A piece on why we should should stay in the EU written this winter.
So we may choose. To leave the European Union, with its farcical directives on food shapes and health and safety, its bureaucratic largesse and Byzantine legislature, or to stay, for… what? Why should we remain part of an institution that seems to bankrupt, hamstring and trouble us? Our future seems to lie over the Atlantic, our hawkish Anglosphere stronger than European doves. Yet peace is a defining feature of Europe’s ever closer union; it is hard to imagine, for example, the Franco-Teutonic relationship being more distant than it was just seventy years ago. The award of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the EU was met with incredulity by British tabloids, but the ultimate success of the institution has to bring an unprecedented amity. The British civilian experience of continental war has been at a distance, a threat of invasion rather than a reality of occupation. The British cannot appreciate the remorse and relief a German feels about peace and unity.
Yet this does not mean we should leave the project to those who are thankful for it. One of the difficulties of defending the EU is its clear flaws. The wasteful, sclerotic nature of many of its proceedings seems unjustifiable and its priorities often seem skewed. Yet, surely this makes membership all the more important. Instead of complaining of their negative influence, Britain could use its position to change them. Removing the failings would bring forward the benefits: the stability, the freedom, the protection. The freedom of movement that union allows is unique. Europeans are able to travel, work and learn across the continent. The convenience of travel, the ability to experience some of the finest cultures and scenery beyond British borders, as well as the cultural exchange of immigration, seems to be forgotten in debates over European immigration. Limited European exchange would cut two ways.
Moreover, the EU offers security beyond policing and the military. The legal protection offered to workers is far greater than singular UK law would be, and similarly for the environment, where the EU leads the way in many fields. The sanctified “competition” of the right may be constrained by these, and is often cited as an excuse for withdrawal, but Europeans greatly benefit. If we look past the economic crises and petty debates, hard as it may seem now, the European project, as a long-term goal, can flourish. An integrated, progressive role for the UK is crucial in reaping the rewards. But first we must sow the seeds. A two-speed Europe would undermine the purpose of the exercise: a collection of democratic, equal states, co-operating for mutual benefit. We must look to this vision, not obsess over bendy bananas and bureaucracy, come 2017.