This is the second such referendum in my lifetime. The previous one was about our membership of the European Common Market, or EEC, as it then was. I voted against then, but this time for the EU I will vote to stay in.
I know the European Union is far from perfect, and it needs a lot of reform, such as only one Parliament site instead of both Brussels and Strasbourg, and much more democracy. I see it as a United States of Europe in formation, and many Europeans also want to move forward to ever-closer political union. Britain is holding out against this, but a federal EU is, in my opinion, the only way it can really work with a single currency, the Euro, which must have central control over the economy, including wages and prices. These must be uniform across the EU so there are not huge influxes from poorer to richer areas which impoverishes the poorer areas even further, and can cause problems when too many flood into the richer areas.
As for democracy, we only have to look at the United States of America to see how it might work in a federal EU. Each state of the USA has its own Capitol or legislature and its own local laws. There is therefore a great deal of autonomy. I would be in favor of breaking up the United Kingdom (I’m a republican and can see no place for monarchies in a federal EU) and for England, Scotland and Wales to join a federal EU as separate states with their own legislatures. Northern Ireland should be united with the Irish Republic and join as one state. Indeed if the UK votes to leave the EU it will pose particular problems for people living in the Irish border areas – some have homes which straddle the border, as an Irish friend pointed out to me. Part of their homes would be in the EU and part outside it!
At present the EU is a bit of a mess, but that is to be expected with any federation in the making. The predecessors to the EU were formed after World War II, and part of the motivation was to prevent more world wars starting on our continent. The EU, for all its faults, has introduced a lot of progressive measures such as workers’ rights and anti-discrimination legislation. Britain was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by the EU and its institutions. It is significant that on a visit to Australia in the 1990s I was told by a Sydney resident that Britain was the laughing stock of the civilized world because many of our laws dated back to the Victorian era. This was in particular reference to our laws on male homosexuality which, despite the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, was still only semi-legal with many restrictions. Under that Act males had to be over 21, not in the armed forces, and living in a separate domicile with no other person present overnight on the premises. All ways gay men could meet were still illegal – the charge was ‘importuning for an immoral purpose’ and ‘pretty policemen’ were sent out to entrap gay men and boost police prosecutions. All public displays of affection between two men were also illegal – ‘offending public decency’. This included such things as holding hands or kissing in public. The privacy stipulation of the 1967 Act meant that gay backroom clubs, saunas, etc. prevalent all over Western Europe, Australia and North America were illegal in the UK and were quickly raided and closed down if they opened up, and the people in them arrested and charged. This drove gay men into dangerous cruising grounds where many muggings, queer-bashings and gay murders took place, or into public toilets where they were a nuisance to the general public and where minors could inadvertently stumble upon gay activity or even become involved. I wrote an article in the gay HIM magazine in 1991 saying that Britain needed safe space for gay men away from the general public, where minors would not be admitted, and during the 1990s the police started turning a blind eye to such gay clubs which opened up, a government review was launched on reforming the law and I contributed to that, and then the EU passed legislation which made any form of discrimination illegal, so our government had to fall in line. The gay age of consent was made equal with heterosexuals, as were the privacy laws. Following on from that we got civil partnerships then gay marriage and adoptions. Age discrimination was also made illegal, so the age of retirement for men and women was equalized. All thanks to the EU.
There have been problems with EU countries getting into debt and having to be bailed out, but this would not be a problem in a federal EU. Alabama doesn’t have to be bailed out by California because they have a more or less even playing field; one country with more or less equal prices and wages across the United States, and central control of the economy. We need to move forward to a United States of Europe, and I for one can’t wait to register as an EU citizen.
In any case there is nothing to stop any member state from leaving the EU at any time in the future, or a group of states could break away and form a new federation. For instance a group of EU states, if they felt the EU wasn’t progressive enough, could join together in a new federation with a progressive Constitution.
If Britain votes ‘No’ and leaves the EU we would come even more under the influence of the USA. Already, as a NATO member along with much of the EU, we are dominated by U.S. foreign policy with its interventions in the Middle East, etc. However the EU is becoming more critical and independent of U.S. foreign policy. Outside the EU we are in real danger of becoming even more the de facto 51st state of America, with all that implies.
Our place is in Europe, and we need the EU to become a federation to compete with the United States, the Russian Federation, China, etc. Increasingly these super-states will come to dominate the world scene, and personally I hope one day a world confederation will develop under the auspices of the United Nations with a permanent UN security force to keep law and order and defend human rights everywhere. I see the EU as but the first step in that direction. So I look forward to the possibility of people becoming less nationalistic and eventually world citizens. That’s why I’ll be voting ‘Yes’ in the forthcoming EU Referendum.