Creating barriers is not the way forward, argues Barton
Robina Barton was the Labour Party candidate in the recent Scottish parliament elections. Before that, in her work as a geologist, she has worked on many EU-funded projects which have helped convince her that cooperation between countries rather than creating barrieers is the best way for European nations to deliver a more equal and sustainable society. Here she argues that we should learn from the lessons of history to understand why the EU is necessary and how it should be improved.
“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.” This is the opening sentence of the Schuman Declaration of 9th May 1950.
Schuman, the French Foreign Minister lent his name to the declaration which proposed the founding of a European Coal and Steel Community, but this economic move had a deeper ideological purpose.
Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, political thinkers and journalists were imprisoned on the island of Ventotene during the Second World War. Both were strongly opposed to nationalism and believed the fight against fascism would be in vain if it led back to the old system of sovereign nation states in shifting alliances. They co-wrote a “Draft Manifesto for a Free and United Europe”.
Written on cigarette papers it was completed in 1941, smuggled out and circulated among the Italian Resistance, to become the programme of the European Federalist Movement. It encouraged a federation of European states, to keep the countries of Europe close and prevent war.
Jean Monnet, a French political and economic adviser saw that the key to European cooperation was economic cooperation, as later enshrined in the Schuman declaration.
Six countries initially formed a new European Coal and Steel Community – France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Coal at that time accounted for 70 per cent of Western European fuel consumption, steel was the most important raw material for weapons manufacture and industry. Solidarity in production of these essential resources meant that war would become “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. The ECSC formed the basis of the European Union we know today.
Many people have forgotten this, or perhaps were never aware of it.
It is complacent and foolish to believe that we have moved beyond the possibility of a European war. There are plenty of tensions across the region – the issue of mass migration being just one of them – and we are not that good at predicting the future.
We often use the phrase “learn from the lessons of history” and the EU debate is a classic example of when we need to do just that. I find it bizarre that while we are still marking the centenary of the First World War, and we are less than a century from the end of the second, we are contemplating breaking up the institution that has been successful in preventing a repeat performance. (It is also ironic that the SNP are so keen for an independent Scotland to stay within the EU given that its origins are in an opposition to nationalism).
It is complacent and foolish to believe that we have moved beyond the possibility of a European war. There are plenty of tensions across the region – the issue of mass migration being just one of them – and we are not that good at predicting the future. During my childhood, we imagined the 21st century would be an era of robot servants and hover-cars. Instead we have the world wide web and smartphones.
Brian Nugent makes the case for voting to leave – click here.
I can’t imagine what another 40 years might bring, both in terms of social progress, technological advance, and international relations.
The EU is a relatively young institution. Given my interest in geology I tend to think in geological time, whereby the whole of human existence is pretty insignificant. However, even by human standards, half a century isn’t long to create and perfect a project as complex and ambitious as the EU. Most people are willing to concede that it has its flaws, but simply to turn one’s back on it for that reason is defeatist and small-minded. The overall idea behind the EU is a good one, and we should all work to ensure that it becomes what it could and should be.
We share many common challenges and we are stronger working together to find common solutions.
As with the Scottish Referendum, there is a lot of information flying around on both sides of the debate – most of which is impossible to verify, since nobody really knows what will happen if we leave.
Each individual might be a few pounds or a few hundred pounds better or worse off over the course of a year depending on who you listen to, but is that really the be-all-and-end-all of life?
To quote David Miliband, “the purpose of left of centre politics is to promote a more equal and sustainable society nationally and internationally”, and it is a purpose to which I think we should all be committed.
The EU is one of many ways in which life can be made better for everyone and I am happy to chip in my share towards achieving this.
People argue that the EU is not democratic, that our laws are being made in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats but this is not quite true.
There are two decision-making bodies.
The 750-plus members of the European Parliament are directly elected by the people every five years. (Sadly voter turnout has dropped to just 42 per cent in 2014 so perhaps we could all do more to support EU democracy).
The European Council represents the governments of each member, with one representative per state and a rotating presidency. The European Commission proposes (and ultimately implements) legislation once agreed by the parliament and the council (with both having the power to block initiatives).
Clearly the discards ban is crazy in a mixed fishing area such as we have around Shetland – but the overall purpose of fisheries management is sensible.
The commission president is proposed by the council and elected by the parliament. The commission members are appointed by the council and approved by the parliament. This means our elected MEPs, to whom we have delegated authority to act in our interests, elect/approve members of the body which proposes the laws.
I’m sure that this system could be improved but I suspect that the biggest problem in terms of developing and implementing legislation is not a lack of democracy, it is a lack of understanding.
The current problems with the common fisheries policy are a perfect example. Clearly the discards ban is crazy in a mixed fishing area such as we have around Shetland – but the overall purpose of fisheries management is sensible. We need to work to educate the people who are making the proposals and iron out the problems and that is what is happening.
I expect we can learn lessons from Norway on this issue, but I am sceptical of those who say we can be like Norway if we leave the EU.
First of all, Norway’s position isn’t wholly enviable (and Norwegian opinion is divided on this matter). To maintain their advantages of being a member of the single market (which allows them, along with other EU countries to export tariff free to over 500 million consumers), they have to abide by the relevant legislation, which is created by the EU, and in which they have no say.
But perhaps more importantly, I don’t think we can be like Norway because we are not like Norway. The fact that they have such high levels of personal taxation, and are content with it, is one very simple way of illustrating the differences between our two societies.
There are many big issues I could mention in support of EU membership – safeguarding our freedom of movement and employment rights being just two of them, but ultimately my reason for staying in is very simple.
I have worked on several EU-funded international projects and from my experience I am convinced that cooperation is good and creating barriers is not.