“The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples.” This is the first point in Article 3 of the Lisbon Treaty, setting out the aims of the European Union. Those in favour of Brexit suggest that democracies simply do not go to war with each other, but they don’t recognise that the EU has been central to ensuring the peaceful transition to those democracies across our continent.
This week we celebrated Europe Day (9th), marking the famous Schuman declaration in 1950 that set out a vision for Europe that would make war on our continent “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.” Since then, and with the UK playing an important role since joining in 1973, the EU has been performing a vital purpose that other organisations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) cannot – democratic nation building.
To be considered for EU membership, European countries must meet certain criteria. The EU accession process is completely different from NATO requirements for membership, with candidate countries wishing to join the EU requiring progressive democratic reform of the constitution, public administration, and much more. The impact and following through of these reforms are monitored by experts in the candidate countries, as well as in Brussels and elsewhere. Today, we take for granted the successes of this process. We’ve seen countries under previous dictatorships or authoritarian rule transitioning to democracies that enshrine human rights, the rule of law, and the right of every citizen to vote. With its enlargement in the 1980s to Greece, Spain and Portugal; the European Union consolidated democracy in these former fascist dictatorships. The later enlargements in 2004 and 2007 also saw us secure democracy in 10 former communist countries following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“Arguably one of the greatest recent successes has been the brokering of peace between Kosovo and Serbia. In 2013, the EU brokered the Brussels Agreement on the normalisation of relations between the two countries, which had previously had a tense relationship ever since the Kosovo war in 1999, with Serbia up until this agreement failing to respect Kosovo’s independence. Both nations see the EU as a common focal point to work towards, allowing the EU to bring them together and reconcile their differences that had existed since the Yugoslav wars. And since 2008 the EU has also maintained a Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, further helping this young country’s democratic transition. In recognition of our recent history, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee said its decision was based on the stabilising role the EU has played in transforming most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace. In a time when far right populism is increasing in some states, and with climate change predicted to exacerbate future crises across the globe, pulling out of arguably the world’s most successful peace project would put Britain on the wrong side of history.
Twenty-eight countries sharing sovereignty for the betterment of all their citizens – that’s what we can use as the best weapon against todays creeping Nationalism. That’s part of the European Union winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and that’s what we’re fighting for on 23rd June.