Friday, November 17, 2006

How will you be celebrating fifty years of European Union?

By any objective measure the European Union must rate as a success. Despite its vocal, usually elderly, opponents (especially in England) there is little doubt that it has helped to boost Europe's economy and to keep the peace amongst countries with a history of being at war with each other on a regular basis.

It evolved from the EEC which started with just six countries in 1957 and had to wait until 1973 to become nine. Before it became the EU in 1992 three others had joined one in 1981 and two in 1986. Three more joined in 1995 and then ten in 2004. By the time the fiftieth anniversary is reached next year another two will have joined to make a grand total of 27.

It must be hard for anyone who wasn't alive then to imagine just how run down Europe was in the 1950s. Ravaged by war and by a dismal lack of investment before it, the industry and infrastructure were on their proverbial last legs. There was still much post-war suspicion between nations. Even in 1964 I remember seeing a poster of Labour's leader Harold Wilson declaring 'No German finger on the nuclear trigger'. He was anxious to convince the electorate that he was as tough as the Tories on 'foreign' policy.

Before it joined in 1973, Britain's economy was in a right old state. Of course it's not only being in the EU that has rescued our prosperity but it's certainly helped. It has, for example and contrary to popular prejudice, removed much of the multiple bureaucracies that bedevilled trade with our near neighbours.

It's a shame that so many powerful media moguls are against the EU. It's easy to see why they are though; they know that individual nations can't regulate multinational company activities on their own. But the EU is more powerful. United We Stand (as it used to say on the backs of some wartime playing cards I had when I was young (but I read it as 'until we stand' - oh dear) and all that type of thing.

Even though the ECSC had been set up in 1951, it is the EEC's formation that really marked the start of the European Union and it is that which will be celebrated next year. Of course there's a little row. Charles Bremner, The Times's splendid Paris Correspondent, reports how cross the French are about the logo (above) that has been selected - mainly because it's in English but they and others have managed to find lots of other niggles with it.

It took about 100 years for the USA to bed in and about the same time for its single currency, the mighty dollar, to become accepted. In comparison Europe seems to be doing rather well...


At 13:30, Anonymous Gary Monro said...

I'm sorry but what rescued Britain's economy wasn't the EU but Thatcherism. I'm no rabid Thatcherite but our economy didn't pick up by copying any EU model and some of the main EU countries actively oppose the UK model.

We embraced the free-market and curbed the union barons. We abolished exchange rate mechanisms, price controls and wage controls. This allowed UK business to spread its wings and innovate and trade while changing the mindset of the ordinary man or woman so they realised the state was not their one provider of all things.

Technological advances and, latterly, a bouyant world economy, have heaped advantage on our strengthened economy. The EU with its plethora of taxes, directives and endless bureaucratic interferences is a primary hinderance to many aspects of the UK's operation. There is little - if anything - that is positive about the EU than cannot be replicated piecemeal outside of EU membership.

I'm afraid that, overall, we succeed not because of the EU but in spite of it.

At 16:22, Blogger Liam Murray said...

Don't you hate it when someone beats you to the draw...?

There's more than an ounce (sorry, gramme) of sense in Gary's comments.

At 17:53, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Thanks Gary and Cassilis - I fear you may have missed the essential word 'help' which I was careful to use when writing about the EU's contribution to our economic success and to keeping the peace.

It would be as daft to suggest it is only because of the EU that Britain is now prospering as it would be to suggest that it is only because of Mrs Thatcher.

So we are all correct!

Mrs T, incidentally, knew well that we needed to be in the EU - that's why she signed up for the UK to join. She was very good at talking 'hard' but acting 'soft' and not only in this context.

There are no serious politicians in Britain who think we should leave, the real debate is how best we can influence the Union's direction. Tony Blair's strategy of positive engagement seems to have been rather more successful at promoting the long-term 'Anglo-Saxon' view than Mrs T's handbag was, although that produced some useful short-term gains...

At 20:28, Blogger Liam Murray said...

I would agree with that - particularly the last paragraph.

Being on the right doesn't mean I dislike or want to leave Europe - on the contrary it has a lot to offer and while it remains an economic arrangement focused on things like trade I have absolutely no issue with it.

The constitution illustrated it's potential to go awry though. It was an appalling document and an attempt to introduce social democracy via the back door across Europe, regardless of the political inclinations of the actual electorates there.

At 14:54, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Cassilis - I couldn't resist a little chuckle when the French threw out the constitution allegedly because it was too Anglo-Saxon thus avoiding a row in Britain that would have homed in on it being too Franco-German.

Of course the real reason the French threw it out is that their government told them to accept it and the French hate being told what to do even more than the British do!

At 00:02, Anonymous Kenny said...

I think we need the EU for geopolitical reasons. Otherwise smaller nations will be bullied by larger countries. Look what happened Georgia.
An alliance of democratic countries is good for everyone in the region.

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