Why is a European identity an ideal worth fighting for?

, by Tom Sutton

Why is a European identity an ideal worth fighting for?

I recently attended a debate (or rather discussion when preaching to the converted) within my local Liberal Democrats about the outcome of Brexit. In addition to party members, a few EU citizens were in attendance to discuss the impact that Brexit is having, as they are (as the book partly written by one suggests) in limbo. At times, it was truly harrowing to hear the impact Brexit could have on their lives as the uncertainty prevents planning for the future.

While discussing Brexit, it had me thinking. I wondered, why is a European identity worth fighting for? What do we have to gain from it and why does it matter so much to so many of us from Lisbon to Tallinn, from Helsinki to Valletta?

In 1945, Europe was broken. It had seen the savage nature of a war (leaving 70 - 85 million dead) including some of the most dreadful organised ethnic cleansing the world has ever seen in the form of the Holocaust. To combat the fascist beliefs that perpetuated this deplorable act committed unto many, Europe had to unify in some form if the principles of the rule of law and human rights were to be sustained. Many agreed with this, including Churchill who called in 1946 for a “kind of United States of Europe”. Naturally, through the Schuman Declaration of 1950 and subsequent treaties we got the EEC and then EU that we know and many love today.

The 23rd of June 2016 is a date that will be ever be etched into the memory of many British pro-Europeans, for it was the day our country chose to turn back the tide and step away from what was our shared creation. Brexit has destroyed friendships, divided families and sought to inflict harm on pan-European families which are physically and through lineage dotted across the continent. Combined with the impacts it is feared to have on our trading, scientific, security and diplomatic relations with the EU27, this is why us “remoaners” are willing to stand up, in the face of adversity from Eurosceptic press who wish to divide us at all costs. We know our country and we will not allow it to decline into an isolated protectionist state due to what a small minority want out of the Brexit result.

Prior to November 2017, if I were to be asked why I felt it was in our interests to be in the EU, I’d have given a token answer such as “We’re stronger together” or “There’s been peace in Europe ever since and we work to keep it that way”. I was then the Head of the UK Delegation to the 47th International Session of the Model European Parliament in Helsinki. Prior to this, I had no experience in seeing the benefits of the EU first hand, other than like anyone else on holiday. It was an eye-opener to say the least. I stayed with a Finnish family, I made numerous long-term friends across the continent and I got invaluable experience in policy-making on a pan-continental level. I am now in a position where I could go to many European cities and have someone meet me. The fact that the EU can allow that to happen, just goes to show its value as it provides you with opportunities you otherwise would not have received.

All of this, however, did not have an emotional connection until I embarked upon my journey back home. I arrived at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport to catch my flight back home and bumped into the German delegation. I wished them well and a safe flight home and we parted ways. I then checked my phone for the time and the date stares right back at me: 11th November 2017. 99 years prior, to the day, our two countries agreed to an armistice that ended the bloodiest war to be seen at that point in time. And then 72 years prior, our two countries were again at the end of a bitter conflict. It then dawned on me. To be able to shake a German citizen by the hand as a friend and an equal just 72 years after the countries’ being embroiled in the depths of a vile war is something powerful. To allow bygones to be bygones for the pursuit of peace in the hope we can improve our futures together; that is what being European is all about. That is why we cannot let it go.

After all, there are six former Warsaw Pact states, who had nuclear warheads on their land pointed at British soil, now in the EU. We no longer seek Mutually Assured Destruction but rather Mutually Assured Development. We must now in the face of populism and isolationism be (as the EU motto suggests) United in Diversity to uphold the values of the rule of law, pluralism, human rights and freedom of expression.

As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Human rights are worth fighting for. Peace is worth fighting for. The rule of law is worth fighting for. As it stands for all these things and more, a European identity for those who want it, must also be worth fighting for. It is a challenge we must accept given the political atmosphere of division we currently find ourselves in inside and out of the Union.

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