A divorce from the EU would make us weaker

This blog is based on the speech given by one of Bath for Europe’s supporters at our Pulse of Europe event in Bath on 5th November.

We have heard many arguments for staying in the EU – mainly the economic benefits of the common market. Today I want to touch on some other benefits that the EU provides to the UK and Europe as a whole.

We have also heard many arguments by Brexit supporters which I would like to comment on as well.

The first argument goes back to the original intentions of the founding fathers of the European project including Churchill: after two devastating world wars, they wanted to ensure that the same would not happen again. Ultimately, the cause of these wars can be seen as a competition of many different nations for resources, economic development, territory and ultimately power over their neighbours in a densely populated continent.

Rather than competing against each other, nations with an otherwise common cultural background and history should work together for the benefit of all. A common market would encourage more trade between these nations and development of the poorer nations towards more similar economic and social living standards and more equal rights and democratic structures for all ensured by a European judiciary system. Rather than fighting, the nations would help each other and thus limit and ultimately eliminate major inequality in living standards as a major cause for wars. The reward for such sensible collaboration is the economic benefit to all. Thus, you can see the economic side as an incentive to support the real aim and not the aim itself. It is particularly fitting to remind ourselves of this real reason close to Remembrance Sunday.

One must say that this has worked really well over the past half century. There has been no military conflict between EU partners and the less developed countries have seen major developments along with manifestation of democratic rule. I can still remember when I first visited Spain as a small child. The country was still ruled by Franco. Newspapers celebrated Hitler’s birthday while the countryside was dominated by poor farmers working with donkeys under conditions far from what I was used to in Germany. Over many more visits, I have seen a transformation to a fully democratic country with much less difference in living standards and infrastructure. Sure, there are still problems – but the direction of development seems to be right. In that sense, the EU can be seen as community of solidarity which could be a model for the whole world as a way to eliminate devastating conflict in the future.

In fact, I see humanity in a race between our ability to establish a world order of social and economic justice with equal opportunities to all versus our ability to destroy ourselves. The EU can be seen as an attempt to win this race on one continent for a start. Imagine what the consequences would be, if we show the world that this model is failing! Thus, it must be of the highest priority to ensure that it does not fail. What signal does it send out, if one of the richest nations quits this club of solidarity? And why? Because they want to gain more control over not sharing as much?

Another aspect may be a look at efficiency of regulation. Every market has to ensure a common set of rules for trade as well as living together. Many of these sets of rules are rather dull work, while still important, for example to ensure that measurements and units are the same everywhere and, yes, also about how large or curved a cucumber should be to be comparable to one somewhere else. Sure, some of these rules can get out of hand and become impractical. Nevertheless, there must be a body that thinks about these rules and constantly updates these with changing times and circumstances. These bureaucratic bodies will be large and expensive to cover all aspects of life. Thus, does it not make sense to do this work for as many nations as possible in single institution rather than having tens if not hundreds of these bodies working side-by-side for every nation on its own? Such a single body must make compromises and surely has got it wrong at times – but this does not defy the idea that such a common body is a good idea despite the bad reputation of EU regulation bodies. When there are problems with this body, we should try to fix these rather than quitting and setting up our own as Brexit seems to aim for. Sure, this would create many new jobs in Britain – but would it really be an efficient way of spending our money to replicate what the EU does in this regard just to end up with nearly the same rules to ensure smooth trade?

How about another argument to support Brexit: an argument often quoted unopposed is the apparent lack of democracy in the EU. But is this really true? All decisions made in Brussels are ultimately based on decisions of elected members delegated from their home nations. We have the same system in Britain where we elect delegates to Parliament to make decisions for us.

Related to this is also the notion that we have given up so much sovereignty to the EU that we must take back control. But, as I see it, we have not given up any sovereignty – we have just decided to share some of our sovereignty with the other 27 members of the EU. And this is a big difference – we still have influence. As much as we have given up sole responsibility, we have gained influence over aspects of the sovereignty of the other 27 nations. In other words we have gained as much (if not more) than we have lost and “taking back control” actually means losing control over EU-wide decisions much more than gaining control in Britain. The EU is often compared to a marriage and you can see it just the same way here: you share many responsibilities with your partner which means that you are not in sole control but you gain from the support and cooperation of a second person. In many cases the team will be stronger than the individual alone as long as you share fundamental values. A divorce does not make you stronger. Thus, I am convinced that a divorce from the EU will not make us stronger, but weaker.

In summary, we must try to prevent Brexit and fight on as long as there is a chance to reverse what is to my mind an irrational and wrong decision by a Yes-No referendum with clearly insufficient information at the time.

Dr. Randolf Köhn