I remember one summer visiting Cleveland, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie. This is a city with more than its fair share of problems as heavy industry hit the skids in the US. Wondering around there was reminders of a mighty prosperous society forged from steel and railways. Today, there are attractions like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a some turn of the century buildings open to the public. When I was there the centre of the city was taken over by the US Marines on a recruiting drive. The central square looked like a film set for a super hero movie.
Getting to the point, one of the buildings I visited was the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. A glorious fortified building of style and elegance from 1923. Closing my eyes, I could imagine gangsters with violin cases standing just across the street. Today, in the building are museum exhibits that take visitors through the history of the US Federal Reserve. Until that point I had no idea that attempts to unify the currency in the US had failed and been restarted so many times. The birth of the US currency was a roller-coaster ride of mammoth proportions. In fact, the US currency area was plagued with financial crises until the New Deal came along.
Why am I telling you this story? Its because I’m fed-up with the constant assertion coming from doomsday merchants of fear saying that the Euro is a failure. British media rarely if ever challenge this bland assertion. Sure there has been immense challenges and almost disastrous moments. True that some smaller Euro countries had to be rescued when a world recession hit but that’s the role of a central bank.
Now, having read the history of the US experience I’d say we are well on the road to success in Europe – in the long term. Europeans did not copy the US. European learned from what has gone before. Building for the long-term does secure the best future.
With four decades of working on projects that have been European in nature, I can say that my enthusiasm for Europe is practical, pragmatic and realistic. No way am I looking at the European Union through rose tinted glasses. Being 12 years old in 1972 the fact that we joined the Common Market really didn’t register with me. I expect the adults around me were discussing what this would mean for farming but I was more interested in NASA’s Apollo space flights.
From the 1980s, I’ve had the pleasure of working on numerous major aerospace projects. From this vantage point I can see the great strength of collaborative working in Europe. It’s not an accident that European nations have come together to work together. It’s been a determined effort maintained over a long time with the agreement those involved.
There’s a mix of inter-governmental organisations and the European Union. Certainly Europe is complex. This aspect frightens some people but the reality is that complex arrangements work. The benefits of having a harmonised system of rules for aviation are enormous. There’s a reduction in costs. There’s a level playing field. There’s a common level of safety.
The idea that the UK should move forward for four decades and then step backwards into who knows where is beyond my comprehension. In June, nevertheless without a vote to stay in the EU so much will be thrown away needlessly. Let’s not let that happen.
Priti Patel Conservative MP for the Witham in Essex did such a poor job for the LEAVE campaign this morning on Radio 4 that we should hear more from her. Thank you BBC for asking the real questions like: what Regulations do you mean? The MP waffled on repeating campaign slogans devoid of facts. Sweeping unsubstantiated statements flowed like a landslide. This was a real car crash of an interview. She obviously though just saying “boo!” to the EU on the morning radio would be enough.
For a Government Minister to call for an audit of regulations AFTER the UK left the EU is unbelievable. If this was the main issue for small businesses an audit of regulation should have been done years ago! I suppose if a post-Brexit audit found there wasn’t a problem then the UK would reapply to join the EU. Also, crazy was how when referring to ‘working time’ she said; Europe has done nothing for worker’s rights. However, it was the European Working Time Directive to which the Minister referred.
In the EU, the concept of a “level playing field” is good for business both large and small. It means that if a British mom and pop business has to do something (e.g. packaging, hygiene, waste disposal) then a Dutch, French, Italian, Polish or Germany business has to do the same. Access the single market means a small business can grow to become a large business. If you want proof just look at businesses like LUSH or the Body Shop. Started as small businesses now having 100s of shops around Europe.
It’s with such ease that we forget the dramatic changes that have taken place over recent decades. Post-war the dividing lines were drawn across Europe. That separation of East and West almost brought us to the point of mutually assured destruction. I remember a conversation with a Belgium colleague who had done national service. The cold practicality of their predicament was haunting. He told me: we knew that if anything happened our job was to stand guard but that within about 5 minutes it would all be over.
Let’s be thankful that a strong desire for democracy and prosperity led to the fall of communist regimes across Europe. The European Union played its part in that transformation. By presenting an example of democratic cooperation it gave the former communist countries hope for the future. The EU provided much needed assistance in rebuilding infrastructure across Europe. Effectively connecting East and West so that we can live and work together.
Driving from Staines to Somerset to Scotland and back is a great way to get a perspective on the great diversity that is the UK. Different landscapes, different histories and different cultures. Our Union is a fantastic mix. It’s a testament to the value of respecting local identity at the same time as being part of something bigger. Not so shocking to make such an observation. I’d like to extend that thinking to Europe. Being part of a union in Europe makes us bigger rather than smaller. Brexit advocate imagine pulling up the drawbridge and hunkering down on this island. I can’t help thinking that this is so unnatural to the British character and experience as to be repulsive.
Reading Michael Gove’s recent speech there was so much of the politicians trick of blaming the bad on “them” and heralding the good as solely being “us”. Then there was the magic that everyday will be Christmas if only we run away from our European Union. Even more unrealistic was the idea that we could independently match the US on research and innovation spending. It’s not that I’m surprised by any of this fear mongering followed by offers of utopia. I just hope that the vast majority of people can see through Gove’s utopia for what it is.
With impending failure looming the referendum LEAVE camp seems to be stepping up the level of abuse and misrepresentation on social media. There’s a never mind the facts attitude. If people don’t agree we will just shout louder. Repeating endlessly statements already proven to be wrong. The problem with this approach to campaigning is it starts to become bullying and intimidation. Maybe that’s the intention but surely one of the British qualities that are so often promoted is that of fair play. Expression like; it’s just not cricket remind us that so many of the rules and regulations of sport originate from the UK. So, are the LEAVE campaigners undermining the very thing you might expect them to be defending? I do care about the facts. I believe we should argue with dignity and humility. And if statements are in error or just plain wrong they should be withdrawn.