Ron Silver lamented: “The twentieth century has exhibited a barbarism and lack of respect for human life on a massive scale just about unknown before.” Over a period of seventy years, France and Germany went to war three times. Europe was the cauldron that brimmed two world wars resulting in the loss of tens of millions of lives. After the death and destruction on such an unimaginable scale, for almost half a century, Europe was divided into two nuclear camps during the Cold War. With the push of a button, life itself could have been brought to an end. I explain why the relative peace and prosperity enjoyed in Europe (and across the world) is to a large extent, the result of the European Union. In addition, 21st century opportunities such as transnational trade and 21st century challenges such as transnational terrorism can best be capitalised on and mitigated by remaining within the EU.
The European Dream
After WW2 Churchill described Europe as a “rubble heap” and “breeding ground of hatred.” Having had to live with the failures of Fascism, Europeans were turning from the far-right to the far-left. All across Europe Communist parties on Stalin´s payroll were among the leading parties in post-war elections. Had this movement succeeded, it was likely that more misery and mayhem would have befallen the continent. The foundations of the European project were laid by the United States who without firing a bullet or dropping a bomb, stood up for freedom. The Marshall Plan and establishment of the OEEC ensured that thriving European democracies were underpinned by prosperity and interconnection. With the intention of this evolving into a union, Churchill announced: “We must proclaim the mission and design of a united Europe, whose moral conception will win the respect and gratitude of mankind.”
The European Reality
In spite of its short-comings the EU has lived up to this vision. Through co-operation and co-ordination, notions of freedom, democracy and the rule of law penetrated the Iron Curtain. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, much of Central and Eastern Europe has been successfully integrated into the EU. The Copenhagen Criteria of 1993 means that countries who wish to join must have a functioning democracy and adhere to human rights. This is a major contributing factor to our world boasting well over a hundred democracies. In October 2012 the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because for six decades it contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation. While Turkey is far from even smelling EU membership anytime soon, its ambition means human rights abuses and electoral malpractice will have to be phased out.
Europe & the World
While the EU’s handling of the Ukraine crisis can and should be heavily criticized, the EU should be lauded for its taming of the dragons of China and Iran. Just a generation ago, the writings of leading Chinese communists such as Lin Biao revealed that a third world war with the West was something they had a hunger for. Today the EU is China’s largest trading partner! In addition, the Iranian nuclear deal, the biggest geo-political deal of 2015, was initiated by the European Union.
If we want to continue to enjoy this peace, perhaps it would be wise to listen to the experts? In an open letter from thirteen of Britain’s most senior military commanders, they said it was in the UK’s national security interest to remain an EU member. Similarly, the current head of NATO has said “For NATO it is important to have a strong Europe and a strong Britain in a strong Europe.” Rob Waynewright, the current head of Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency has said “Leaving the EU would make it harder to protect UK citizens from terror.” It should be noted how our allies – Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US all want us to stay. Chillingly, our prime enemies – Russia, Al Qaeda and ISIS have all indicated that they would view Brexit as a victory.
Brexiters argue that closing the door on Europe would somehow open the door to the world. As well as the US and the commonwealth allies, India, Japan and particularly China all want us to remain within the EU as they view it as easier to negotiate deals as one bloc. They also view the UK as their entry point to the rest of Europe. This illustrates how the EU ensures we have deals not just within the union but across countries the EU has made agreements with. Moreover, almost half our trade is with the EU which makes up 13% of our GDP. Indeed, many companies have made it clear that they are based in the UK and able to provide jobs because of the EU.
It should be noted that no country that does not offer free movement of people has full access to the single market. Norway which exports 80% of its goods to the EU still has to follow loads of regulations but has no say over how they are made. In the words of Norwegian politician Nikolai Astrup: “If you want to run Europe, you must be in Europe. If you want to be in Europe, feel free to join Norway.” Since our economy depends on the single market, we will still have to abide by the laws but without any say on how they are made. This will result in dun dun dun – a loss of sovereignty.
Brexiters who supposedly see sovereignty as sacrosanct ignore how whole areas of policy have nothing to do with the EU – our army, education system and planning policy are not touched by Brussels. Furthermore, Britain is unique in that while we have a firm foot in, we have opted out of the Eurozone and Shenghan. If we were to leave, realise our mistake and then try to join again, we would not have the option of such opt-outs. Turning our back on the EU may make us more “sovereign” but in the words of Michael Heseltine “A man alone in the desert is sovereign, he’s also powerless.”
Fanning the flames of fear and xenophobia, the likes of Farage have three priorities – immigration, immigration, immigration. While immigration has undoubtedly brought challenges, its contributions have been many and more. Immigrants from the EU put £20 billion more into the system through taxes than they take out in benefits. A high proportion of EU citizens who come to the UK set up businesses, employing over 1.5 million British nationals. Over 100,000 EU nationals are helping our NHS. Furthermore, let us not forget that the free movement is not a one-way street. Over two million Brits live in EU countries and it provides ample opportunities for us to attain the experience of a life-time to travel, study, work or retire in whichever of the 28 countries takes out fancy.
Crucially, immigration is not manufactured in Brussels. In spite of the free movement, net migration to the UK is higher from outside than inside the EU. Switzerland and Norway both have much higher rates of immigration than the UK in spite of not even being part of Europe! While leave posters which demonise the refugees and warn us of a ‘breaking point’ may evoke emotion, how would the influx of those fleeing violence and persecution stop if we were to leave the EU? How would leaving the EU stop dead children washing up on the shores?
The EU does have a democratic deficit but the notion that policy is only set in the shadows of the Brussels bureaucracy is simply wrong. While the commission should be more accountable, commissioners do not make laws – they propose them. The people who make the laws are people like the council made up of our elected ministers. While the parliament should have more power, it is already being strengthened. In 2009 the Lisbon Treaty granted the parliament powers over the EU budget. Similarly, widespread opposition to TTIP across the continent has led to proposers of the treaty to back-peddle, illustrating how popular protest and engagement can break the infestation of crony capitalism. Of course more openness and more democracy should be welcomed but Britain has an unelected head of state, an unelected second chamber and a government which only 24% of registered voters voted for. Should London therefore secede from the UK?
Fundamentally, leaving the EU poses more questions than answers. The leave campaign cannot describe what type of deal we will have or what type of country we will be. The answer changes like a model changes clothes. Will we become like Norway? Switzerland? Canada? … Albania? The truth is that we have no idea about the impact leaving will have on prices, on growth, on investment or on job creation. When we have barely recovered from the 2008 global financial crisis, why risk more uncertainty? Why risk throwing away our access to the largest borderless marketplace in the world? Why risk the paid annual leave and health and safety rights in the workplace which the EU guarantees?
In today’s world the Russian bear is rumbling, much of the Middle East is in flames and the American dream could very well become a nightmare with Donald Trump as president. Leaving would render us into the position of an isolated island. Brexit will be cheered by Marine Le Pen and could spark a second Scottish referendum. By voting to leave we abandon not just more certainty and security but a European ideal based on cultural and economic exchange and fundamental rights and freedoms. Though this ideal is not yet glorious in the making, it remains an ideal worth chasing.
Copyright © 2016 Tal Tyagi. All Rights Reserved.