by Petros Fassoulas, Chairman of the European Movement UK ///
A lot has been said over the past year about whether there will be a referendum or not, when it will be held and what the outcome might be. If nothing else, the debate has focused minds and has led pro-European in politics, business, academia, the trade union movement and people from every walk of life to come out and speak up in favour of Britain’s membership of the EU.
But irrespective of whether and when a referendum might (or might not) be held, pro-Europeans across the country must continue to make the case for the benefits of EU membership. Not least because the European elections are just a few months away and for the first time in a long time the question of Britain’s EU membership is expected to feature high on the issues to be debated, not just around Westminster but also at the door step.
So how should pro-Europeans fight the European elections (and prepare the ground in case a referendum does take place)? What should be the message, what do we need to pay attention to?
We need a holistic approach; rather than focusing on one thing or another, we must hit all possible notes, because our message needs to be complete and convincing, appeal to hearts and minds, address both the risks and opportunities.
Which is why I believe we must focus on the quartet of “Facts – Emotions – Danger – Hope”. Our message must include all 4, employ them equally and simultaneously, use them appropriately depending on the context and the audience, mix and utilise them together, or separate them and field them side by side.
No argument can be won without the facts, especially when it comes to the advantages that being part of the EU brings, where the facts are overwhelmingly in favour of the pro-European case. Membership of the EU produces economic benefits, increases trade, strengthens our hand globally, not least in relation to trade, gives our companies access to the biggest common market in the world and a global competitive advantage, protects our environment, consumers and workers. Our economic well-being at home and our place on the global stage are intimately linked with our membership of the EU. The facts need to be shouted out with confidence and conviction, communicated vigorously but simply. Numbers and stats matter and have been dearly missed from a debate dominated by myths and lies.
But the facts are not enough. At the same time we must make the emotional case, we need to appeal to the heart, as well as the mind, of people. The British view themselves as a confident, open, entrepreneurial, trading nation, in conversation with the world and in constant pursuit of a better place in it. Membership of the European Union constitutes a very clear and pronounced interpretation of this self-perception. Being in the EU is an expression of what it means to be British.
The EU is built upon fundamental principles such as the respect for the rule of law, human rights, democracy, free markets, pursuing self-improvement and offering solidarity in equal measure. The very things that the British always stood and fought for.
Furthermore, Britain is geographically, historically and culturally linked to Europe. We might not share a land border with our continental neighbours but the gravitational pull of Europe has always linked our fate to that of the continent we lie next to.
We have fought wars against and alongside each other, we have defended together liberty in the face of fascism and soviet communism. Together we have built cross-Atlantic and global institutions, like NATO and the UN and have sought to defend around the world the fundamental principles we, as Europeans, share and hold dear.
Last but not least we share a common culture, from Periclis to Molière, and Adam Smith, from Da Vinci to Wagner and Shakespeare, from Barcelona FC to Ajax and Manchester United. Our collective conscience has been shaped by an education based upon the teachings of European thinkers and the works of European artists, who always travelled across our Continent, shared ideas and ideologies. And scored some goals in the process.
We should also not shy away from highlighting the dangers that lie outside the EU’s exit door. Scaremongering might be the favourite domain of Europhobes but we are fully aware of the dark future that awaits Britain if it was to crash out of the EU. The sky will not fall upon us the day after an exit but such a move will mark the point where the decline will start. The UK outside of the EU will find itself cut off the EU’s single market, needing to negotiate access from a disadvantaged point. It will also have to negotiate a myriad of trade deals with the rest of the world, not from the vantage point of an EU member but as a medium size nation, in the middle of the Atlantic, professing global ambition but cutting itself off a global power. Investors will opt to set up shop at territories within the EU’s tariff-free single market, global trade and environmental deals, dominated by big players, will be beyond our reach, a peripheral currency will be caught between the headwinds of global heavy weights like the dollar, the euro and the renminbi. It will not be the end of the world but it will be the end of Britain as a global power, without an Empire, without the EU, irrelevant for the US and continuously shrinking vis-à-vis continent-sized rising powers like China, India and Brazil.
Our message should also have hope at its core; it must look to the future, offer a vision for what Britain can be like. That vision should be confident and internationalist, one that will utilise the EU as a platform to project Britain’s ambitions to the global stage. It should talk about Britain as an integral part of common European efforts to address cross-border challenges like climate change, the pursuit of growth in a global economy, the demands of demographics and the expectations of citizens. It should offer an alternative to the Europhobes’ isolationist message, who view the world in terms of competition rather co-operation, conflict instead of integration. The pro-European message must be optimistic and speak of a Britain in sync with its neighbours, in line with its partners, inside the EU, influential in the world.
The next few months and years will be important for the future of the country; they will decide our place in the world. The debate upon us is not just about the UK’s membership of the EU; it is about the soul of the nation, its own image of itself. We stand at cross-roads and we have a choice to make. Forward into the future, or backwards towards a past that never really existed. Federalists, europhiles, pro-Europeans, eurorealists, call yourself what you like. But our vision is the same and our mission is common. A prosperous Britain at the heart of a confident EU