One thing that is frequently missing from our discussions of the EU is how very popular an institution it is across Europe. Not just in France and Germany but across the continent. Several countries have gone to great lengths just to be considered for membership because it is regarded as such a prize.
While the economic benefits are often discussed, there are three other key reasons why the EU is important. Peace, co-operation and equality.
The start of the EU came in 1952 when France and Germany started the Coal and Steel community. It was a very simple beginning with a much greater purpose. Both coal and steel were essential to any war effort. By tying both countries industries together they hoped to make war impossible. As the EU expanded it included more countries and covered more industries and became the modern European Union that we have today, whilst retaining the fundamental purpose of preventing war.
Europe has been at peace now for 70 years. This may seem normal to us, but it’s not. This has been our continent’s longest period of peace in two thousand years.
The EU also helped stabilise countries as they emerged from dictatorship like Spain and Eastern Europe. It’s conditions of membership included democratic government, respect for human rights and treating citizens equally. It gave emerging democracies a goal to work towards.
The motto of the European Union is “United in Diversity”. While I like it a lot, I sometimes wonder if we should add the motto “Stronger Together”.
In the second half of the 20th century there was a profound shift in how countries behaved. The balance of power shifted towards big countries like the US, USSR and more recently China.
The EU has provided a way for Europe to remain strong by working together but still remaining individual nations.
Each country is sovereign and each has its own laws, but in a few areas, countries have found they can get better results by working together. This includes workers' rights where there is an EU wide minimum standards for worker’s rights. With the whole of the EU agreeing to the same minimum of worker's rights, Europe countries can protect their citizen’s rights with protections such as sick pay without the threat of job losses.
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The EU also co-operates on like Galileo the global navigation satellite system. Previously countries had the option of depending on either the American or Soviet (more recently Russian) satellite system. This put countries like the UK in a vulnerable position. We had depended on the US satellite system, but we had no power over it. The US could cut us off at any point if it suited them, or if they wanted us to do something for them. As a part of the EU Galileo project, we are an equal partner. As a member of the EU, the only way that the EU could remove us from Galileo is if we voted for it.
With Galileo, with the EMA, with many EU projects, it’s also cheaper to collaborate. The UK’s contribution to the EU budget has been discussed a lot. What was often left out is that we are sharing the cost of necessary projects with other countries. It’s the same reason why a group of friends might share a taxi home. It’s much cheaper than everyone going alone.
When pro-Brexit MPs discuss the EU as an oppressive and undemocratic force, no one looks on in more disbelief than people from countries that have really lived under dictatorship.
Eastern Europe, Spain and Ireland suffered under dictatorships from the Soviet Union, Franco and Britain respectively. Their countries know what it is to have no rights, no freedom and no self determination. They value EU membership because they know the difference. Every member country has influence and power within the EU. Membership does not take away from their power - it adds to it.
It is their democratically elected leader who sits on the EU council which determines its course and direction. It is the MEPs they voted for who approve or disprove laws.
The last vote for the EU Parliament was in 2014. I’m a politically active person, I’ve voted in every general election since I turned 18. I once travelled four hours to vote in a general election because I was working in a different part of the country and had forgotten to apply for a postal vote. But I have never voted in a European election - I didn’t even know when they were happening. And I’m not unusual. Only 35% of the country turned up for the last European election. We’ve had power within the EU all along, we simply haven’t been using it.
In 2012 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded not to an individual but to the European Union. Because it had "for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe."
I am incredibly proud to be part of a union that has done so much to promote peace in the world. I want a People’s Vote because I want to continue to be a part of it.
Sandy Murthy is a volunteer and supporter of European Movement and the People's Vote campaign.