Lincoln Drill Hall

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The EU was born after two horrific wars - it's a baby too important to throw out

Babies and bathwater

Over the last weeks we have heard a lot about what’s wrong with the European Union, but
hidden in all that dirty water there’s a baby, and, like all babies, it is precious.

My daughter led me to stumble upon the heart of it.

By her own admission, she’s not the greatest historian. She was reading a novel set in 1916 and asked me whether that was in the First World War. It was. 

‘So when did it start and end?’ 1914 to 1918.

‘What about the Second World War, you know that your book is about?’

I said it started in 1939. I found myself adding that I couldn’t imagine what parents who had survived the first war could have felt watching their children go off to the second. 

Silence, and then she asked, ‘why hasn’t it happened again?’ 

This took me by surprise, but perhaps for someone who has grown up far away from war it was not so odd. 

The answer too was a bit of shock, The European Union: for it was those waring nations that came together in peace to make sure that it could not happen again. 

That is some precious baby.

As I pondered that, more of what the European Union has achieved came to mind. The former dictatorships that have joined and that are now democracies. The millions of employees whose rights are protected. The environment which is far better cared for. The fact that our young people are free to go and work in any member state of their choosing.

There is then perhaps the greatest strength now, the fact that we can together face the enormous challenges that the global economy will throw at us. Multinational companies, who try to pay no tax or who seek unfairly to dominate a market, are fearful of Brussels. There are others including, of course, migration.

Migration is the difficult one. Is it baby or bathwater? Neither, it is people like you and me. People who may be escaping oppression or worse, or those seeking a better life. The question is whether we pull up the drawbridge and hope the English channel will isolate us, or whether we engage with the issues.

The problem is huge and needs the cooperation of nations to address its root causes. We need to make home countries safe and and we need to invest to grow their economies. No one I met in Lesvos wanted to come here; they wanted to go home.

We are a nation of migrants. Saxons and Vikings, Normans, West Indians, Africans, Indians and so many more, more recently those from other EU countries. This makes for a rich and diverse culture. We have learnt a huge amount about how peoples from different cultures can live in harmony. We can offer this experience as these issues are faced and tackled in the years to come. As a nation we have always engaged with the world around us.  

The EU is not perfect. But it has the structures that can and do benefit us, other member states and indeed our world. As I wrote in my previous article, this needs the best people to get involved. It is about leading and not leaving.

This article was published in the Lincolnshire Echo on 16 June 2016


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