David Cameron recently told us that the date for the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union will be on the 23rd June. Our history is an important part of British identity and will play a part in the debate in the coming months. In this piece, Philip Freeman, the Campaigns Officer for London Young Labour, tells us that history tells us that we should stay in. Philip also has his own blog which can be found at http://www.leftwardho.co.uk.
Two years ago on Monday, Ukrainians woke up to the news that their president, Viktor Yanukovych, had fled the country secretly after four months of protests on Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets, leaving jobs and family and risking injury and even death to protest against Yanukovych’s corrupt and kleptocratic government, but also to take a stand against his decision to suspend the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, which foresaw greater Ukrainian integration into the EU. It seems odd to Brits that people would actually give their lives for eventual EU membership, and even the most ardent europhile among us would be wary of laying down their life for greater European integration.
Kiev is around 1,500 km away from London, and Ukrainian history and the Ukrainian political experience is very different to ours. Yet there is certainly something that we can learn from the martyrs of the Maidan. As the referendum on Britain’s role in Europe nears, we, as an ex-colonial and ex world power, still very much inflated by our past glories, should take a look at what Ukraine, a country that has been occupied and re-occupied by different empires for centuries, wants from Europe. Ukraine quite clearly cannot resist Russian incursion on its own. In order for progressive change in Ukraine to occur, it must be free from Russian influence, whether it be in the form of corruption, neglect of the rule of law or illegal annexations. This is why Ukrainians look to the EU. They realise that in a world where nation states are far less powerful than they used to be and where sovereignty is now a murky concept they need to club together to defend their interests. Alone, the nations of Europe are almost powerless to resist the interests of international capital, exploitation and militarism. The force of 500 million citizens and the world’s largest economy, on the other hand, has the power to ward off the vultures that threaten our civil society. The EU can clamp down on tax avoiders, can chastise China for dumping cheap goods and, if it got its act together, could force Russia to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. These are all things we cannot do alone. When Brexiters talk about ‘reclaiming sovereignty from the EU’, they fail to realise that an independent Britain would lose more sovereignty and be subjected more international control than under the EU. Furthermore, we wouldn’t have a say in any of it.
Monday marked another important European anniversary. On the 22nd February 1848, the 1848 revolutions, also known as the ‘Springtime of Nations’, started in Paris. It spread across almost the entire continent, from Sicily to Transylvania. Millions of Europeans took to the streets and raised barricades in the name of freedom, democracy and national self-determination. Although ultimately unsuccessful in the short run, the revolutions planted these radical and republican ideas firmly in the political consciousness of an entire continent, and its influences were felt when new nations formed out of dying empires in 1919, when new, social and republican post-war constitutions where being written in 1945 and when Eastern Europe threw off the chains of Soviet repression in 1989. As we go into the referendum we must remember that Europe’s political traditions are rooted in these revolutions. And so the choice becomes clearer and clearer. Either we align ourselves with the most developed, the most progressive and the most democratic alliance in history or we let ourselves drift out into the Atlantic, where we will be battered mercilessly by the forces of globalisation and unchecked capital.
Britain cannot do it alone anymore, whatever ‘it’ may be. Our time as a great power came to end long before anyone of my generation was born. That’s why young people overwhelmingly support the EU. We don’t have the delusions that our grandparents may have about Britain ‘punching above its weight’ or ‘having a seat at the top table’. We want a future in Europe because Europe represents peace, prosperity and a safe haven from the worst excesses of the Great Powers of our time.