It’s time to stop digging and fight for European unity
2017-04-01 17:36:41 -

Michael McGowan

British Prime Minister Theresa May was pointedly absent when leaders of 27 EU member states met in Italy’s capital recently to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome by the six founder nations of the European Economic Community, now the European Union.

Sixty years of European peace, security, and prosperity we’ve experienced since are being celebrated at the same time as the United Kingdom prepares to end its 44-year membership of the European Union. That is not only ironic, it is a disaster and an act of historic folly, shame and irresponsibility. Indeed, it is almost unbelievable that as the EU celebrates six decades closer co-operation, the UK is spreading division and posing a real threat to global peace and prosperity.

The holding of the Brexit referendum itself was the result of divisions within the Conservative Party and fear of the populist Ukip, with its anti-EU and anti-immigrant views. It was fuelled by the fact that David Cameron was elected leader of the Conservatives on an anti-EU platform. His successor, Theresa May, does not appear to possess any views that can be easily identified.

Meanwhile, it has become increasingly clear that what was presented to the electorate last June is not the same as is now on offer, including the promise that a vote to leave the EU would result in a £350m weekly payback to the NHS. As the UK’s former Defence Minister Denis Healey once famously said: “When in a hole, it’s time to stop digging.”

The EU faces its own challenges which have to be addressed, including its failure to relate properly to its own EU citizens, to adopt a united response to the refugee crisis, and to provide global political leadership.

But it is a great peace initiative, and the establishment of a directly elected international parliament of 28 countries is an amazing political achievement.

The Brexit vote has further added fuel to the growth of nationalist, far right and xenophobic parties in Europe, besides isolationist tendencies in the UK. The EU itself has failed to co-operate and show solidarity between member states on issues concerning immigration and refugees, the tragic consequences of which account for the Mediterranean becoming a mass graveyard.

The visionaries of Europe came together after the end of Second World War determined centuries of conflict, and as a result of their courage and foresight launched the greatest peace initiative in history. Successes of the European project have included the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, acts of solidarity with the victims of apartheid in South Africa, and a return to democracy in Chile following the brutal Pinochet dictatorship.

Despite the historic achievement of the EU in maintaining peace across Europe, an effort recognised by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, the EU has not succeeded in convincing so many of its citizens that the EU belongs to them. In the interest of Europe and the rest of the world, it really is time to stop digging.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.
TAGS : british prime minister EU
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