Stephen Hughes MEP opens a series on the Church in a new Europe with a two-part article in which he asks whether EC policy is in line with Catholic social teaching
AS A practising Catholic and one of the UK's 81 members of the European Parliament I welcomed the bishops designation of May 10 as Europe Day.
The most important thing to remember about the new Europe is that it will affect each one of us we must take into account that Brussels and the European Community (EC) are not as remote as most people think.
It is often said that the economic welding together of the countries of the EC has made the idea of war between them unthinkable that it has helped keep the peace. That is true, but for many born since the last world war, who might not understand the truly profound significance of this fact, there is the persistent question: "Yes, but what else has it done?" It has, in fact, been doing a great deal.
By the end of this year almost 300 major pieces of legislation will have been adopted at EC level, to be put into effect in each member state to clear away the mass of barriers and obstacles to the free movement of people. trade, businesses and investment between and within the 12 nations.
The idea is that every EC citizen will be free to move, live and work wherever he or she likes within the community.
Our factories, companies and firms too will be free to do business anywhere within the EC and the prosperity of regions up and down the country will depend upon the ability of businesses to take advantage of the opportunities and overcome the challenges involved in this dramatic change.
There are those who persist in the view that none of this will really affect them that it is all something going on over there in Brussels, far removed from daily life in Darlington or Didcot. In fact the only ones exempted will be those who do not drink tapwater.
If we take a magnifying glass to just one area food policy the point might be made even more clear. With the removal of barriers at the end of this year, it will be far easier for foodstuffs from throughout the rest of the EC to be shipped into and sold in Britain.
Given that this is the case, we have spent a lot of time deliberating on detailed legislation to ensure that consumers throughout the Community will have basic guarantees on the content and quality of foodstuffs.
New laws and regulations will therefore be coming into effect covering, for example. hygiene in food handling and preparation, the clear labelling of contents (including justification for any claim that the product is "green"), doing away with certain sweeteners, additives or colouring considered potentially dangerous, the inclusion of "use by" rather than "sell by" dates. and much more besides. The same can be said for all other types of products on the market new laws designed to protect and assure consumers.
British members of the European Parliament have therefore worked hard to ensure that a high level of protection is introduced for this type of furniture throughout the EC.
The point should, by now, be firmly made. We will all be affected by the changes now taking place in Europe.
But is there a particular Christian perspective on these developments? I believe very strongly that there is. Particularly striking, in this context. is the area of social policy.
The Social Charter adopted by the EC and the body of legislation which arises from it is a deliberate attempt to ensure that Europe is about more than trade and business that it is also about people, ensuring that they can participate in and benefit from the wealth to be created by this massive new market.
Its basic principles are completely in line with Catholic
Church teaching on social policy (eg Rerum Novarum and Centesimus Annus) including, for example, the idea of co-operation and partnership between workers and employers.
The whole thrust of EC employment and work-place law is that there should be balanced participation between employers and employees co-operation rather than confrontation.
Specific pieces of legislation are aimed at particular problems: to improve work-place health and safety protection: to end child labour and to ensure that, in all states. work for children and young people should not interfere with health or school work.
The legislation agreed upon also aims to set limits on working time (over-time, shift-work and. controversially, Sunday work) and thereby give family life a chance.
It also focuses on the need to ensure that people moving from a poorer member state to work in a wealthier one are not exploited but enjoy the same wages and terms as their workmates.
Finally, this labour-linked legislation sets out to grant all EC citizens the right to a fair wage for those at work, and adequate social protection to those out of work.
These laws are designed to lead to a gradual improvement in social conditions for all of Europe's citizens.
Stephen Hughes is Member of the European Parliament for Durham and a Catholic. Part two of his article appears next week.