Les Britanniques devraient avoir l’occasion de décider lors d’un référendum s’ils veulent continuer à faire partie du projet européen ou non. Même si les raisons économiques de rester sont légion, il existe également une raison morale : celle qui permet à la Grande-Bretagne de définir l’avenir de ce continent, écrit Sir Andrew Cahn.
Sir Andrew Cahn est le président du Groupe du droit du commerce et de l'investissement international à Londres et membre du World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe.
My father left Germany hastily in 1933. Overnight, he went from being a secure child in a wealthy family to a poor refugee without a state. Unwisely, his family went to Spain and fell into its Civil War. He escaped to London. In 1940, he again was on the move as he left London for the countryside just as the Blitz was starting. Meanwhile, his future British wife had been evacuated to Canada for safety. The volatility of my parents’ childhoods means that I grew up aware that peace, stability and a secure society are not givens, nor can they be assumed – or even expected. They have to be worked for, and won, in every generation.
Recently, nationalism and populism are on the increase in many EU countries. The rising political parties do not talk of war, and I am sure they have no wish for it. But what they do talk about – a dislike of foreigners in their country, glorifying the nation state and its history as better and bolder and more virtuous than other nation states, blaming others for national failures and failings, grievances against neighbouring countries – are the things which can lead countries into war.
We are often told that it is inconceivable that European countries would fight amongst themselves. Indeed, those who disparage the EU tend to take its peace for granted, or say it has little to do with the EU. It is surprising how short memories can be. Croatia, about to join the EU, was at war a few years ago, and Slovenia, now in the EU, had tanks at its border. The Balkan states, a part of Europe, have experienced much of the unpredictability that characterised the 1930s and 1940s of my parents. That is why they want to join the EU.
A supranational authority, with a culture of interchange of peoples and goods and values, is a surer guarantor of peace than any number of politicians assuring us that they have peaceful intentions. Institutional structures are better than passing political policies as a route to keeping the peace. Britain is safer because of the EU. And if the EU collapses because of its mishandling of the eurozone then the UK will suffer greatly from the resulting European instability.
Not only is EU peace taken for granted, but so is the prosperity it has generated. In Britain, for example, many now see the eurozone as a burden on the UK economy, arguing that we would be more prosperous outside the EU. It is difficult to understand this argument.
Why does free access to a huge market hold us back? How is the EU’s worldwide network of free trade agreements a drag anchor on British trade? Britain has not found it easy to penetrate emerging markets, and we have been less effective in doing so than some of our continental counterparts. We will not suddenly find that their doors open to us just because we have left the EU. Much of the West is going through recession or low growth, which does not mean that the prosperity of the past and the potential for the future within the EU is an illusion. Instead, the illusion is to think that splendid isolation in a global world is actually a workable strategy.
Underpinning both peace and prosperity are culture and values. It is these, above all else, which nationalists argue the EU is threatening. But in fact the opposite is true. The EU helps the UK to strengthen its culture as a global, sophisticated, open, trading nation. Think how the culture of the British energy and water supply industries changed because of continental ownership. Britain has never prospered by putting up barriers to foreign ideas or foreign people or foreign capital. We are a global nation based in Europe.
This even applies to financial and professional services where, despite the crisis, we must not close our doors. Just as it is true that continental Europe shares responsibility with Anglo-Saxon capitalism for the financial crisis, so it is true that the resolution of it and policies to avoid a repetition will be made in the EU and not just in London. The City of London changed from being an airless, old boys’ club to being a global powerhouse because foreigners flooded in with new energy, new ideas and a new openness.
Even more than corporate culture, or social habits, is the importance of values. The EU provides the framework within which our society has changed out of all recognition over the last fifty years. If you can eat well in London, if you can find world-beating music, dance, design and film, it is in part because young Europeans full of vitality, ideas and talent come to our country to make a living and do something exciting. The flow of people, capital, opinions, and energy from our EU partners has helped to make us cosmopolitan, sophisticated, competitive in a global marketplace.
Critics of the EU see it all differently of course. Release us from the shackles of the EU and our independent culture, values, self-image, prosperity will all flower, they say. But we live in an interconnected world, one where Little England or Imperial Britain has no place. Closing our shores, and our minds, to the continent’s efforts to design the future will marginalise us. And that is the final benefit of the EU for the UK: it is a political structure which involves us in designing the future of our region. Europe is our neighbourhood, our region, our community. It has many flaws. But we should have the confidence to lead in the creation of a better Europe not slink away to a cold and comfortless isolation.
The British people should have the chance in a referendum to decide whether or not to continue being part of the European project. Although I believe that the economic case for staying in is overwhelming, I accept that we can survive well outside. For me, the argument for being a part of Europe is a moral one. It is our continent and we should be in there designing its future. What bewilders me about the antis’ case is that they do not want to be where Britain has always been throughout its history, at the heart of things, leading not following.