Leading Article: 12 reasons to be European

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The Independent Online
Last Thursday the Daily Mail, which in now-forgotten times was rather pro-European, crowned its conversion to Europhobia with a full- page editorial listing "twelve reasons why we won't be celebrating Europe Day". The European Union, the Mail told us, was responsible for unemployment, terrorism, negative equity and war in Bosnia. It had stolen our fish, our gallon and our inch and it had designs on our pound, our double-decker bus and our three-pin plug. The proceeds of these felonies had been used to line the pockets of fraudulent Eurocrats and to subsidise Greek peach- growers, Tibetan yak farmers and Viennese prostitutes. For these and other reasons, the starry flag of Europe would not be run up the Daily Mail pole.

Over the past few months the Conservative press has been full of such stuff, and yet this is Neanderthal politics, no better than name-calling and beyond all argument. Did anyone expect the Mail to celebrate Europe Day? Yet there were ample reasons for celebration. And here are 12 of them.

1) European unity is good for peace. Before the EEC was founded, Germany and France had gone to war three times in a century, leaving many millions dead across dozens of countries. On the latter two occasions Britain was involved and it, too, suffered terrible casualties. Now war between member countries is unthinkable. 2) It is good for democracy. Before they joined, Spain, Portugal and Greece were dictatorships. It is unthinkable now that a member country should not be a democracy. 3) The Empire has gone and we are no longer a superpower. Britain could not, conceivably, stand alone and have any clout in world affairs. The US and the EU would dwarf us, as (in different ways) would Russia and Japan. 4) Europe is our natural partner. Historically, culturally and socially we have more in common with the other west European nation states than anyone else. This is something we can make use of. In the United Nations, for example, we now act in partnership with Europe as a force (generally) for good in the world. 5) The EU is a huge and tremendously rich single market on our doorstep, made up of remarkably similar economies, in which obstacles to free trade are progressively being eliminated. 6) It has in the past protected currencies (and it hopes to do so again) from the hysteria and the herd instinct of the international foreign exchange markets, which today determine the value of the pound. The introduction of the Euro would, moreover, spare holiday-makers the cost and inconvenience of buying foreign currency. 7) The EU is a protector of workers and the weak in society. It prevents the greedy and the rapacious from gaining competitive advantage in European trade by exploiting people or by neglecting their health and safety. 8) The Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (not an EU body, but still a European one) protects us all from arbitrary government and injustice, and is particularly valuable to Britons, whose fundamental rights are not, for the most part, guaranteed by domestic law. 9) For all its notoriety, the Common Agricultural Policy has so far succeeded in eliminating food shortages. The hated mountains, moreover, have disappeared - for the good reason that they have been needed to sustain supplies as the world has again moved into food crisis, the worst since the early 1970s - and the Cap is currently keeping our food prices below world market levels. 10) The EU is an efficient forum for dealing with problems which would be far more intractable if it did not exist. If it was not there, we would constantly have to deal separately, on bilateral terms, with 15 different governments. 11) For individuals, Europe is a place where they can increasingly travel freely, both to work and to live. British pensioners moving to the Mediterranean made up one of the EU's biggest migrations of recent years, while future and more cosmopolitan generations will be able to take jobs where they like thanks to qualifications recognised across the continent. 12) If you think the US would be a better friend than Europe, think again. The Americans - often instinctively protectionist and usually ready to throw their considerable diplomatic weight around - would walk all over us if we were not part of the EU. They do not want us as the 51st state, but they might like us as a weak and captive market. Incidentally, the US banned British beef in 1988.