Letter: Britain's history of resistance to a European social charter for its workers

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The Independent Online
Sir: Government spokesmen have repeatedly claimed that it is 'unthinkable for Conservative MPs to support the Social Chapter of the Maastricht treaty'. I find this puzzling. Several Conservative MPs are Roman Catholics, and the Social Chapter comes out of the mainstream of Catholic social teaching.

Following the tradition beginning in Rerum Novarum, the chapter attempts to define a baseline standard of conditions below which no employee of a European enterprise should have to work, and posits a co-operative endeavour in which workers are informed and consulted about matters affecting them.

It reflects the working out in Europe of a dominant theme in the present Pope's thinking that the market should be 'appropriately controlled' by society so that the basic needs of all may be satisfied. Contesimus Annus is precise about how this should happen. The economy needs 'a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom' and through which the state has a duty to protect the dignity of workers.

The Catholic themes dominating the Social Charter and Chapter are less suprising when it is remembered that Jacques Delors is, and was, profoundly influenced by Catholic social teaching. Furthermore, it was the resistance of European Christian Democrats such as Jesuit-educated Ruud Lubbers, the Dutch Prime Minister, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who held out against British attempts to have the Social Chapter dropped, that counted most in its final acceptance by the Eleven.

It is therefore suprising that the Catholic church in Britain has been silent on this pivotal concern of the social shape of a new Europe.

Yours sincerely,


General Secretary

Catholic Institute for International Relations

London, N1