Our relationship with the EU – West Briton column 20 March 2014

Over the coming weeks there will be a lot of discussion over the rights and wrongs of Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

I support Britain’s membership of the European Union. My support is based on the European Union’s track record of delivering peace and prosperity for the nations that belong to it.

It is understandable that some people will view these claims of European peace and prosperity with a degree of cynicism. It is therefore worthwhile to recount some of the salient facts at the heart of the European Union’s past and present.

By joining the European Union, governments commit to upholding personal rights and the rule of law. The significance of these commitments cannot be underestimated. For proof of their importance, we need look only as far as the Ukraine. In that country, on the borders of the European Union, a Government faced with protests against its corruption decided to trample on the rights of its citizens and use force to crush dissent. In response to unfolding events in the Ukraine, its neighbour Russia went back on its legal commitments not to invade the country and sent in it troops in order to secure the concessions it wanted. This behaviour would have seen both authorities subject to expulsion and sanction from the European Union, had they been member states.

Membership of the EU obliges governments to refrain from reaching for the gun when faced with popular dissent or strategic threats. These restraints have meant that, while Western Europe saw ten major conflicts between 1852 and 1952, there have been no such conflicts since the EU’s formation.

Why are governments so fearful of being kicked out of the EU? The answer lies in the second benefit conferred by EU membership, prosperity. A business based in any member state has free access to customers in any other member state, as a result of the EU’s rules on the free movement of goods. This opens up a customer base of some 490 million people. It is perhaps no wonder that, given this ease of access, 45 percent of Britain’s export trade last year was with other EU states.

It is precisely because of my appreciation for the peace and prosperity conferred by the EU that I also feel strongly that it needs to change. All the progress it has achieved has gone hand in hand with a creeping disconnect from national sovereignty and popular democracy. If not addressed then the whole European co-operative project, first proposed in Britain by none other than Winston Churchill, could come crashing down.

This is why I support David Cameron’s ongoing campaign for substantial and constructive reform of the European Union; reform centered on enabling people to have a greater say over decisions that affect them. Under Cameron’s proposals even the reforms themselves will need a democratic mandate, in the form of an in-out referendum on reformed EU membership. In its time the EU has delivered peace and prosperity. Now is the time for it to deliver a radically democratic form of European co-operation.