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The flags of the 28 EU member countries - after next Thursday, there may only be 27.

The flags of the 28 EU member countries – after next Thursday, will there only be 27? (Photo: European Union, 2016).

Historical take on EU paints disturbing picture

Disillusioned with the standard of debate over the pros and cons of the UK staying in or leaving the European Union, local historian Heather Grief decided to bring a historical approach to the case. She found plenty to concern her.

I have become increasingly annoyed at the emotional, illogical drivel and misuse of statistics that has dogged the referendum campaigning. So now for something completely different.

The 1956 Treaty of Rome (start of the ‘Common Market’) states loud and clear that the aim of the signatories is to gradually harmonise the member countries’ laws and economies until full political and economic union is achieved: one border, one currency, one parliament, one law code, one armed force. It was always intended to be far, far more than a ‘common market’ or ‘free trade area’.

At the root of this push for political unification was the desire to avoid future wars between the countries which joined, but especially between France and Germany: the idea was that if both are part of the same super-state of Europe, then they won’t be able to fight each other. This is something of a pious hope. Did being one country stop Yugoslavia from falling apart recently, with horrendous atrocities and a refugee crisis? Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of history knows that civil wars are anything but civil, whereas international wars are usually fought according to some semblance of rules.

A fate worse than war

People seem to think that there is no worse fate than war, but there is, and the European Union project makes it more likely, not less: you can find yourself living in a state that has no democracy, no free speech, no rightness fairness or justice about it, and that you are powerless to change the ‘powers that be’ or escape from them.

This is what lots of European countries were like until some time in the 20th century. The people were used to obeying the arbitrary diktats from on high, kept their heads down and walked around in invisible chains. Arbitrary rule also usually had a depressing effect on living standards, because many economic decisions were taken centrally, and there was little encouragement of free enterprise. At least with a war, a country can choose to fight and die free – and in Britain the decision is taken by MPs in parliament, at the moment anyway.

I’ve heard people say things like ‘I can’t imagine Germany invading France’ in the future. This is a very dangerous lack of imagination. Are the 28 EU member countries, and any future members, really not going to spawn any more dictators/conquerors? Countries used to suffer mainly from inherited rulers of variable quality, some of them extremely bellicose (e.g. Kaiser Bill), but democracy does not protect us from their ilk. Napoleon emerged from the first French republic, Franco from the Spanish republic and by winning the civil war he started, while the Greek colonels staged a coup in 1967.

Adolf spelled out in Mein Kampf (written in prison after his attempt at an armed take-over, the Munich Putsch, had failed) how he was going to use the democratic process to rise to power and then get rid of all other political parties/opposition. And that is exactly what he did: first act once in power, burn down the Reichstag (parliament) and blame, then exterminate, the communists. Apart from Napoleon, all these were just the 20th century European ‘crop’. With the EU, someone could grab the lot in one fell swoop, and the more countries that join, the more tempting the prize, and the more likely that someone (from the larger population) will do so, sooner or later.

Role of national governments

On a more everyday level, there are three things that only a national government can do:

  • defend the country from external enemies,
  • provide internal security via law and order and a police force; and
  • provide a stable currency – this allows prosperity and encourages political stability by avoiding hyper-inflation and the economic disaster that always follows.

How is the EU doing in providing these? It hasn’t started on the first yet; the second has increasingly been happening with regard to laws, but not to their enforcement; and the third has been and continues to be an experiment on the brink of disaster, which may well break the EU apart. First there was the ‘Exchange Rate Mechanism’ (ERM) which tried to ‘harmonise’ the rates at which the EU countries’ currencies were exchanged; Britain signed up to this, and was hit for an absolutely vast sum. The chancellor at the time, Nigel Lawson, managed to get us out of it before we were bankrupted, and is now a Brexiter.

Then came the Euro; the advantages of one currency are obvious, the disadvantages less so. The rules stated that only countries fulfilling specific financial and economic criteria could join; Britain did pass these rules, but wisely chose not to join. But then the EU let in any member country, some of which did not pass the rules by quite a large margin. Spain, Italy and Greece are now suffering, and slowly dragging down the other Eurozone countries. All this pain because the EU commissioners can’t own up to being wrong or making a mistake; being unelected, they don’t have to answer to the EU’s voters, and there is no-one else to hold them to account.

How did we get to this situation? Let’s take a quick run through circa 110 years of history.

Tackling conflict

From around 1905, there was a series of conventions, concords etc, signed by many countries, on specific issues, eg one banned the first use of poison gas in war (it was accepted that if someone else did it to you, you could pay them back in kind). Britain was a major instigator and signatory of most of these, along with the other decent countries of the time. After the First World War, the League of Nations was founded to try to prevent wars in future; unfortunately they had rather a hard task, being faced with the likes of Mussolini and Hitler, and failed to take effective action.

After World War II, the United Nations and its agencies have been more successful, having a UN peacekeeping force (army) to sit on trouble spots, and to separate warring factions – this managed to get the Balkans sorted out, eventually; the EU, which Yugoslavia had wanted to join, was ineffectual. The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, cut its teeth on the huge mass of displaced people in Europe at the end of World War II, to become expert in the handling refugees, and has been housing, feeding and watering millions of Syrians in neighbouring countries, with the UK providing more money for this than the whole of the rest of the EU put together. Why did the EU not contribute properly, in a fair manner? The EU failed to do anything about the Syrian situation for four years; then Angela Merkel chose to encourage the ones who could (ie those with money) to go to Germany, resulting in many deaths en route, complete disunity amongst the EU nations affected by the migration, and barbed wire fences appearing along supposedly open borders.

The UN keeps us safe, along with NATO; both were founded in the 1940s, long before the EU. International agreements continued, including many extradition treaties, under which we became able to fetch back people suspected of crimes who had fled abroad, and we would return British people wanted for crimes abroad, after assessing whether the evidence against them would be sufficient for trial here (European arrest warrants do not do this – if Sweden or wherever wants you, you will be sent for trial there; you’re tried by a magistrate alone – no jury – and the fact that Swedish prisons are much nicer than British ones is small consolation if the magistrate mistakenly finds you guilty).

There was a whole series of trade agreements in the years after the Second World War, and we joined just about all of them. Then there was one that we didn’t join; accounts that I have read and heard as to why we didn’t join are irreconcilable (a not unusual occurrence in history). Having ‘missed the boat’ in 1956, a number of attempts were made to join; they were all vetoed by President de Gaulle, on no better grounds than that ‘les Six’ consisted of one cock (France) and five hens (Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, West Germany and Italy). Britain would be a second cock, a powerful player to challenge France’s domination.

In 1960, we formed the European Free Trade Area, which did exactly what it said on the tin: free trade between the 10+ countries which joined: Eire, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Greece, Portugal, Austria and Switzerland, plus some small places. Many politicians still wanted to join the EU, despite the fact that opinion polls showed 70+% of the population was against doing so.

The price of joining

The Conservatives did join in 1973 – Ted Heath was so keen to get in that he gave away most of our fishing waters, with appalling consequences for our fishermen and fish stocks. The currency was decimalised in 1971, as preparation for this. I admit that going decimal was the right thing to do in the long run, but the government was so poor at preventing profiteering by firms etc, that prices rose, and in 1973 the addition of VAT to almost everything caused them to rise even more, and a series of pay claims added to a positive storm of inflation, which left the workers who had less bargaining power far behind. The government was in financial trouble too, and massively cut spending on everything.

We had been dragged into the ‘Common Market’, and had suffered the downside of it, when we were given the choice to leave again after just two years. A lot of people voted to stay in, because they felt it hadn’t had time to work in our favour, and later came to regret doing so, as it never seems to work in our favour. In case you’re wondering, I was old enough to vote then; I read all the official literature (all ‘fear’ arguments about how we’d be ‘left behind’ if we left), thought for myself and voted to leave – there were no positive or logical arguments then, only ‘fear’ ones (just like now) – and with the UN and NATO both active, no-one tried arguing that it was the EU which was keeping the peace in Europe – the voters were all old enough to know otherwise then. This reminds me: why have we heard nothing from Norwegians, who have twice voted to stay out, about what life is like outside?

Outside, we could choose which things we agreed with, and do them anyway, whether they’re a global or EU initiative. But we would not be forced to go along with those things we thought were wrong. If you think we will have a more powerful voice in international conventions as part of the EU, read George Eustice’s (Minister for Farming, Food and Marine Environment) 2 June 2016 article in The Times. I expect us to be worse off for a while after leaving, but that’s a price worth paying for freedom in the longer term.

 

Posted 07:02 Saturday, Jun 18, 2016 In: Politics