Creating barriers is not the way forward, argues Barton

EU colour (1)

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.

Robina Barton. Photo: Rosalind Griffiths
Robina Barton. Photo: Rosalind Griffiths

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.


Add Your Comment
  • Johan Adamson

    • June 6th, 2016 12:20

    I dont know what I am going to vote yet, because I dont think we have enough facts, really. I want to know more of the finances and I am confused on the immigration issue. We should want immigration, and we need the skills from folks from all round the world, not just Europe. I fail to see what difference the united states of Europe makes when everyone is competing on a world wide basis. I think it was a great idea, but since we have NATO and the UN the argument about peace being part of the EU does not really hold water. Maybe it’s done it’s job and this is as far as it goes? And I would be happy like Norway with a high level of taxation if it gave us all the services and support we need (including VAT).

  • John Tulloch

    • June 6th, 2016 14:45

    Who says we won’t co-operate with the EU where it makes sense – Norway, Iceland and Switzerland all do?

    And Norway has access to EU markets but has only to accept a very small proportion of EU legislation in return, a fact established during Andrew Neil’s demolition of Tory minister and Bremain campaigner Matthew Hancock

  • Gordon Harmer

    • June 7th, 2016 8:21

    You may say you don’t get enough information from either side of the BREXIT debate and you do not know who to believe. What I say to you is seek and you will find that information as I did and I am voting to leave because this is what I found by researching.
    You are not voting to leave the EEA or WTO, meaning all of the UK’s trade and benefit agreements will remain unchanged should we leave, until such a time that the UK decides to renegotiate them for any reason. You are not voting to leave NATO, meaning our security agreements remain unchanged. Should we receive an act of hostility from a non-NATO member, then NATO countries are obliged to come to our assistance. This does not change. You are not voting to leave the UN, G8 or G20, meaning Britain will have the same voice on the world stage as it does today. You are not voting to leave Europe!! The UK will still, geographically, be part of Europe. Non political organisations aligned to Europe will still extend membership to the UK (I.e. sports governing bodies, and so on).You are not voting to stop recognising Interpol, Europol and neither are you voting for SIS / MI6 to stop dealing with other intelligence services in the fight against terrorism and global, organised crime. You are not voting against being able to travel to Europe, contrary to the belief of some fools recently on TV. The UK has always maintained stricter border and passport controls than many EU members. This will not change. You will still use a passport to go on holiday and you will still be allowed entry to countries in Europe. This link tells you more.

    • Bill Adams

      • June 7th, 2016 14:40

      “You will still use a passport to go on holiday”. Yes Gordon but you may have noticed that the first line on
      the cover of your burgundy coloured EU passport says “European Union” with
      “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” down below.
      BREXIT will invalidate these travel documents and we will have to be issued with replacement passports
      and we and not the British Government will have to pay the cost of these.
      Given the length of time it currently takes the Passport Office to replace or issue new documents,
      I shudder to imagine how long it would take them to replace the 20 million or more currently held by United Kingdom citizens.

      • Gordon Harmer

        • June 7th, 2016 16:24

        Is this your only reason for wanting to stay in the EU Bill, or do you have a more valid reason? I didn’t hear any arguments from you like this when you were advocating splitting the UK in half.
        Maybe you would like to give a link to how BREXIT will invalidate passports or are you scaremongering along with Cameron and Co? Jings Bill Adams and David Cameron on the same side, reason enough to leave 😉

      • John Tulloch

        • June 7th, 2016 16:44

        Bill, Scots are at liberty to retain their UK citizenship if Scotland secedes from the Union, are they not?

        Is it not also the case that if Britain leaves the EU, individuals’ EU citizenship can be retained?

        If not so, printing a new passport for everyone is hardly beyond the capability of the British government, is it?

        Your comment demonstrates the degree – surprising in a nationalist – to which learned helplessness has percolated throughout our society. God help us if Westminster can’t manage to supply us all a passport!

      • Ali Inkster

        • June 7th, 2016 21:41

        I remember well when those burgundy passports came out, many folk myself included would get our passports renewed at an embassy overseas so we could avoid them for a few years longer.

      • Bill Adams

        • June 8th, 2016 16:43

        John Tulloch don’t misrepresent me.
        I did not say that the British Government was incapable of printing new passports for its citizens.
        I raised the question of how long that process would take (given current waiting times)
        and pointed out that we the people would have to pay for this.
        I note that that you have as usual nothing substantive to say in reply to my point.

      • John Tulloch

        • June 8th, 2016 23:45


        You didn’t answer whether we will be able to retain our EU citizenship and thus not need new passports?

        Also, we won’t be leaving the day after the referendum. Two years from notification and even that’s not set in stone. From the Treaty of Lisbon:

        “2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
        3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”

      • Bill Adams

        • June 9th, 2016 12:52

        I would not want to lose my EU citizenship but in the event of Britain leaving the EU
        I don’t see how individual British citizens could somehow retain their EU citizenship.

  • Bill Adams

    • June 8th, 2016 16:33

    Gordon I’m glad you concede that my point about passports is a valid one and I note that you are
    incapable of producing any arguments against it.
    The scaremongering I leave to you and your ilk.
    Crivvens, Gordon Harmer, Boris Johnson, John Tulloch and Nigel Farage all on the same side,
    enough to make most folk vote to remain.

    • Gordon Harmer

      • June 8th, 2016 21:16

      So no link to say passports would be invalid. According to Cameron who is your leader, it will take up to 10 years to negotiate a BREXIT there by debunking your claim about passports. Even the British government would be able to change everyone’s passport in ten years Bill making your claim invalid I am afraid, so proof if it were needed you and Cameron are scaremongering. Feel free to try another approach Bill, I love debunking your assertions.

      • Bill Adams

        • June 9th, 2016 11:21

        Gordon, Cameron is not my leader, however as you are a Tory he is the leader of your
        deeply-divided party so is your leader whether you like it or not.

        Why do you need a link ? Why can’t you work it out for yourself without endlessly trawling the internet to find other people’s views and opinions to plagiarise instead of expressing yourself
        in your own words.

    • ian tinkler

      • June 8th, 2016 21:42

      “Gordon Harmer, Boris Johnson, John Tulloch and Nigel Farage all on the same side,” enough to make most folk vote to remain, to quote Bill Adams. Just like in the indie referendum Bill ? Whoop. whoop.
      Now we have Cameron, Sturgeon, Salmond, Corbyn, Brown, Blair, Kinnock, Swinney (Angus MacNeil, Serena Cowdy, Stewart Hosie) and Osborne, all in bed together, what a horrendous thought!! One top of that pile ( or under it) we now have Bill Adams, even more horrific. If you wondered which way to vote, picture that bunch. Rather castrate myself with a rusty tin can than lie down with that lot, and my views on Europe were neutral ..

      • Brian Smith

        • June 8th, 2016 21:50

        Magic mushroom alert.

      • Bill Adams

        • June 9th, 2016 11:08

        My apologies for omitting you from the rogues’ gallery Ian, most remiss of me.
        Do remember to get a tetanus jab before picking up the rusty tin can.

      • Ian Tinkler

        • June 9th, 2016 14:22

        Typical of you Bill. Ignorance is such bliss for you, and so very typical! When my greatest pal is Eastern European do you really think I would vote against her. I am not decided as yet. Certainly Shetland ls better out of Europe, I am better in. Just being selfish perhaps. So staying neutral for now.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • June 9th, 2016 13:47

    Of course he is your “stay in” campaign leader Bill, he and Nicola both are and when they say jump you ask how high.
    He is also the leader of the Tory Party where we are allowed freedom of speech and freedom of choice on this matter, we are a democratic party we do not set up rules where we do as we are told and where the leader cannot be challenged or ousted. Just to remind you it is called democracy, if you can understand that. I need a link because you have a propensity to make things up, as you have not and cannot give us one I will conclude this is still the case. Yes I plagiarise because I have difficulty in expressing myself due to being denied a full education but before I do I ask permission, unlike you I do not just make it up as I go along or mimic my leader. What ever I use to express myself in these columns is what I believe and what I think not what I am told to think and to say, that is where we differ, and boy does it show.

    • Bill Adams

      • June 9th, 2016 19:25

      I can assure you Gordon that no-one, but no-one, tells me what to think or say.
      I have a mind of my own and can think for myself.
      If anyone tells me to jump, my polite answer is “why?”.
      The rude answer is not repeatable on this forum.

      • Gordon Harmer

        • June 10th, 2016 15:09

        I am pleased to hear that Bill but just in case I would not shout this too loud in case Nicola gets wind of it as she is fizzing after loosing the debate to Boris and CO on Thursday 😉

  • Haydn Gear

    • June 9th, 2016 15:53

    If Angela Merkel gets her way a European Army will be set up. That’s something that the young people on Britain have to look forward to. Free travel , free food ,free uniforms, free everything except freedom. I assume the young people who are so desperate to reach the UK will be happy to join in the fun. Who would be top dog I wonder? There must be plenty of possible contenders in Italy or France.!! And to whom would allegiance be sworn–the Queen? I can’t see how. It might have the beneficial effect of taking the car racers off the streets of Lerwick and the rest of Shetland though. Hopefully Brussels would not demand any more from our piggy banks to pay for our involvement since that’s the way things seem to go.

  • Stuart Hannay

    • June 10th, 2016 15:44

    These comments sections seem to be dominated by older men. (Sadly, at 54 & include myself in that). I want to stay in the EU, given that, predominantly, many of the leading BREXIT people seem to favour the neo-liberal model espoused by the Tory party over the past 35 years or so. I do not believe IDS, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage when they claim that they are looking out for my rights as a worker – especially as much of the so-called ‘red tape’ is there to protect vulnerable folk. (Mind you, I’m not that convinced by David Cameron & Gideon on that front either).

    Anyway, what I meant to ask is – what do younger people think?


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