“Last month, we reached a milestone of 70 years since the last instance of inter-European conflict. In this timeframe, there has been a peace between European countries that has sadly not been reflected throughout the rest of the world.
This prolonged period of stability is in no small part down to the European Union. Established in the post-war years as a small group of nations supporting a common industrial policy, the EU has evolved into a union that has, for the most part, delivered a stable economic and political landscape from Belfast to Budapest.
Like all political projects, the union is not perfect, nor will it ever be. Politics is by nature a game of compromise, where decision makers have to position themselves according to the obstructions and challenges of the day.
The past few years have seen a number of poor responses to human and economic crises, as the EU has acted to be part of a wider sticking plaster solution to important global difficulties. It would be unwise to call this the EU’s finest moment, and the Union’s recent controversial response to the Greek crisis is just one indicator of this.
However, a focus on recent mistakes unfairly detracts attention from EU successes over the decades. The free movement of people and services within the EU’s Schengen Area (of which the UK is not a part) has fostered a greater sense of understanding within Europe as a whole and allows the EU to successfully promote one of the key messages of the EU’s founding years: that of tolerance and mutual respect.
In helping to create a closer society, the EU has made huge progress in emphasising the value of education, allowing citizens to flourish in a pan-European (and post-crash) environment. This skill development has resulted in huge economic benefits from EU membership. A common approach to employment, social legislation and business has allowed a highly educated workforce within the European Economic Area (EEA) to contribute a significant amount to the UK economy. This migrant workforce contributed £20 billion to the UK economy between 2001 – 2011, ten percent more than UK natives (in relative terms), according to a UCL report on the Fiscal Impact of Migration to the UK.
We should remember these achievements and more when considering the UK’s membership within the EU. In a modern reality where we often encounter xenophobic attitudes towards immigration, identity and diversity, it is important to be aware of the value of collaboration when approaching international challenges within Europe and the wider world.
Britain can, and must, fight to retain membership of the EU to keep the benefits of a collaborative Europe. The European Union is very much a work in motion, the ink is not yet dry, and I hope we will continue to enhance our geographic proximity by working towards a better shared European and international future, through our continued membership of the shared European political sphere.