Winning the Nobel peace prize was one of my proudest moments. It could have been one of yours too, but you may have missed it. All the citizens of Europe were given a Nobel peace prize. The reason? That the last 50 years since the European Union’s founding through the European Coal and Steel Community have resulted in the single longest period of peace in the last two thousand years of our continents history.
That is quite something.
So it comes as a great deal of sadness that we are having a referendum to consider leaving and joining. I have really no idea what we will vote, but I vote to stay in, to stay right at the centre of Europe and help steer this unique project to a brighter future.
I fear we will vote no. For a variety of reasons. Mostly a confusion of what importance sovereignty should have over our islands, what is in our perceived economic interest and fear of our borders being overrun by refugees. There seems to be a real feeling of insecurity that our way of life will be destroyed should we remain, which strikes me as odd given the potential disruption of departure. I also feel a sense of inevitability as it appears to me that few people in the UK have an understanding of culture of the rest of our continental dwellers, the concerns and common outlook. For most UK citizens history finished when we “won” World War II. Our schools teach nothing at all on the last 70 years west of the former Iron Curtain. We seem to have lost the post-war peace work by Churchill, preferring to keep him to the Downing Street bunkers in the war and forgetting his “Jaw, jaw, jaw, not war, war, war” post-conflict rhetoric.
Our continental history has been littered with the rise and fall of empires, invasions, smaller and larger tussles over land and resources. The Alsace region of France has been at various times over hundreds of years. part of Germany and France
It was in Alsace that the father of Robert Schuman was born. Originally a Frenchman who was became German, and returned to being French when the region was recaptured. Born during a sojourn in Luxembourg, Schuman was a spectator to all this confusion. Schuman eventually became Prime Minister of France twice and held other senior government posts. He was active in creating peace in Europe. And through him one very particular idea came to be.
In Strasbourg, Alsace, in May 1949 he announced the creation of a “supranational association”, the European Coal and Steel Community. This would combine France and Germany’s coal and steel production so deeply that neither could dispute over resources nor use them to produce the weapons of war that were used on each other. He said anticipated “putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace”.
Schuman’s passion was that in “Our century, that has witnessed the catastrophes resulting in the unending clash of nationalities and nationalism, must attempt and succeed in reconciling nations in a supranational association. This would safeguard the diversities and aspirations of each nation while coordinating them in the same manner as the regions are coordinated within the unity of the nation.”
In a treaty in Paris, Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg all signed together to create the European Coal and Steel Community. This community would ultimately lead the way to the founding of the European Union.
So right at the centre of this cause for peace we see nation in solidarity with nation, an economic identity forged (and safe-guarded), the potential for a lasting peace from the destruction of nationalism.
This is why the UK must continue to stay within a very human and imperfect union. We need to continue this solidarity. War may be decades away from us today. It touched our grandparents, but has been locked away from us in school books. War really is truly evil. Evil, not just unpleasant. Our recent recession is unpleasant (and evil in its way: ten’s of thousands of people die in recession’s but put alongside the tens of millions slaughtered in the second world war this is evil with a small ‘e’.)
Immigration may be fearful and shake our sensibilities and securities but the carpet bombing, the battlefield and the atom bomb are far worse.
This is why I urge us to continue our solidarity with the European project. Not that war will break out imminently (perhaps with the French – historically it would be accurate to suggest that!) But with the instability in Ukraine, who could truly predict what will happen in the next five years?
I don’t think it will by the way. But union brings many more benefits. The rich cultural diversity in Europe is far more at our finger tips. I lived in Belgium for ten years and it was a constant delight to join in so much shared culture and community amongst the other Europeans I met there or traveled to meet. I have seen the benefit of the union in Portugal, that once was so poor, but has made huge progress and growth forward. You should ask Europeans how they view the benefits of union – it is always an interesting response.
I feel an exit now would be so short-sighted. It panders to an insecure sense of national interest and retreat. Not engagement, solidarity and progress. A stronger Europe will benefit us long-term. And we will benefit Europe bringing the cultural insights, and the strength of our economy and our unique political outlook to the table. For, “Jaw, jaw, jaw”, really is better than the alternative.