Tomorrow, events will take place across the European Union (EU) to mark Europe Day, an annual celebration of peace and unity across the continent.
Thousands of people will take part in visits, debates, concerts and other events to herald the day, raising awareness of the EU. Celebrations will understandably be more muted here in the UK, as we embark on the process of leaving the EU. However, in Edinburgh for example, a Europe Day service was held at St Giles’ yesterday and tomorrow a series of street stands, along with music and dance in Castle Street will promote the EU and its achievements.
Because the UK is working through the Brexit process, does not mean we should not celebrate the EU and its many achievements, the foundation of which the UK played a major role in. Indeed, even after we have left it we still of course have to develop strong relations with the EU, our major trading partner.
The day is also known as Schuman Day, commemorating the declaration 67 years ago on May 9, 1950 by the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, which marked the first move towards the creation of the European Union. Europe had just come out of the Second World War, a conflict that had nearly destroyed the continent and split it between two spheres of influence.
In a desire not to repeat such destruction, there was a great deal of momentum towards European co-operation, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable. Wartime British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, standing next to Robert Schuman, had called for Franco-German reconciliation in a united Europe in a speech in July 1946.
Since the Schuman Declaration nations across Europe have forged closer links and come together to reach common solutions to common problems, keeping the peace and enhancing our collective security. While the EU may not be perfect, there is no doubt that it has exerted a positive influence on our lives and made us the richer for it.
The EU gives the freedom to live, study, work or retire in 27 other EU countries and many Scots have taken advantage of this. EU migration to our shores has in turn benefitted our economy and society, clearly evident here in Edinburgh.
Being able to trade with our EU partners via a single market of over half a billion consumers, unfettered by tariffs and trade barriers, is essential to many Scottish businesses. Indeed, the EU accounts for almost half of Scotland’s international exports.
Guaranteed rights to paid holidays; maternity and paternal leave; equal treatment for part-time and agency workers – all these are contingent upon our EU membership. We also enjoy considerable consumer protections such as the right to refunds on goods, lower mobile phone roaming charges and travel protections, to name but a few.
Co-ordinated action among 28 member states ensures cleaner water and beaches, cleaner air, tighter controls on new chemicals and reduced waste. Being part of the wider EU is also the best way to address the major global challenges we face – climate change, the threat of terrorism, energy security, the migration crisis and economic problems.
It does no harm in being reminded what we have enjoyed, the precious gift of more than 60 years of peace, stability and prosperity in a previously war-ravaged continent.
The EU has on the whole proven to be a success story, and by leaving we are rowing against the tide of history, a move we will, I predict, end up bitterly regretting.
Alex Orr is Policy Adviser at The European Movement in Scotland