Acton Institute Powerblog

Are Roman Catholics more likely to support the EU than Protestants?

As the UK sets out its negotiating policies for Brexit this week and next, it is no secret that European nations remain deeply divided over the role of the European Union. But what role does religion play in how nations see the EU, the Single Market, and the promise of an “ever-closer union” administered from Brussels? That underexplored question is the heart of The Political Theology of European Integration by Mark Royce, which is the subject of a new review at Religion & Liberty Transatlantic.

The reviewer, Hans-Martien ten Napel, is well-qualified to offer insight on the book’s theme as an assistant professor of constitutional and administrative law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He was also a participant in Acton University 2017. He notes at the outset that Roman Catholicism, which sees itself as a transnational and universal church, may have helped create a different “political theology” than Protestantism, which often found itself aligned with local princes and governments. He writes:

At the beginning of his research, Royce expected countries of a Roman Catholic political theology to be more open towards European integration – a common economic area and an “ever-closer union” politically – than countries of a Protestant political theology. Roman Catholicism, after all, represents “the Church that dominated the late Classical and medieval eras,” whereas Protestantism “helped give birth to new Westphalian regimes” (p. 3). While similar research has already been performed at the individual and group levels, a comparison at the national level was still missing. In order to fill this gap, moreover, Royce employs a qualitative analysis, whereas most previous research relied on statistical measurement.

As Europe reimagines itself as a thoroughly secular entity, studies about the theology of its member states have become increasingly rare. Yet for all its studious efforts to ignore it, the overarching role religion plays in creating culture – including political culture – continues to shake the foundations of Europe. Understanding the influence of faith, even if it is only the faith of our fathers, illuminates the present outlook of member states toward Brussels.

The review traces Royce’s conclusions, scrutinizes his methods, and largely applauds the subject and approach of this “worthwhile” book. The new emphasis this work lays upon Christian Democratic views alone renders a valuable service, according to Hans-Martien ten Napel.

In his review, he points out one noteworthy omission in the book:

[T]he exclusion of Central and Eastern European countries from the study weakens its relevance in relation to the current EU. According to the author, it is questionable whether Eastern Orthodoxy has similar views with respect to, e.g., representative democracy as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. This may make it defensible to leave Eastern Orthodoxy out of consideration in this study, as does the fact that the countries concerned have only been able to make independent policy choices regarding Europe relatively recently. Yet, fundamental differences in outlook among its member states are a reality that Europe now has to deal with.

The overlapping realities of Orthodox Chistianity’s national – and sometimes, nationalist – orientation on the one hand, and Eastern European nations’ status as net recipients of EU Structural Funds on the other, likely masks a fascinating study of tensions and competing narratives. Perhaps it will become the focus of a later study.

As with all European values, European integration may have had its roots in Christian teachings about international relations, whether as a different members of one universal church or as Protestants seeking to dwell with brethren in peace. And as with all other such values, its ability to survive without the foundation of faith is an open question:

Perhaps the most pertinent question which the study raises, is not formulated by Royce until the very end of his book. That question is whether the process of European integration will actually be able to continue with such little attention being paid to its theological foundations. … whether the process of European integration might well come to a halt altogether as the influence of both Roman Catholic and Protestant public theologies in present-day Europe continues to decline. … It is clear from the final sentences of this worthwhile book that Royce would not be surprised if the proudly secular EU soon learned the hard way that theology matters after all.

Royce recently discussed his work on the aptly named podcast of Providence magazine, the Provcast. You may hear his interview here.

You will profit from reading the full book review here.

(Photo credit: Bankenverband. Public domain.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.