COI Gazette – 24th July 2015

Environmental concerns a major focus at C. of E. General Synod

The General Synod meeting in York last week (Photo: Archbishops’ Council)

The General Synod meeting in York last week (Photo: Archbishops’ Council)

The General Synod of the Church of England, meeting in York from 10th-13th July, devoted a substantial part of its time to considering matters relating to the environment, with a particular view to the COP21 international climate summit to be held in Paris next December (Conference of Parties), and also considering the Church’s own environment related investment policies.

Speaking to the Gazette editor, the Chair of the Church of England’s Environment Working Group, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nick Holtam, said he felt the prospects for the Paris summit were “much better than people were expecting a year or so ago”, pointing to growing international commitment and remarking on how even China was now beginning to “line up” on climate issues and was looking capable of setting “quite ambitous targets”. (Listen to the interview in our Audio section, No. 57.)




The past few weeks have seen a remarkable drama played out on the European stage. The massive indebtedness of Greece led to a whole weekend of talks in Brussels, literally day and night, culminating on Monday 13th July morning. The Greek and German Finance Ministers, Euclid Tsakalotos and Wolfgang Schäuble, were naturally very much to the fore. Mr Tsakalotos had only just taken up the post of Finance Minister, following the departure of Yanis Varoufakis, to whose presence, apparently, Eurozone leaders had objected due to Mr Varoufakis’s fluently forthright style in earlier negotiations. He certainly speaks impeccable English, but it was what he actually said, as well as his style, that was the problem in the corridors of power in Brussels. By contrast, Mr Schäuble’s ministry controversially proposed a temporary ‘Grexit’, this only to be rejected outright as offending against the fundamental principles of the Eurozone.

However, not long after the leaders of the Eurozone had departed from the weekend negotiations, it became clear that the deal agreed, which required massive cuts in government spending and privatisations in Greece to the tune of €50bn – both requirements going against all that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government believe in – would not in fact be feasible. On the day after the Brussels agreement, which in any case was only about agreeing to start bailout negotiations, the International Monetary Fund publicly indicated that some debt forgiveness would be required if Greece was to recover its solvency – a measure not included in the Eurozone leaders’ agreement. The IMF also suggested extending to Greece a 30-year period of grace for its debt repayments.

Nonetheless, the Brussels agreement was passed by the Greek parliament, Mr Tsipras calling for its acceptance even though he also said he did not agree with the terms. It was a measure of the desperate nature of the situation and a case of swallowing an extremely bitter pill in the hope of just surviving. As Mr Varoufakis later said, with his typical frankness, the government had been given the choice “between being executed and capitulating”. Notably, Berlin, Helsinki and Vienna also endorsed the Brussels agreement despite strong reservations being voiced, Chancellor Merkel receiving a bouquet of birthday flowers on her arrival at the Bundestag. At the end of last week, the European Council approved a €7bn bridging loan to Greece, aimed at helping the country to repay debts.

The expression, ‘You couldn’t make it up’, comes to mind. Just how the dire economic situation in Greece arose in the first place is a debated subject. Some blame wreckless fiscal policies and spending on the part of the Greek government, others blame low productivity by Greek workers, and others blame irresponsible lenders. All are surely in it. Now the Eurozone is faced with no doubt tense negotiations over the details of a bailout for Greece, possibly in excess of €80bn. The Chair of the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, has said he expects these negotiations to last about a month. Two words with deeply religious connotations surfaced in this whole scenario. They are ‘forgiveness’ and ‘grace’.

The President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, told a press conference last week that some writing off of Greece’s debts was “uncontroversial”. In other words, ‘forgiveness’ had to be part of the equation of any viable resolution of the difficulties. So too there must be a freely extended offering of help of all sorts to the struggling and no doubt often quite frightened people of Greece; ‘grace’ is thus also part of the equation. Without approaches along such lines, a ‘Grexit’ would appear to become a greater possibilty as it would allow Greece to devalue its own currency, thereby reducing its debts, but possibly also creating new and unforeseen difficulties. The politicians and the people involved in this tragic drama will need goodwill and prayers in abundance.


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