A lesson in missing the point

With the United Kingdom Independence Party’s impressive gains last week in England’s local elections, public focus has turned towards Europe and what it does for Britain. Lord Nigel Lawson is the latest to weigh in, but he (and his critics) have completely missed the point.

Lord Lawson, once a member of Maggie Thatcher’s cabinet, wrote an article in the Times this morning saying that he would be voting against the UK’s membership of the EU in 2017, because being a member is “extremely damaging” to the country. (He’s Nigella Lawson’s old man, by the way – imaginative naming, huh?)

The BBC’s business editor Robert Peston pretty much trashes his arguments, and disagrees with his assertion that British companies want to leave the EU. At some point, I’ll weigh in on this debate, but closer to the vote. For now, I just want to bring your attention to one extremely important point that everybody seems to ignore: the EU is not, first and foremost, about trade.

The EU was a war child. It was born in pieces and officially assembled by the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. But it’s first piece, the European Coal and Steel Community, was founded in 1950, when the bodies of millions who died in the Second World War, and the First not long before it, still haunted the dreams of those who survived.

The European Coal and Steel Community was not founded to make people rich. It was, in the words of its Declaration, a way to make war between France and Germany “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”

French foreign minister Robert Schuman, announcing its creation, said: “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.”

He did not beat about the bush and neither will I. The European Union has successfully stopped Europeans killing each other on a monstrous scale. There’s a very good reason why it won the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

Bottom line: let’s not lose sight of what the EU is really about.

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