I am unashamedly in favour of the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union. I was born in May 1941 in the West End of Glasgow. In the fortnight before my birth my mother spent every night in an air raid shelter in the basement of Glasgow Academy while the Luftwaffe pounded the shipyards of the Clyde. My earliest memory is of asking what a strange sound might be and being told that it was gunfire. These memories are indelibly printed in my mind.
Out of the ashes of Europe after the end of the war in 1945, which were all too visible in the news reels and newspapers, came a hope that future conflict could be avoided. This could be delivered if only countries like France and Germany, which had been at each other’s throats, could find a way to co-operate economically rather than to compete militarily. And so the European Coal and Steel Community was created in the 1940s. Why coal and steel? Because these were the essential ingredients of economic recovery for its initial membership of six nations which had suffered grievously in the war.
From these humble beginnings we now have what has become the European Union. Its purpose of creating peace and stability in Europe has been achieved and economic recovery and opportunity has flourished. It is now inconceivable that any country in membership of the European Union would ever go to war against any other member. The United States’ engagement in Europe as the centrepiece of Nato has enhanced that stability and helped to keep that peace, most notably and effectively in the Cold War. The EU has been a success like no other. It has provided a strong foundation for democracy and human rights in those member countries on the continent which were polluted by fascism and communism and sometimes both.
And now the very principle of Britain’s EU membership is being challenged and the institution’s performance being belittled. It is time to look at the bigger picture and to make the positive case for European membership to all those who will vote in the referendum on 23 June.
But first a word of caution. I do not argue that the EU has been without fault. How could it be? Its members come from different histories, cultures and traditions but are united in a common purpose. It stands to reason that they will have differences in their views of how that purpose can be achieved but none except Britain has considered abandoning it.
It often seems that the most enthusiastic supporters of withdrawal cannot say anything good about the European Union. For my part I think that those who argue for staying have an obligation to say what they think is wrong and how it could be put right.
The constitutional answer is to be found in the words ‘proportionality’ and ‘subsidiarity’, both of which are supposed to be applied to every proposal made by the EU Commission to the Council of Ministers whose servant it is. But fear not, I am not about to embark on a constitutional discourse of the kind lawyers love.
Proportionality simply means you need not do any more than you have to and subsidiarity means don’t do anything at the centre of an organisation which you can reasonably do at a lower level. What it means for the EU is that Brussels should not do anything more than is necessary which affects the members, and should not do anything which is better and more readily done by the members.
These are simple doctrines but they have not been sufficiently well implemented. Nor have British governments been at pains to argue that these doctrines should be applied rigorously.
What a succession of United Kingdom governments – including the present one – has done is to blame everything which the public don’t like on Brussels. What they don’t admit is that while it is the Commission which puts forward proposals it is the Council of Ministers that makes decisions.
But, say those who wish to leave the EU, the United Kingdom can be vetoed in the Council of Ministers. This is true, but over the last few years on only a handful of occasions has this occurred and over 95 per cent of votes in the Council of Ministers go the United Kingdom’s way. So let’s start telling it how it is.
Again, those who wish to leave say there is not enough democracy in the EU, but any effort to make it more democratic has been steadfastly resisted by United Kingdom governments.
What is forgotten is that the EU is the first of its kind. Parallels with Hitler and Napoleon are parodies of history. Never before had nations previously so hostile to one another attempted such an ambitious effort of economic and political co-operation. But Britain did not join the European conversation until the 1960s nor the Union itself until 1973. With earlier engagement and membership we would have had much greater influence.
No member can escape the obligation to respect human rights contained in the Copenhagen criteria which requires members to support the rule of law, freedom of expression and human rights.
Let me turn to some of the benefits the United Kingdom has enjoyed as a result of its membership. We have had, and continue to have, access to the largest common market in the world, of some 500 million people. We have had the advantage economically of over 3 million jobs in British industry supported by membership. And we have shared in the growth and prosperity which the Union has achieved since its humble beginnings.
Scotland has particularly benefited. The country’s infrastructure projects, educational establishments and economic opportunities have been funded by the European Union. Some of these have been large and some small, for example the current Scotch Beef campaign which has been supported by European development assistance. When the United States sought to place prohibitive tariffs on the products of the cashmere industry of the Scottish Borders in a dispute, would you believe, about the import of bananas in the United Kingdom, it was the strength of EU bargaining power that caused the Americans to back down when the issue went to the World Trade Organisation.
Per head of population, Scotland enjoys a higher level of EU development funding than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Britons can live, travel and do business throughout the European Union without hindrance. There are nearly 2,000,000 expatriates of the United Kingdom abroad. The United Kingdom has co-operated with its European allies in sharing criminal intelligence and co-ordinating with the police forces of other countries to meet the challenges of drug smuggling and the trafficking of women and children. The European Arrest Warrant has put hundreds of criminals behind bars who would otherwise have escaped conviction and been a risk to us and our fellow members of the European Union.
Many of the successes of the EU are to be found in areas other than economics. From Europe has come the Social Chapter which enhances the rights of workers, women and minorities. The success of a democratic Europe was instrumental in influencing Franco’s Spain and Salazar’s Portugal to abandon dictatorship and embark upon the road to real democracy. The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were emboldened to seek their independence while others, such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have enthusiastically embraced the democratic values underpinning the original agreement for European co-operation.
The European Union spearheaded the naval operations that brought an end to Somali piracy which threatened the transport of goods and the lives of those who served on the ships transporting them. European police are engaged in countries all over the world helping to make the transition from military or repressive regimes to civil policing. The European Union maintains a generous programme, to which the United Kingdom contributes, of financial assistance to developing countries.
So what should we do on 23 June? The EU is as relevant today as it has ever been – peace, prosperity and security in common purpose with like-minded democratic states respectful of human rights and accepting the primacy of the rule of law. Would we do better outside? I think not.
• Lord Campbell is a former MP for North East Fife and current president of the European Movement in Scotland
EU immigrants make a net contribution to the UK of £4,775,341 per day – or, to put it in stark terms, £55 per second to the public purse.
Through the European Arrest Warrant, 904 arrests have been made on behalf of UK forces in the past six years with Spain (245) and Ireland (166) being the countries helping most. These 904 arrests include 103 cases of child sex offences, 63 cases of rape and 65 of murder or manslaughter.
Net gain in financial terms
Scotland pays an 8.4 per cent population share of the UK’s EU membership fee but we get back 17.4 per cent of all the EU spending in the UK.
For for every £1 Scotland gives to the EU we get at least £20 back through increased trade, EU funding and increased taxation.
Laws and regulations
Currently, in the UK, around 15 per cent of laws come from the EU or have an EU influence and a similar figure applies to regulations.
The European Parliament costs each European citizen £2.34 per year which contrasts sharply with the UK Parliament which costs over twice as much at £5.51 per person per year.