Four EU Successes: 1. The nurturing of peace in Europe

Four EU Successes

  1.  The nurturing of peace in Europe

A few mornings ago, when I was about to start writing this piece about the European Union’s success in bolstering peace, I woke up to learn that a trigger-happy Trump had lobbed 59 cruise missiles into a Syrian airbase. Not many minutes later, the BBC told us that former conservative party leader, Michael Howard, had called on Mrs May to be prepared to go to war with Spain to defend Britain’s rule in Gibraltar. Trump has now ordered American warships to sail near North Korea and Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office told Spain to take its corvette out of Gibraltar’s waters.

Both incidents are symptomatic of an escalation in “hard” nationalism on each side of the Atlantic. Presumably Trump was not remotely concerned about Syrian babies killed by chemical weapons but wanted to show his guest, the Chinese premier, that “his” America wouldn’t hesitate to take unilateral military action against North Korea if they went on testing missiles and nuclear weapons. Howard’s bellicose threats about Gibraltar ring equally hollow because he championed the English “leave” vote that left Gibraltarians (96% of whom voted to “remain” in the EU) marooned by the Prime Minister’s pursuit of a “hard Brexit.

Sadly, however, such instances of sabre-rattling and warmongering can gain their own momentum and become the sparks that ignite wars.

It is because such extreme nationalist tendencies have been tamed in the wake of the two horrific global wars started by European nations in the 20th century that no major conflict has engulfed us since I was born 74 years ago. But it this hardening of nationalism, so evident in many countries of Europe including Britain, that really scares my wife and me.  Our greatest hope is that our children and grand-children will never have to go to war: we think that most people share our hope but don’t see the connection between the “hardening” that is now happening and possible future conflict as vividly as we do.

Like many Europeans, most British people have come to take peace for granted. If they ever give a thought to the deaths of millions of our parents’ generation in wars, the horrors of concentration camps and mass exterminations, food rationing or compulsory military service, they see them as things of the past. We all enjoy the huge dividends of peace – the general well-being, greater longevity and relative prosperity in which we live – without asking ourselves how the longest period without major conflicts in Europe since Roman days has been sustained.

“To preserve and strengthen peace and liberty” was the fundamental goal of the Treaty of Rome that created the European Economic Community 60 years ago. The idea was that peace would be nurtured by linking democracy with growing prosperity, especially by investing in the development of the poorest regions of member countries. It would be deepened as trust and mutual respect grew amongst the people from different countries who would come together at all levels under the aegis of the Community to design and implement solutions to their many common problems.  Programmes like Erasmus would cement contacts between young people from across Europe.

It may surprise readers that Boris Johnson (who is now doing his best to wreck the EU) admired his mentor, Churchill, for encouraging the creation of the common market as a means of reinforcing peace in Europe. Just two years ago, Boris wrote that it was Churchill’s “idea to bring these countries together, to bind them so indissolubly that they could never go to war again – and who can deny that the idea has been a spectacular success?” Boris may now claim to be driven by the “will of the people”, but surely what we are seeing is self-contradiction fueled by his blatant personal ambitions.

The entry of Ireland and Britain into the European Union in 1973 opened the way for a quiet healing process to move steadily forward within Ireland, leading eventually to an end of the “troubles” with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Daniel Mulhall, Irish Ambassador to the UK argues that “the EU’s record with regard to Ireland and the UK represents a microcosm of the Union’s wider achievements in resolving age-old, continental rivalries during the past six decades”.

The EU’s role in nurturing peace has grown over the years and become more purposeful, orchestrated by its Conflict Prevention, Peace-building and Mediation Division. This unit now contributes to a more stable global environment through its work on conflict prevention in many EU countries as well as beyond its borders. This was recognized in the award of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the EU which “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.

The other main instrument supporting peace in Europe is the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Its role is “ensuring EU law is interpreted and applied in the same way in every EU country, ensuring countries abide by EU law”. By passing judgement on disputes it defuses potential conflicts.

Strangely, before Cameron called for the June 2016 referendum, Britain’s relationship with the EU was not a matter of great concern to most voters nor was the country in dispute with the EU on any major issue. The “leave” campaign, however, destroyed public confidence in the Union and its institutions, partly through blaming them for many of Britain’s home-made governance failures. Now the “hard” Brexit process is stoking tensions in ways that are endangering peace both in UK and across Europe.

In the UK, the vote split families and communities, with the old and the young taking different sides; and xenophobia and related hate crimes have risen sharply. Worryingly, the same Brexiteers who called for Britain to reclaim its sovereignty from Brussels, pushed the Prime Minister to go to court twice to challenge the authority of Parliament to oversee Britain’s negotiations with the EU. When over-ruled by the Supreme Court, she belittled the role of MPs by muzzling opposition within her own party through declaring a 3-line whip which stopped many MPs from representing their constituents in their voting behaviour. By being haughtily dismissive of the concerns of the Scots and Northern Irish – the majority of whom voted to remain in the EU – she is raising the risk that the UK could break up and that there will be a resurgence of conflict in Ireland.

Aggressive pro-Brexit rhetoric is already undermining the basis for mutual trust between the UK and the other 27 EU members, and this could get worse, given the determination of some of the proponents of a hard Brexit to cause maximum damage to the EU.  But, more importantly, Britain’s departure from the EU Council of Ministers, the ECJ, the Single Market and many other decision-making bodies will leave the country outside the consultative and dispute settlement processes that have done so much for decades to contribute to peace in the region and to prevent misunderstandings from getting out of hand.

Theresa May must have learnt over the past few months that she has been conned by the same bunch of opportunists who lied to voters in the referendum campaign. She rashly gave them the power to steer Britain towards a different future but they have failed to prove that their ideas will serve the long-term interest of the majority of British people. She has seen with her own eyes that the Trans-Atlantic connection has become unreliable with Trump as US President; that the options for opening new markets in distant lands are paltry; that the unity of the Kingdom is truly threatened by a hard Brexit, and – if she is not blind –  that Britain’s actions are already untying the bonds that are the best guarantee of long-term peace to which we all aspire.

Today the Prime Minister has called for a general election, perhaps because she sees that she has been led up a dead-end road.. Hopefully,  this June voters, now that they know more of the negative impacts of Brexit, will send her a strong signal that, after all, they prefer to remain in the European Union, assure the integrity of the United Kingdom and  sustain peace in the region.

Perhaps we are one step closer to the end of a bad, divisive year-long dream!

Categorised as General

Brexit will be defeated by Brexit (but YOU need to help) [Article written by Nick Hopkinson, Chair, London4Europe]

Brexit will be defeated by Brexit (but YOU need to help)

You country need you

29 March 2017 will go down in history as the day the UK notified its intention to leave the European Union (EU). History may also record that a few decades later England, after years of economic stagnation and political isolation, re-joined an independent Scotland, Wales and a united Ireland in the Eurozone.

Although Brexiters want to give the impression Brexit is a done deal, it isn’t. They argue the British people have decided. However, there is no finality in any democracy. The British people also made a decision in the 1975 referendum, and then by a far larger majority, to remain. With the narrow majority last June, there is no ‘settled will’ of the British people as to how we wish to associate with our European neighbours and our largest export market. Given the losers of the 1975 referendum did not stop trying to reverse that decision, why should Remainers be asked to stand down now? Remainers will respect the result of the 2016 referendum every bit as much as the losers of the 1975 referendum.

The United Kingdom changes, the world changes, and time will expose the devil in the Brexit detail. The British public will tire of the legislative and regulatory chaos of implementing Brexit’s flawed provisions. As Boris Johnson argued in the Daily Telegraph last year (7/2/16) “leaving would mean embroiling the Government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements (thus) diverting energy from the real problems of this country.” The people will eventually see Brexit clearly for what it is: barmy. After leaving the EU, there is only an overly centralised Westminster to blame.

The current hegemony of the Europhobe elite and unelected right-wing tabloid media will be discredited by economic stagnation, constitutional turmoil and our weak bargaining position in the EU negotiations. The Brexiters falsely claimed that the UK was always outvoted in the European Council. The Government will soon find out what it really means to be outnumbered 27 to 1. The Prime Minister speaking at Lancaster House knew Brexit is half-baked and is not best for Britain. The Government’s poorly drafted White Paper isn’t a plan, but a wish list of desired outcomes. The Prime Minister says she wants the best possible deal for the UK. Any deal the Government does or doesn’t secure will not be good enough.

It is true the “sky has not fallen in” on the economy. Yet. The past is no guide to future performance. The past 8 months is a short time frame, and shows we are still benefiting from being in the EU Single Market. Outside the Single Market, supply chains for our large and small businesses alike will be disrupted. Much investment in the UK is on hold, and some financial firms are already relocating some operations out of the UK. It is astonishing that any country would want to turn its back on its major export market. If the UK were a business, and not a government run by ideological Europhobes, we wouldn’t be turning our backs on half our customers.

So it seems we are going to trash our economy on the altar of reducing immigration. Leaving the EU will not stop the half of migrants who come from outside the EU. Brexit Britain’s economy and ageing population will still need immigration. EU professionals and others are particularly needed to work in services, the NHS, construction and in our countryside. We need foreign students who create employment up and down the country. Some Brexiters admit leaving the EU will not reduce overall immigration substantially, so what’s the point of making the UK poorer and disunited for the sake of some 15% fewer entrants a year?

To corrupt Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of Brexit, is that good people do nothing”. We should not stand idly by as the rights of European and British citizens, Parliament and others are taken away. Our rights are next as we stand to lose our right to study, work and live in the other 27 EU member states. To reverse the calamity of Brexit, the British people must arise!

Last weekend on a sunny day in London, over 100,000 of us proudly marched to oppose Brexit. We shall keep marching to keep the pressure up. We should also continue to post on Facebook, Twitter and other social media; write to the local and national media and our MPs; join and be active in pro-European groups such as the European Movement and its London branch, London4Europe; join pro-European parties; campaign and canvass on the streets; write articles and blogs; stop buying tabloid trash and goods and services produced by outspoken Leavers; and constantly raise and debate the pain of Brexit with friends, family, colleagues and the public.

We also have a duty to preserve our rights; not least to help preserve the peace and prosperity which has served us so well in the past 60 years. It is the young in particular who understand that, unfortunately better than many of our out of date politicians.

Nick Hopkinson @NickHopkinsonEU, Chair of London4Europe

Categorised as General

Why the EU means so much to us two

Why the EU means so much to us two

Neither my wife nor I are at all politically active but we have got quite steamed up about the prospect that Brexit could really happen. We are both in our 70s, and so it does not much matter how it impacts our lives. What makes us so indignant is that, in coming out in force to vote “leave”, so many of our fellow grandparents have robbed our – and their – children and grandchildren of the future that they have grown to expect and for which they voted strongly in the EU referendum.

It was this indignation that led us and friends with similar concerns to start up the Future of our Children website.

It also drove us to march in Rome on 25th March to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome that created the European Economic Community (EEC) and EURATOM.

I woke up very early that morning. Trying to put aside my anger about the Brexit process, I lay in bed trying  to think systematically about why I felt that there was a real cause for celebrating this birthday. I eventually narrowed this down to four over-riding reasons for toasting the EU’s success and wishing it many happy returns. I reckoned that its four greatest achievements have been in nurturing peace in Europe, promoting shared values, creating mechanisms for coordinated action to address issues with transboundary dimensions, and setting up the Single Market.

On further reflection, I have come to see how each of these achievements is mutually reinforcing. Thus the persistence of peace has been vital for the functioning of the Single Market, but its existence also reinforces the context for peace. And the Single Market can only function fairly if all countries show similar respect, for example, for workers’ rights, safety standards and environmental protection. In the same vein, it is self-evident that the Single Market cannot function efficiently if each nation goes its own way in addressing problems that span several different countries. The greater the uniformity of laws and regulations between countries, the easier and smoother cooperation becomes.

The EU has created an extraordinary, though necessarily complex, institutional framework, involving 28 different countries, to underpin these achievements. In spite of the complexity, it has over the past 60 years kept abreast of many emerging issues and arrived through consensus building at credible solutions – for example to handling air traffic, cleaning up water resources, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring food safety, handling financial transactions, coordinating research in many different fields, setting policies for mobile phone system management and, most importantly, promoting democratic systems in government. It is still grappling with other tricky problems, especially related to building consensus on migration policies, reducing terrorism threats, instilling greater fiscal discipline in Euro area countries, addressing bellicose threats from Russia or reforming the Common Agricultural Policy to make food management systems more sustainable. But its history suggests that it will, with time, come up with valid solutions.

It is obvious that each day, each month, each year, new challenges will arise requiring new solutions that are best handled on an inter-governmental basis. If Britain opts out of the EU, it will cease to have a voice in building new policy responses but, if only because it sits on Europe’s doorstep, will be bound to adhere to them. By leaving the EU it would not be “taking back control” of its future but losing control over its own destiny.

Britain will also cease to be a co-owner of an enormous institutional asset from which it draws dividends that far outweigh the 30 pence per day that its people – on average – now pay for EU services.

I have spent much of my life in helping governments of developing countries undertake feasibility studies for development projects. In some cases, we have had to tell governments that their pet plans were not workable. If we look at the costs, benefits and risks and institutional feasibility of Brexit, it would clearly get the “thumbs down” – as more and more people in Britain are coming to recognize.

But our biggest concern as parents and grandparents does not relate to Brexit’s economic impact, but to the fact that, in walking away from Europe, Britain would be eroding the EU’s role in ensuring future peace in the region, including within the UK whose unity is under threat. Our greatest hope for our children and their children is that they will never have to go to war during their lifetimes. We are fortunate to be the first generation in Europe since Roman times to have spent 70 years of peace – and long may this continue!

In the coming weeks, we will address each of the four great EU achievements, one by one.

We welcome readers’ comments and articles on their assessment of the EU’s achievements.

Categorised as General