WITH far-right movements across the Continent on the rise, we must heed the lessons of history, says Gordon Munro.
THE question we face is more difficult than it appears and has more depth than we currently have heard in the debate to date. It is not about the Tory Party leadership nor is it about how racist we are as a nation; it is whether we remain or leave Europe. The other question we should be asking as we make up our minds is why being part of Europe matters to citizens. The experience of Edinburgh is one that shows why we should remain.
In 1947 this city reached out internationally by creating a Festival to “. . . provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit . . .” . It did it by example in its first year by reuniting the Vienna Philharmonic with their conductor Bruno Walter who had left Europe after the Nazi occupation of his homeland. This connection with Europe has built to the extent that the city population doubles to nearly a million who enjoy all of Edinburgh’s festivals and these guests are primarily from Europe. We learn from each other and we benefit from that exchange of culture’s and views.
Another way we benefit is through education. Edinburgh University is world-leading and Europe plays a part in building that reputation. EU grants of more than £31.5m help the university lead in research. The Erasmus study programme sponsored by the EU provides study/work exchange visits whose aim is to encourage learning from each other. EU industrial companies donate over £2.1m to the university to aid its work. Again we learn from each other and Edinburgh benefits from that exchange of ideas.
The European Union has also benefited workers. The TUC has published research that shows that a typical worker would be £38 per week worse off if we vote to leave. The so-called “red tape” from Europe that some talk about are regulations that make a difference on workplace rights such as: maternity and family-friendly rights; equal pay; tougher health and safety laws; stronger anti-discrimination protections; equal treatment for part-timers, agency workers and temps; rights for workers outsourced or at risk of redundancy; limits on working time; and guaranteed paid holidays.
That does not mean that there are not issues that Europe needs to address. The treatment of the elected government of Greece by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF gave serious pause for thought. These institutions, who forced decisions on the Greek government rejected twice by their electorate have seen real pain inflicted on Greece. Pain which is causing real social harm and unrest. But in the final analysis the Greeks still chose to remain in the euro.
Why? Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, puts it well in his book And The Weak Suffer What They Must. Opposite him on the Greek parliament benches were Golden Dawn, an openly Nazi party. In France they have Marine Le Pen and Front Nacionale. In Italy they have Umberto Bossi and the Northern League. In Austria the extreme right-wing Freedom Party nearly took the presidency. Yanis Varoufakis posits the thought that the resurgence of the right in Europe and in its parliaments contains real dangers and similarities to events that led Europe to tear itself apart twice in the last century in wars that caused havoc in the world.
Too far? Here is an open letter to UK voters from the German author Timur Vernes recently published in the Guardian and worth repeating in full: “Dear Britain, Let’s keep it short: what is the EU? It’s the consequence of the Second World War. It’s the attempt to make things better. Even if you don’t always get the best result for yourself. Many, throughout the whole of Europe, don’t share this ambition any more. That’s understandable, for 60 million people had to die before most found it a worthwhile ambition. And that was a long time ago. Everyone has the right to wait until this view comes naturally to them. But they should know this: next time they won’t get it so cheaply.”
The Greek professor and the German author share the same fear. We would do well to heed their warning. Remain and reform. We are all Europeans.
Gordon Munro is Labour councillor for Leith