In an earlier post I have applauded Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon for by far and away the most sensible and constructing economic policy in last year's General Election.
Once again, amid the dreary claims and counter-claims of economic ruin or prosperity beyond compare bandied by the mainstream "outers" and "remainers" in England, M/s Sturgeon has hit the jackpot. In a speech on Monday she castigates David Cameron for running a "miserable , negative, fear-based" campaign in the referendum and pleads for a "positive and constructive case" for remaining in the EU, and in particular for the protection and improvement of "social benefits and employment rights."
Well, it's certainly wishful thinking to expect even a self proclaimed "compassionate conservative" to extol the virtues of social benefits and employment rights, but the rest of us in the "remain" campaign should be doing just that. Indeed I believe we should go further and extract ourselves from a sterile debate on the economic effects of "in" or "out" and look to the wider implications.
These are set out in a wide-ranging article by Charles Grant (like Springford and Telford, authors of Prospect article, summarised here, a member of the Centre for European Reform) in the New Statesman (19th to 25th February, 2016). Whilst recognising that the EU is far from perfect, indeed a "muddled and messy organisation but in essence a community of law, [whose] chief mission is to spread the rule of law," Grant highlights that::
- The EU is committed to "democracy, liberal values and the rule of law, at home and in the wider world" in a "model of development based on pluralism and human rights."
- The current refugee crisis clearly demands a co-operative approach which will require [decent] "reception centres. . .[a] scheme for sharing out bona fide asylum seekers" whilst "sending home swiftly" those rejected (unless war is raging in their countries)
- "EU leaders must do what they can to tackle the root causes of the refugee flows."
- The EU leaders are strong believers in global governance. The US, because of its greater power, is less enthusiastic. Hence:
- European leaders take a pre-eminent role in the UN, WTO and international financial institutions.
- "[T]he EU has pioneered global efforts to limit carbon emissions" and on other environmental issues.
- "The EU and its member states have taken the lead in forging a host of arms control agreements. (The US, Russia and China have boycotted those on landlines and cluster munitions. The US has not ratified either the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea).
- The EU has played an important role in trying to resolve many foreign policy issues: Serbia v Kosovo (the UK's Catherine Ashton, as EU High Representative, played an important part in this); Somalia; Mogadishu; abandonment (we hope) of Iran's nuclear programme; Burma.
- EU members' internal security is bolstered by Europol and the European Arrest Warrant.scheme. (From another source I know of something called Prum. a EU policing database from which can be accessed information, sometimes in seconds, which could take to UK force alone months or even years to discover).
Well, those are some non-economic areas in which membership of the EU enables us to achieve rather more effectively than we could do on our own.
The article also asks us to consider what so far has not entered into the UK debate to any extent, the effect on the rest of the EU if the UK left.
Clearly Eurosceptic, and often unpleasantly right wing, factions in other countries would be energised, and, even if they did not succeed in "exiting" their countries, the Union would be weakened. Whereas I think the declaration George Osborne says he had no part in engineering at the Shanghai summit of the G20, that a Brexit could produce a sever shock to the world economy, is ridiculous hyperbole, it is not too fantastic to suppose that our departure might, just might, precipitate the disintegration of the European Union.
So, just 71 years after we congratulated ourselves on playing a noble part in the rescue of Europe from tyranny, by our selfish chauvinism we could successfully torpedo the enlightened attempts to build a more law abiding, peaceful, co-operative and creative continent.
Even if the Union survives our departure, without us it will be more politically lopsided. From the beginning Germany, for understandable reasons, has tried to avoid a dominant leadership role. At first a dual leadership of France and Germany was the norm. After Britain's accession this became a trio (maybe a quad as Italy grew stronger). But, after re-unification and as a result of their incredibly successful economy, Germany has become immeasurably stronger, and the leadership dominance they have struggled hard to avoid will be thrust upon if the UK were not there to help keep the balance.
"Keeping the balance of power in Europe" has been the object of British foreign policy for centuries. We should not opt out now.
So rather than a "miserable, negative, fear-based" campaign, I'd like to see we reaminers adopt an adaptation of John F Kennedy's famous and inspiring call:
"Ask not what the EU can do for the UK, but what the UK can do for Europe."