By Peter Sain Ley Berry, Treasurer of the European Movement Council of Wales
Back in the 1980s, when I first started to be involved in European matters, there was much talk on the Continent of the ‘European Construction’ sometimes referred to as the ‘European Project.’ That there is less talk of this today in no way reassures those who think that Europe has already gone too far or fear that Britain will be dragged against its will and lose its identity in some sort of ‘superstate.’ Despite these doubters and naysayers the European Construction is nevertheless there in the minds of most people even though at times like the present it becomes less of a focus of people’s attention as issues like migration and the British renegotiation crowd out wider thoughts.
At the beginning the European Construction was as much a physical as a metaphorical construction. Even as late as the 1960s much of Europe still lay in ruins; as late as the 1970s democracy’s writ ran in less than half the continent and it took until the early 1990’s to free the Continent from Communism. The European Construction was therefore a project not only to rebuild Europe physically, but politically, too, embedding the primacy of democracy and recognising that while each of our states was different to the next, and while we lived in an amalgam of languages, customs and cuisine, we shared a common heritage and all had known war, partition, displacement, refugees, inflation, rationing and so forth. Surely, the cry went up, there must be a better way.
And so the desire to move collectively away from that black grimness and toward something that better reflected the great traditions of European civilisation was born. There was no final plan, or confidence that we would ever arrive there. But we could nevertheless travel hopefully, a step at a time. We could sense the direction without being asked. And we were united by the recognition that by acting together we could achieve more, both internally and externally than we could if we all went our own separate ways.
This was the European Construction; this was project hope. The great issues facing the world were global in scale and needed to be tackled from a Continental perspective. This is the full sea on which – at least until the date of the referendum – Britain is embarked.
We who have been part of this Construction for the past 43 years and who have given
Europe so many things, not least the Single Market, will be sorely missed should we leave.
We have been a powerful engine, not just in our own cause, but providing the energy and political drive to secure EU membership for the new states beyond the original borders.
The bell will toll if Britain leaves but it will not toll for Britain alone, it will toll in each and everyone of the remaining member states who fear that a leg has been kicked away from their stools, and for a reason no one can quite understand. No one compels us to stay on the bus, but few can understand why we should want to get out with our heavy luggage and walk. Few will have much goodwill either to a false friend who causes trouble and deserts at a time of crisis, Crisis over migration; crisis over Russia.
The European Construction will not stop if Britain leaves but it will change direction.
Germany will become more dominant, whether the Germans want this or not. The Union
will become less stable less able to take a consistent position in world councils. And what will Britain get in return?
After hubris comes nemesis.