When I started this blog, the national campaigns to remain or leave were both fairly over the top. That has become even worse today. The claims about the economy can only be confirmed if the UK votes to leave. Those about the UK having to support the Eurozone are simply false. Meantime in Austria, a Green candidate has been elected President. The British media could only hyperventilate about a possible win for the extreme right. None of this excitement brings any light.
The leave campaigners seem to have a vision of Britain making agreements on Britain’s terms. Imposing one side’s terms is not how real world deals are made. We will somehow have the same access to Europe as now but will keep our sovereignty. And yet those who want to leave Europe have been against the United Nations, giving aid to the Third World and taxation. They sound like wealthy individuals who accept no duty to others, and who want to pay no taxes.
What all countries agreed on after World War II was the need to prevent war. The first moves were global, and began with founding the United Nations (1945). British lawyers helped write the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the UN’s Refugee Convention (1951). The Council of Europe (1949) included the Soviet Union. But fear of Russian expansion after the Czech coup (1948) and Berlin airlift (1948-49) led to the creation of NATO (1949). Meantime, physical and economic reconstruction was helped by the US around the world. Europe including Britain benefited from Marshall aid (1948-52).
Everyone knew that both World Wars had started in Europe, with major power rivalry. What could be done to stop the same thing happening again? One possibility was building human links between the peoples of Europe. This inspired the twinning movement, from which grew the Council of European municipalities (1951). The founding fathers of the EU wanted to go further. Integrating national economies would make war physically unthinkable. Bringing the peoples of Europe together would make it humanly unthinkable too. They began with coal and steel (1951), which had been the ‘sinews of war’. They continued with the Common Market (1957). Mrs Thatcher supported further economic integration through the Single Market (1986), but not the added political dimension of the European Union (1992).
What has followed the creation of the EU has shown the strengths and weaknesses of the European project. The free movement of labour has given individuals including Britons experience of other countries. But the failure of national governments to provide infrastructure for their own population has created tensions. The free movement of capital has given opportunities to financial services, which were insufficiently regulated. Creating a single currency should involve greater co-ordination of taxation and a banking union. Germany in particular is not ready for this. The open borders policy has made tracking criminals harder, but allowed tourism to flourish. War between the member states is indeed unthinkable, but economic difficulties and the failure of governments to resolve existing problems have allowed a rise of national feeling. Voters are well aware of all this. The EU has a good record of cooperation where this is obviously sensible, as over climate change, enforcing competition rules on multinational businesses, and tracking down and arresting criminals. But in too many respects, cooperation has not been taken far enough.