The Popes were always terribly hostile to the Rights of Man through the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries — and to liberalism, socialism, ordinary people having votes, etc: see Rerum Novarum (whose centenary was celebrated by the current Pope with a new encyclical, Centesimus Annus) and many other key Papal pronouncements — and the price for getting established Catholic Europe to agree to the Euro-human rights document was that the document should ensure the protection of Catholic schools — which had been controversial above all in France since the 18th century (think of the expulsion of the Jesuits and the educational debates that led to in the 1760s) and especially in the late 19th century (think of the titanic battles between the Third Republic and the Church over the schools).

    So — and here’s a cheap point — anyone on the Right in the U.K. who thinks that the human rights charter is going to defend their private schools is hoping to be the beneficiary of Catholic social policy…

    But, more interestingly, I think Hilton’s not wrong to detect a link between the organisation of Catholic hierarchy and the organisation of the EU through the sunsidiarity discourse. The other group which talked in similar terms were the Marxists, for the model of democratic centralism which Marx set out in the pages of The Civil War in France (though he didn’t call it that) was of a centralised national structure which, nevertheless, let the local branches run their own affairs in their own way much of the time, but could always overrule them. And the point here is that not only were the Marxists on the one hand and the Catholics on the other hand the two most important genuinely internationalist movements of the nineteenth century, but that they also pissed off those in Britain who claimed to be the inheritors of local traditions, government by consent, organic community, the whole Burkean shebang, etc., and its this rhetoric which Hilton is inherited and redeploying.

    The trouble is — to make another cheap point — the British Right is far too content with the authoritarian structures of the centralised Jacobin (OK, let’s call it Hobbesian) state to make any attack on European top-downery in anything like the language of the Burkean shebang at all convincing. (Think of the Thatcher government’s onslaught against local government power, just for starters). So its political language gets pulled in two directions, first towards the language of market fundamentalism (centralised state power is OK insofar as the state takes itself to be preserving the workings of the free market), second towards crude populist nationalism (centralised state power is OK insofar as its the Brits governing themselves rather than anything to do with foreigners). But those aren’t two terribly happy directions to be pulled in, especially not these days, with the result (among other things), that the Conservative Party is now rather firmly wedged into the dustbin of history, and finding it almost impossible to clamber out.

    It’s just such a shame that Mr Blair is the main beneficiary of all of this.

  5. It is unwise, not to say patronising, to presume that critics of EU institutions and its functioning are inevitably ignorant. Just possibly, were EU member state governments more inclined to study more closely the text of directives, pacts and treaties they have signed up to – often with much celebratory fanfare at the time – there could be less likelihood of defaults and breaches, as with:

    “With the big countries Germany and France about to break the euro-zone stability pact this year, the euro-zone economy as a whole is at risk of breaking the rules.” – from:

    Perhaps if more attention had been paid to the advice of more than 150 German economists in 1998 on whether economics conditions suitable for launching the Euro in 1999 were appropriate, the Eurozone would not now be a situation where all its major economies, France, Germany and Italy, as well as the Netherlands, have stagnant or sinking economies:

    Btw the full text of that deliciously satirical poem on English chauvinism: The True-Born Englishman (1700), by Daniel Defoe, can be found at:

  6. >> That looks remarkably like a bit of the thoroughly familiar “label and smear” to me.

    Without following the byways of the Spectator’s mooted theological interpretation of the draft EU Constititution, there are valid reasons for concern over the many fudged boundaries in the draft between the competences of the EU and member state governments leaving ample scope for frequent recourse to the European Court to settle subsidiarity disputes. <<

    Bob, I think you should re-read my paragraph beginning “There are all sorts of practical political issues…” Concrete, detailed points like the one you raise matter, and we should be trying to get them right. But there’s a difference between wanting to address the problems so that the EU is made better, and wanting to carp about the problems in order to undermine the EU project. Which attitude you take has as much to do with deep-seated emotional responses as it does with a rational weighing of the facts. It’s the root of the former impulses that I was writing about. In particular, pointing out that the attitude Chris Brooke describes as “centralised state power is OK insofar as its the Brits governing themselves rather than anything to do with foreigners” is tosh founded on ignorance of British history and the British constitution.

  7. Iain – Britain almost routinely features at or near the bottom of the regular, official Eurobarometer poll on how well membership benefits of the EU are rated by citizens of EU member states. Doubtless, the motives of respondents are varied and I don’t pretend to know how much is due to “deep-seated emotional responses” or “a rational weighing of the facts”. It happens my personal attitudes to the EU have been more stable than those of Tony Blair. I campaigned for a “yes” vote in the 1975 referendum in Britain on continued membership of the then EEC and regarded as ridiculous the commitment in his personal manifesto for the 1983 election to negotiate withdrawal from the EEC:

    IMO it makes good economic sense to have an EU focused on liberalisation of trade and markets but, sadly, the EU persists in pushing larger ambitions for political integration and policy harmonisation when it appears institutionally incapable of improving the functioning of markets in the Eurozone economies. On incontrovertible evidence, the Eurozone economy is not performing well. We can only thank providence that an opt out for Britain from monetary union was included in the Maastricht Treaty.

    However, concerns don’t stop there. With the latest advent of the Eurostat scandal, the EU Commission also appears incapable of shaking off its merited past reputation for fraud and corruption in budgetary spending. We have this too:

    “Financial mismanagement of the European Commission?s ?60bn budget has been attacked in a damning report [in 2000]. Sir John Bourn, head of the UK?s National Audit Office, said auditors had found ?significant weaknesses? in way the EC managed its funds.” – from:

    “A European official whose whistle-blowing revelations sparked the resignation of the entire European Commision has quit, after declaring that nothing has changed.” – from:

    ” . . Marta Andreasen was sacked as the EU?s chief accountant in May after going public with claims that the EU accounting system was riddled with mistakes and loopholes. . .” – from:

    “Dougal Watt, the Scottish whistleblower who made public his allegations of high-level corruption in the EU Court of Auditors has been sacked, the Glasgow Herald reported today.”
    – from:

    “The European Commission has come clean and admitted the huge extent of fraud in its statistical office, Eurostat. At a hastily arranged meeting on Wednesday (9 July), administrative reform Commissioner Neil Kinnock and his monetary affairs colleague Pedro Solbes told the European Parliament that Eurostat offices had been raided the night before and all its files secured. The Commission acted after receiving two reports on Monday providing evidence that ?serious wrong-doing on a much more widespread scale than previously thought may have taken place?.” – from:

    “The European Commission could have reacted much sooner to stop alleged corruption at its statistical arm in Luxembourg according to Stern, a German news magazine. According to an article that appears today (28 August), the journal has proof that at least one Commissioner was knowledgeable of apparent wrongdoing at Eurostat, much earlier than first assumed, or admitted by Commissioners. . .” – from:

  8. Bob, whilst there are significant issues that (as Iain says) must be tackled in the context of an EU constitution, I don’t think a list of examples of corrupt practices is the showstopper you imply.

    The fact that individuals may have been extensively abusing the system should be laid at the door of the individuals concerned, rather than blamed on the system itself.

    The extent to which weakness in the system IS to blame for widespread corruption would, at least in my view, be an argument for closer integration, rather than your implied alternative. If you’re saying that the extent of EU corruption is greater than at the national level, then presumably it’s because the various national systems of government are more accountable, comprehensive and internally joined-up. If that’s the case, then the logical way to address EU corruption would be to make the EU system as joined-up as the various national systems – i.e. to go for full superstatehood. I don’t think you wanted to suggest that.

  9. “The fact that individuals may have been extensively abusing the system should be laid at the door of the individuals concerned, rather than blamed on the system itself.”

    C’mon. From the report of Britain’s National Audit Office on 12 June:

    “For the year 2001, the Court drew similar conclusions to previous years and for the EIGHTH year in succession qualified its opinion on the reliability of the Community’s accounts. The Court’s opinion on the financial statements again emphasised the persistent and on-going weaknesses in the Commission’s accounting systems, particularly the lack of reliable information on the completeness of assets held, and recommended that urgent action be taken to address these problems.” – from:

    Just how many years will it take to introduce a dependable accounting system for the EU Commission?

  10. “There are significant structural parallels between the Roman religious system and the political subsidiarity principle, which is itself a concept of papal origin.”

    Yes, well, modern literary criticism is arguably descended from the analytical techniques used by monastic scholars to determine the veracity of sacred texts. Which doesn’t make the LRB a front organization for the secret plan for Dominican world domination.

    A great deal of the modern European world was born in the Church, for reasons readily apparent to the non-barking-mad.

    Hey, great weblog!

  11. >A great deal of the modern European world was born >in the Church, for reasons readily apparent to the non->barking-mad.

    And, fortunately, a great deal of the modern European world was born against the Church…

    It’d be splendid if the LRB *were* a front organisation for the secret plan for Dominican world domination, though.

  12. I enjoyed this:

    “The EU’s top court found that the European Commission was entitled to sack Bernard Connolly, a British economist dismissed in 1995 for writing a critique of European monetary integration entitled The Rotten Heart of Europe. . . However, it dropped an argument put forward three months ago by the advocate-general, Damaso Ruiz-Jarabo Colomer, which implied that Mr Connolly’s criticism of the EU was akin to extreme BLASPHEMY, and therefore not protected speech.”
    – from:

  13. > > Just how many years will it take to introduce a dependable accounting system for the EU Commission? < <

    Bob, you highlight a serious problem. What do you think is the best way of solving that problem?

  14. “Bob, you highlight a serious problem. What do you think is the best way of solving that problem?”

    Iain – I’ve no “Road Map”, especially since I’ve not been in Commission buildings in Brussels since the early 1980s. However, I’ve talked with work colleagues who have done stints there since and the impression I gained from them is not encouraging.

    The one thing I feel convinced about is the crucial importance of not denying that there is an endemic problem when there plainly is. Open debate is the best possible antidote to political corruption and it has to be said that there is a recognizable kind of Europhile, in my personal experience, who regards any criticism of the EU and its institutions and policies as akin to “blasphemy” so rational, constructive discussion becomes impossible. What is worse, I sometimes get the feeling that the blasphemy angle and its like may be a contrived defensive spin against any change in the status quo.

    Rather than discuss fundamentals, EU critics are dubbed xenophobic Europhobes. A recent speech by Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary, purportedly about the benefits for Britain from joining the Euro, was almost entirely focused on painting the Conservatives as Eurobigots who want to get Britain out of the EU – curious that, when Tony Blair was first elected to Parliament in 1983 on a manifesto that would have committed an incoming Labour government then to negotiate withdrawal and without a referendum on the terms. Presumably, had Labour won that 1983 election, we wouldn’t be having this discussion here now.

    Have a look at the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International at: What comes out of that is in Europe the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Britain and Germany are perceived as countries where corruption is relatively low. There are distinctive differences between the political cultures of EU member states. Above, I mentioned the Eurobarometer polls on how EU citizens rate the value of EU membership in which respondents in Britain regularly come out at or near the bottom. It seems to me beyond coincidence that Italy and Belgium regularly feature around the top of the same Eurobarometer polls on enthusiasm for the EU but rate relatively low in Europe on the CPI. Besides that, I’ve a personal archive (backed up) of media reports on the web relating to corruption scandals in EU member state governments. The archive is depressingly large. I’ve lost count of how many writs Berlusconi has by now issued against The Economist for its analysis of the political scene in Italy. As for Belgium, is there any prospect of Detroux being actually brought to trial for the heinous crimes he is accused of and detained for?

    Supposedly, administrative reforms of the EU Commission were and are being addressed. Let’s recap a little: All the EU Commissioners resigned in March 1999 following an adverse report of an expert panel on maladministration, nepotism and fraud in the EU Commission. A new Commission was appointed by member state governments with Prodi as president and Kinnock as vice-president with a porfolio for administrative reform in the EU Commission. Judging by the emerging Eurostat scandal – reportedly running to millions of Euros of Commission funds diverted to private accounts – and the decision of the European Court of Auditors not to endorse Commission accounts for the eighth year in succession, little apparent progress on administrative reform seems to have been made in the four years of the new Commission. For a start, perhaps the European Parliament might set up its own inquiry as to why.

  15. A note of historic interest just for any British readers here.

    As mentioned above, the National Audit Office report on the refusal of the European Court of Auditors to endorse EU Community accounts for the eighth year in succession was published on the morning of 12 June. I can confirm that as I found and downloaded the report that morning.

    Recall what also happened that same day? It was the day of the notorious botched cabinet reshuffle when Tony Blair decided to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor without recourse to the seemingly unnecessary burden of putting any instrumental legislation through Parliament first. As could have been foreseen, the British media became preoccupied with kerfuffle over the cabinet reshuffle and mostly failed to notice the NAO report on the EU accounts. Besides, it was about those European institutions which Brits don’t have much regard for anyway – judging by those Eurobarometer polls. But it is European taxpayers’ money that the EU Commission is failing to account for – and for the eighth year in succession.

    Personally, I’d be much more impressed if Tony Blair and Jack Straw made some effort to press for an end to corruption in the EU Commission instead of just slagging off the Tories whenever they make speeches about Britain’s relationship with the EU. The recurring scale of corruption in the EU Commission ought to be unacceptable. And administrative reform in the EU Commission is the portfolio of EU Commissioner Kinnock, whom Tony Blair himself nominated to be one of Britain’s Commissioners.

    Of course, the coincidence of the NAO report and the cabinet reshuffle on the same day was just accidental. Or was it? What would likely public reaction be to a public utilities company, with a revenue of E100 billion, if the company’s auditors refused to endorse its accounts for eight years in succession?

  16. After the accession referendums are over and the constitution is finished, The Parliament may become inclined to sack the Commission once again, assuming they won’t have gotten their act in order. That would probably on balance be a good thing, but not make the problems go away.

  17. “That would probably on balance be a good thing, but not make the problems go away.”

    David – I agree. The culture is too deeply embedded, I fear. We thought – or perhaps “hoped” is the better word – the mass resignation of all the Commissioners in 1999 was an opportunity for a new start but that was not to be.

  18. This looks like a great site – I’ve just found it and shall look at it properly when I’m back at my own computer.

    In the meantime, I dismantled that ludicrous article at length on my own blog a couple of days ago. It might interest you.

  19. I have long been a Pro European liberal in Sweden.
    Looking upon the EU project as a great endeavour, which brings together the peoples of Europe in peace and harmony. Like a family who can use the common language of english to understand eachother ( atleast try)
    Now reading mr Hilton or was it mr Hilter this dream has sadly been crushed as an illussion. Now i have realised what the EU really is.
    It is The Pope’s plan to reconstruct the Roman Empire. ( Dont mension the spanish inquisition ) .
    This may sound paranoid and so i thought to. But the more information i get the more these conspiracy theories are comming true .

    What we have to remember is that all the founding fathers of the EU were roman catholics and they got their instructions from Rome and the Bilderberg group.
    EU is the new Roman Empire. The 12 stars of the Eu flag symbolizes virgin mary who is a particular catholic godess.
    What is your prime minister Tony Blair really doing ?, hes is ushering in the [resurrection of that] ‘Holy’ Roman Empire. The real aim of the European Union is a United Roman Catholic States of Europe, which was the ideal pursued by Pius XII through his Concordat with Adolf Hitler. In a remarkable speech given in French in 1975, Pope Paul VI said that it was “the [Roman] Catholic faith that made Europe” and added: “No other human force in Europe can render the service that is confided to us, promoters of the faith, to awaken the Christian soul of Europe, where its unity is rooted.” [Reported in The Reformer, January/February, 1976. Note that it is a “human” force, not one of God.]

    It is the Papacy that is behind the drive for European unity. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588?1679) once remarked: “The Papacy is no other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof.” [Leviathan, Part 4, Chapter 47 (1651).] The Microsoft Encarta Encyclopaedia 99 article on the Roman Empire states:

    Atleast there is a tiny tiny risk that this is true.

  20. Andrew Hilton’s book gives the true picture of Europe’e hegemonical intentions and its papistical dimension. John on the Isle of Patmos saw the pagan Roman Empire would be transmuted into a vast ecclesiastical Empire. Since Constantine this has taken various forms – Hobbes Leviathon, its Latin Western Dragonic form under the Popes and Franco Germanic emperors, down to Kaiser Wilhelm and Pius XIIth and Adolf Hitler, now the EU, to be smashed at Christ’s return.Rev18

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