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What is the EU?

A new word entered the English vocabulary recently—Brexit, which means the “British exit” from the European Union (EU). To understand the implications of this move, let me briefly provide an overly simplified history of the EU, as well as an outline of its political and economic structures.

The “European project” began as a way to avoid the horrors of a Third World War. Hitler’s Germany must never be permitted to reoccur. The goal of the “European project” was to prevent nationalism from becoming too powerful. Remember, that the Nazis were the Nationalist Socialist Party. In 1957, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and (West) Germany signed the Treaty of Rome, which came into force on January 1, 1958, establishing the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1973, Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom (UK) joined the EEC. Greece, Portugal, and Spain joined the EEC in the 1980’s, during which time the Schengen Treaty was signed, which effectively abolished border controls throughout much of Europe (Ireland and the UK, being islands, are not in the Schengen area). The Maastricht Treaty followed in 1992, which changed the name of the EEC to the European Community (EC). It contained the embryo of a European Constitution and paved the way for a single European currency (the Euro). In 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined the EC, which by now was called the European Union (notice the progression from EEC, to EC, to EU). Between 2004-2015 many Eastern European nations (Poland, Czech Republic, Latvia, etc.) joined the EU family. In the intervening years, several other treaties (such as the Nice Treaty of 2003 and the Lisbon Treaty of 2009) were ratified, most of them without any consultation of the citizens of Europe. Little by little, European leaders were signing away their national sovereignty and giving more power to a centralized bureaucracy. (When some of these treaties were put to a referendum in nation states, they failed, results that the European leaders either ignored or changed. For example, the Irish electorate rejected the Nice Treaty in June 2001, so a second referendum was held—after the Irish government negotiated some concessions—in October 2002).

By June 2016, the EU consisted of 28 member states (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK). Of those 28 countries, 19 countries are in the monetary union (the Eurozone), and use the single European currency, the Euro. Notably, Denmark, Sweden, and the UK are not in the Eurozone. On the European continent, Norway and Switzerland are not in the EU.

What began as cooperation between certain European nations on trade and other mutually beneficial issues has grown into an economic and political union with legislative and bureaucratic powers, centered in Brussels (Belgium), Luxembourg, and Strasbourg (France).

The various European treaties gave birth to a plethora of European structures. First, there is the European Council with its (current) President Donald Tusk. This body, according to the Lisbon Treaty, “shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development.” Second, there is the European Parliament (EP) with 751 members (MEP’s) headed by its (current) President Martin Schulz. With its gargantuan bureaucratic apparatus, the EP meets in three locations: Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg. It is the EU’s legislative branch, with its MEP’s elected every five years. Third, there is the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, with its (current) President, Jean-Claude Juncker. In addition to these institutions, the EU boasts a European Court of Justice, a European Court of Human Rights, and a European Central Bank. Each of these institutions has an enormous administrative budget (in 2015 the EU budget was €143 billion), to which the member states must contribute.

It is clear from the direction of the EU that the goal is the creation of a European superstate, the “United States” of Europe. Although the member states of the EU are equal, Germany and France are dominant, with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, seen as a very formidable and influential leader in Europe. Major players in the EU institutions push for further integration with a blurring of national borders and a ceding of more powers to Brussels—a common agricultural policy, a common immigration policy, a common taxation policy, a common policy on criminal justice, and a common military policy are among some of the “achievements” and aspirations of the EU.

The United Kingdom (which consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) joined the EU (the then EEC) by accession treaty on January 1, 1973. A referendum held in June 1975 confirmed that the citizens of the UK desired at that time to remain in the EEC (67% to 33%).

The Rise of Euroscepticism

Over the past decades, “Euroscepticism” has developed in the UK, especially in the Conservative (Tory) party. With an ever-increasing burden of EU regulations and directives, with recurring financial crises in the Eurozone (which the UK never joined), with a bloated administrative budget in Brussels demanding more from the British Exchequer, with the diminishing of national sovereignty, and with increasingly uncontrolled and uncontrollable immigration, “Euroscepticism” has increased. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and other parties were formed to lead the UK out of the EU and to regain national sovereignty. One of the leading figures of “Euroscepticism” in the UK is Nigel Farage, the erstwhile leader of UKIP, MEP since 1999 for South England, and thorn in the side of the European Parliament, where he is known for making fiery speeches. For example, in February 2010, he addressed the newly appointed President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, in these words: “You have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of low grade bank clerk,” adding that he believed that van Rompuy would be “the quiet assassin of European democracy and of the European nation states.” Another colorful character in British politics is Boris Johnson, the erstwhile Mayor of London, who also campaigned for the Brexit.

Brexit happened, first of all, because the erstwhile British Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised the people of the UK an “in-out referendum” on membership in the EU. The Conservatives (Tories) made this promise in their 2015 election manifesto under pressure from the Eurosceptic wing of the party and in light of the surge of support for UKIP. David Cameron staked his political future on the result of the referendum, and actively campaigned for a “yes” vote.

Following the announcement of the referendum, both the “remain” and “leave” sides campaigned vigorously for their various positions. Politics is a dirty business, and lies, misrepresentation, and exaggeration occurred on both sides. However, the issues were these—does the UK want to regain her national sovereignty, control over her own borders, control over her own laws, and establish free trade agreements with the rest of the world outside of the EU, or does the UK want to continue inside the EU, and contribute to the development of a European superstate in which more and more policies are determined by a centralized government in Brussels, and fewer policies are determined by individual national parliaments?

From my own observation of the debate, I believe that the “remain” side overplayed their hand—David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne predicted apocalyptic catastrophes (recession, unemployment, and even war!). The people did not believe the scaremongering. In addition, outside influences did not help—the EU, of course, was vehemently opposed to the UK’s leaving. The EU’s goal is to expand, not lose members. Other globalists were alarmed at the prospect of a Brexit. In April 2016, U.S. President Obama warned the British people in a press conference with David Cameron that, if the UK chose to leave the EU, the UK would be “at the back of the queue” (his use of the British word “queue” instead of the American word “line” was deliberate) in any future trade agreement negotiations with the USA. America, he said, would prioritize trade with the EU bloc.

Immigration

Immigration was (and is) a very important factor in the Brexit debate. The EU permits the free movement of peoples, which seems like a laudable policy. Any citizen of any of the member states of the EU is permitted to live, to work, or to retire in any other of the member states. A German or Italian could live in Sweden or France, for example, without residency visas, work permits, and the like.

The problem, however, is the integration of foreign nationals and the resultant multiculturalism. Since not all EU countries offer the same economic opportunities, there is the perception (confirmed by statistics) that certain countries are being overrun with citizens from other nations. Eastern Europeans, for example, take advantage of the EU to live and work in wealthier countries. (More Poles and Lithuanians migrate to the UK than British people migrate to Poland or Lithuania, for example.) In addition, the EU requires that a Pole, Bulgarian, or Romanian living in the UK receives the same welfare benefits as a UK citizen, making the UK a magnet for so-called “economic migrants.” For example, a Latvian man can “earn” more as an unemployed person in Britain than he can by working in his native land; plus, he can claim child benefits for his family, even if his children do not reside in the UK. (By the way, there are many hardworking Europeans, and I do not fault them for seeking a better life for themselves and their families.) Besides this, the European Court of Human Rights makes it very difficult for the British government to deport foreign nationals, even if they are convicted of a crime. There are countless examples of foreign nationals, who after serving their sentences in British prisons, have been permitted to remain in the UK because their “human rights” would be violated if they were returned to their nation of origin.

The European Migrant Crisis

The immigration crisis came to a head when in September 2015 Angela Merkel, in response to the refugee crisis from Syria, effectively opened the doors of the EU to refugees and migrants from war-torn Syria, announcing that migrants would be allowed to cross the border from Hungary into Austria and onward to Germany. (If a migrant achieves refugee status in one EU nation, there is little to prevent him residing in another EU member state.) The result was a large influx of migrants from Syria, Albania, North Africa, Iraq, and even as far away as Afghanistan. Contrary to popular belief, these refugees and migrants are not Christians (ISIS has wiped out most of the Christian minorities in Syria) but Muslims, many of them young men. Human traffickers have also exploited the desperation of these migrants, organizing journeys across the Mediterranean in barely seaworthy vessels, with the result that many have perished in the attempt to reach the outskirts of the EU (especially Greece and Italy, which are ill equipped to cope with the numbers of migrants). It is also noteworthy that none of the Islamic nations of the region (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, etc.) have offered to take in refugees from Syria, some of these nations citing “security concerns” (because who can tell whether Islamic Jihadists have used the refugee crisis to reach the EU?). Saudi Arabia generously offered to finance the construction of some 100 mosques—not houses, schools, hospitals, but mosques—in Germany! The EU, in conjunction with Turkey, has been trying to manage the refugee crisis, but it shows no sign of ending, and many nations are increasingly frustrated that the EU has imposed quotas upon member states. (Each member state must agree to receive a specific number of refugees.)

Throughout the EU there are whole communities that self-identify as “Muslim.” Significant numbers of these Muslims have been radicalized—terrorist attacks in France and Belgium are ample evidence of that. In addition, there have been reports of sexual assaults on women especially in Germany and Sweden. In Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve 2015, gangs of men of Arab or North African appearance (the overwhelming majority of whom were asylum seekers and immigrants) attacked, groped, and sexually assaulted hundreds of women. They are reported to have taunted the police with cries of “Merkel invited us.” This does not mean that all (or even most) Muslim men are rapists, or “rapefugees,” a word coined in recent years, but it does mean that a significant number are not prepared to integrate into European society, and that their views of women are incompatible with European law. The native Europeans are understandably alarmed and, remember, Europeans have no Second Amendment right to self-defense (even pepper spray is illegal in many EU nations). Some have described recent trends as an “Islamic invasion” of Europe.

Add to that the fact that the EU is in negotiations with Turkey, an Islamic nation of some 79 million people. For many of the British people, the expansion of Europe to include Turkey is a step too far.

Brexit and Beyond

The Brexit campaign came to an end on June 23, 2016, when the people went to the polls. The turnout was high (72%) and the result was close (52% voted to leave and 48% voted to remain). The vote also revealed division within the UK—Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU, and England and Wales voted to leave; and, generally speaking, the young (whose turnout was low) voted to remain, while the older generation (whose turnout was high) voted to leave. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon immediately declared that Scotland would fight to remain in the EU and would, if necessary, seek independence from the UK. (Thus, Scotland would leave one union, the UK, to join another union, the EU.) That is very unlikely at this point because the British government has ruled out a referendum on Scottish independence, and the EU will not negotiate with Scotland alone. On the other hand, Northern Ireland’s position is uncertain. The Republic of Ireland remains a EU member state while Northern Ireland remains part of the UK. What will become of the border? Neither the British nor the Irish governments desire to see border controls on the island. This means, too, that the Limerick Reformed Fellowship remains in the EU, while the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Ballymena leaves the EU.

Brexit sent shock waves across the EU and the world. The markets reacted predictably—the financial markets do not like uncertainty, and Brexit means uncertainty, because no one really knows what will happen next. These are unchartered waters. Marches took place in protest, and a petition was organized to demand a second referendum, something the British government rejected. David Cameron immediately resigned and, after a short leadership contest, Theresa May became British Prime Minister on July 13, 2016. Nigel Farage also stepped down as leader of UKIP saying that his political goal had been achieved.

The next step is to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will trigger a process of withdrawal from the EU, something the British parliament will not do hastily. Since Britain is the world’s fifth largest economy, an independent UK will seek trade deals with the EU, USA, Australia, and the rest of the world. However, since the UK is deeply enmeshed in the bureaucratic and legal structures of the EU, the exit process could take years. In addition, it is not in the interests of Brussels to make the process painless, because the fear among EU leaders is that, if Britain is a success outside the EU, other countries might follow (some are toying with the idea of their own referenda), which would lead to the unravelling of the “European project.” Scepticism is not unwarranted, however, because we should never underestimate the duplicity of politicians!

The EU (with the United Nations) is a modern-day Tower of Babel or part of the nascent kingdom of the Beast. Brexit seems to have struck a stake through its heart, for which I am glad. “Power was given [the beast] over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him” (Rev. 13:7-8).

It seems that, in the providence of God, the exalted Lord Jesus has said to the Beast, “Not yet! Your time is not yet come.” If this is indeed the case, let the church work while it is day, for “the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4).