Marching to Celebrate 60th Birthday of Rome Treaties
Yesterday there were several rival marches in Rome, some to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome that established the European Economic Community and EURATOM, and some calling for an end to the European Union. We joined a group of British people intent on seeing Britain remain in Europe. After assembling beside the Rose Garden, we joined a much larger international group that gathered in “The Square of the Mouth of Truth”, before marching together to the Coliseum.
Rome was at its spring-time best, under clear skies with a temperature of around 20C. The light wind made the sea of flags, including some very visible Union Jacks and a couple of Saltires, flutter energetically. The wisterias were coming into bloom along our route. And there was an extremely warm atmosphere in the very international crowd. With 27 heads of state meeting on the nearby Capitoline Hill, there was naturally a visible – but unobtrusive – security presence, but all was peaceful and immensely cheerful.
Three of us wore kilts – the organiser of the British contingent, Jeremy Morgan; Alyn Smith, Scottish MEP: and myself. Probably because of my visibility and the generally favourable attitude towards Scotland that one senses in Italy, I was interviewed by several reporters.
Most interviewers questioned why we had chosen to march. In explaining why we believe strongly in the EU – in spite of its many imperfections – I made four main points:
Peace My father, like so many Europeans of his generation, fought in two immensely destructive European wars and lost many friends in the process. My wife and I have enjoyed over 70 years of peace – the longest period of peace that Europe has had for centuries. The last thing that we want for our children is a break-down of this lasting peace. The EU has played a fundamental role in sustaining this peace, by convening neighbouring nations for peaceful rather than military purposes, fostering trust and familiarity at so many levels, from students to heads of state. As Boris Johnson wrote of Churchill a couple of years ago: “It was his idea to bring these countries together, to bind them so indissolubly that they could never go to war again – and who can deny, today, that this idea has been a spectacular success?”
It is alarming to see that this same Johnson, May and others are doing their best to erode this trust, and, in so doing, raising the risk of future conflict.
Shared Values The EU has successfully nurtured the values to which the majority of people throughout its member countries subscribe – such as respect for people from different cultural, religious, ethnic or linguistic backgrounds; democratic forms of government; freedom of expression – and so on. It comes as a surprise to some people when they start to travel around Europe, that, in spite of much diversity, we have so many common aspirations. The EU, including the European Court of Justice, has helped to protect these values from assault by extremists.
Coordinated Action The EU has created a vital institutional capacity to address many practical issues requiring transboundary coordination amongst nations. This includes work on human, animal and plant diseases which don’t respect borders; setting and enforcing common food safety standards; addressing climate change; managing energy generation, transmission and use; undertaking joint research and sharing of knowledge in many areas of scientific endeavour; curtailing transboundary crime; adopting common policies towards other countries; striving towards building consensus on strategies for managing immigration, and many other areas. On all such themes, joint action between countries – even when it is difficult to arrive at consensus – is much more efficient and effective than any one country going it alone, avoiding full engagement in arriving at joint solutions.
Single Market and Customs Union Suffice it to say that the Single Market represents the best free trade arrangement in the world. It plays a vital role in many of the manufacturing, financial, technical and legal systems in Britain and throughout Europe, by setting standards, facilitating high-speed movement of goods (including inputs to just-in-time industrial and retailing systems), avoiding tariffs and all the institutional capacity needed to levy them – and so on. It is absurd that those who claim to favour free trade should be the ones who, even before negotiating an exit from the EU, are calling for Britain’s exclusion from the Single Market, putting the economy and the jobs and living standards of its citizens at great risk.
In response to questions about the prospects for a successful Brexit, I reflected on my own experience in carrying out feasibility studies, working with many governments in developing countries. I learnt that the success of any project – even if it is technically, economically and institutionally feasible – hangs on the extent to which it is “owned” by those who will implement it and stand to “win” or “lose” as a result of it. A “hard” Brexit is economically suicidal, but its weakest point is that its success ultimately depends not on how people voted on 23rd June 2016 but on the commitment and engagement of the younger generations of British citizens who have to implement it but have made it abundantly clear that they wish to remain in the EU. By ignoring this and treating the young – as well as the Scots, the Irish, the Welsh, Londoners, workers in almost every sector – with haughty disdain, Mrs May’s hard Brexit process seems bound to become a very costly and painful failure.
Future of Our Children