Unbeknown to most people, Vice-President of the European Commission and member of the Commission responsible for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro, Olli Rehn, has been in London today giving a speech at a Policy Network conference. Speaking about deeper integration in the Eurozone, he also spoke about Britain’s place in Europe, or so the advance copy of his speech informs us.
I reproduce that section of his speech dealing with Britain’s place in Europe, one which repeats the “EU keeping the peace in Europe for the last 60 years” meme; coupled with the obligatory football analogy:
“And that brings me to the question of Britain in Europe. Because it is in everyone’s interests for Britain to be an active player here. This is a game in which, if I were a British citizen, I would want my country to be playing as a midfield playmaker rather than watching from the sidelines. No one ever scored goals sitting on the bench.
For forty years now, Britain has been stronger thanks to its membership of the European Union. More dynamic economically. More equitable socially. More influential in world affairs.
To illustrate Europe’s importance for Britain, I think Dr. Simon Sweeney, Lecturer in international political economy at the University of York, hit the nail on the head when he wrote as follows:
“What did the EEC/EU ever do for us? Not much, apart from: providing 57% of our trade; structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline; clean beaches and rivers; cleaner air; lead-free petrol; restrictions on landfill dumping; a recycling culture; cheaper mobile charges; cheaper air travel; single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance; break-up of monopolies; Europe-wide patent and copyright protection; no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market; freedom to travel, live and work across Europe; funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad; labour protection and enhanced social welfare; smoke-free workplaces; EU-funded research and industrial collaboration; European arrest warrant…”.
I must stop here for the sake of time, as he listed dozens of other things that the EU has brought for Britain. But he coined it even better:
“All of this is nothing compared with its greatest achievements: the EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed. It furthermore assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980… We must play a full part in enabling the Union to be a force for good in a multipolar global future.”
That’s the point. And the European Union is stronger today because of Britain’s tremendous contribution to it. Our economy is more open and dynamic as a result of Britain’s liberal instincts, which are an important counterweight to the regulatory reflex which still sometimes surfaces.
The single market we have built up over the last two-and-a-half decades owes a lot to those liberal instincts. But let’s be clear about one thing. The single market needs rules, regulations and strong and effective institutions in order to function. Without those, there is no single market. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher understood this when she signed the Single European Act and had it ratified.
Whatever choices Britain ultimately makes about its future in Europe, I trust this great European country will support the rebuilding of our economic and monetary union, in line with Chancellor George Osborne’s political maxim that “the remorseless logic” of monetary union leads to greater economic union.”
Rehn ended with another “tug at our heartstrings”, thus:
“We have before us many more far-reaching choices, in the eurozone and in the wider European Union. In that context, I believe it is firmly in Britain’s interest to use its energy for reforming Europe rather than seeking to undo our Community, which would leave us all weaker.
In a nutshell, why not focus on reform rather than repatriation?
A former prime minister told the House of Commons in 1967 that British membership of the Community would be “healthier for Britain, advantageous for Europe and a gain for the whole world”.
He was right on every count, and I can only agree wholeheartedly with his next remark: “I do not know of many economic or political problems in the world which will be easier to solve if Britain is outside rather than inside the Community.”
So let’s move forward together.”
Well – and hopefully echoing the views of my readers – if Britain leaving the European Union undoes their community and weakens it; bring it on!