If the UK leaves the European Union it will be a tragedy and we will be poorer and less influential internationally, argues Graeme Overall, St Peter’s ward.
David Cameron’s “Project fear” is hardly an inspiration to remain in the EU, but the risks “Brexit” poses to the wealth and cohesion of the UK, and to the interests of British workers and their families, are real and serious. Public debate, drowned-out by Tory in- fighting, rarely strays beyond narrow discussion of British interests, but the EU’s successes are an important part of Labour’s case for Europe.
The EU emerged from the wreckage of totalitarianism and war that had characterised the first half of the 20th century. Determined to make armed conflict unthinkable and to reinforce democracy, the original six members – France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands – signed The Treaty of Rome in 1958 to form the European Economic Community.
Britain missed this opportunity to play a leading role in Europe, but joined the EEC in 1973. There are now 28 member states, with a combined population of 500 million. Europe has been prosperous and for the most part peaceful for 71 years. This, with the entrenchment of democracy in southern and, more recently, eastern Europe is a tribute to the founders’ ideals.
The EU has adapted – albeit too slowly at times – but its failings in the early-1990s Balkans war led to its Common Foreign and Security Policy, and to successes including a key role in bringing Iran back into the international community. While flawed execution of the common currency and the Schengen free-travel area has brought problems, the EU’s record suggests that the problems will be resolved.
Tory and UKIP critics’ real concern is the increasing success of European Socialists and Trade Unionists in delivering the benefits of a “social Europe” – such as four weeks’ paid holiday a year, maternity and parental leave, equal treatment for agency workers, rights to return unwanted goods, and an end to mobile roaming charges – to workers and consumers.
Critics point also to the EU’s “democratic deficit”, where there is scope to continue reforms that started in 1979 with direct elections to the European Parliament. EU legislation requires the agreement of the Parliament and of the Council of Ministers, through which – together with the European Council – member states propose and appoint the EU’s executive Commission every five years.
One view argues that the democratic deficit requires greater involvement of national parliaments (David Cameron’s “red card”), another argues for stronger democratic reforms, such as approval of the Commission President by the Parliament, now formalised, or even direct election by European voters.
The success of Europe’s socialist parties, including our own, in building “social Europe” points to the value of democracy at the European level.
Whatever the result of the UK referendum, the EU will continue to develop. It will not be a mortal blow to the EU if the UK leaves, but for the UK it will be a tragedy. We will be poorer and less influential internationally. Indeed, if Europhile Scotland insists on independence, what remains of the UK will be the dominion of a triumphant Conservative hard right.