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.