Prior to the UK referendum vote to leave the EU on June 23rd, my personally espoused view on the EU was rather academic. My internal argument was that the EU had its problems but it was on the whole a positive force. Free trade is good, for which we need free movement of people and capital, and all the positives and negatives can be weighed and I judged a net positive outcome for the EU. That said, I could understand others would take a different view and maybe a more global outlook would be positive along with access to the European free market. Ultimately though, I thought the stability of remaining in trumped just about everything else.
Waking up to the results on June 24th, it was clear to me I was deeply shocked, saddened and upset. This is not a normal response to a purely academic outcome – I was clearly much more emotionally invested in the concept of the EU than I realised.
To me, I discovered, the EU is about so much more than its trade agreements and open borders. It is about a shared political identity. The vision of a Europe free from conflict, in which every country works towards goals that matter for the next century and beyond. A vision in which petty tribalism is put aside in favour of our shared humanity. A vision in which divisions across continents are as relevant to the political discussion as divisions across countries.
It was put to me yesterday that as a northerner, I should be more concerned with the North/South divide in the UK than EU membership. Putting aside the obvious irrelevance of the North/South UK divide to the EU issue (though in no way diminishing the importance of the problem), it is precisely this thinking that I detest so much. The problems of inequality and disharmony are magnified enormously on the global scale compared to the UK. It is on the global scale we should seek to address them.
The EU is an imperfect entity (though contrary to popular opinion it has changed over time, largely for the better) that represents and embodies this aspiration. To a large extent, we now have a continent of equal opportunity. For the half a billion EU citizens, there is nothing to stop them seeking the best opportunities across a continent, and they can be confident that fundamental principles of political stability, anti-corruption and environmental standards will be fit for purpose everywhere (and yes, I’m well aware in places this aspiration falls a little short, but it’s only a matter of time before the new member states reach parity).
This makes us all richer. Not just richer in the financial sense, but richer culturally as well as providing us with a richer shared humanity.
I look forward to the day that Turkey (and Russia and …) will join the EU, because then we will have another state that is able to claim to share the ideals of the EU, of peace, rule of law and outward looking positivity and we will have another country that can join the level playing field. Moreover, I look forward to a World in which the state can be considered as largely an administrative region and every person enjoys the same rights and freedoms and opportunities as I do in Western Europe. Nationalistic tribalism needs to be a thing of the past. Sure we can celebrate our cultural distinctions, but they should never be used to divide.
I do not identify as a European because I was born in Europe. I identify as a European because I share a common cause with hundreds of millions of fellow Europeans across a continent in a way that has made great things possible.