It was 30 years ago today – 7 February 1992 – that the Treaty of the European Union was signed by 12 EU member states in the Dutch city of Maastricht. The treaty was fully debated and democratically passed by our Parliament in Westminster – as were all the treaties of the EEC/EU during our membership.
The Maastricht Treaty – as it became to be known – changed the name of the European Community to European Union. Exactly the same organisation, with the same principles and organisational goals, but with a new name – European Union.
A phrase also coined by UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who was a passionate proponent of a union European countries and is recognised as one of the 11 founders of today’s European Union.
In May 1948 Churchill said:
“We cannot aim at anything less than the union of Europe as a whole.”
Something precious that the Maastricht Treaty gave to all EU member states was the concept of ‘European Citizenship’.
Expanding ‘free movement of workers’, the new treaty gave citizens of all EU member states ‘free movement of residence’ across most of our continent.
EU citizenship means nationals of member states have the right to live, work, study or retire in any other member state, as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland an Liechtenstein.
There are other benefits too, such as being able to vote and stand in local and European elections of the EU country you move to.
EU citizenship is a wonderful concept that good men and women fought hard to achieve over many decades.
It was not imposed on anyone. It was democratically and unanimously agreed by all the countries of the European Union, including the UK when we were a member.
Brexit means Britons have lost their EU citizenship. For millions of Britons who wanted to keep their right to live, work, study or retire across most of our continent, this represents a huge loss.
To have any layer of citizenship stripped from citizens should be unlawful, especially as the brutal wrenching of EU citizenship from ALL Britons offers absolutely no benefits, none whatsoever, only enormous disadvantages and drawbacks.
But many Britons never fully grasped the value of being citizens of Europe. Maybe many voted for Leave in the referendum without really knowing what it meant.
That’s partly the fault of the official Remain campaign, that chose not to properly explain EU citizenship or the other bounteous benefits of EU membership.
Back in 2013, I penned an article for my blog called, ‘The value of being citizens of Europe’. It was at a time when the Tories were promising a new referendum on EU membership.
‘If you’re a UK citizen confused about the value of EU membership, due to the untruths coming from UKIP and the national press, then just follow the evidence.”
We didn’t know then that within three years Britain would vote to leave the EU in a referendum.
Today, I am republishing my article, as it is perhaps more pertinent now than in 2013.
DATELINE 2013: It’s probably best not to be too entrenched about most subjects. That’s a lesson you learn as you get older. Nothing stays still, new truths are always being discovered, and we should always be prepared to change our minds on receipt of new evidence or superior arguments. On this basis, it’s hoped that science will be self-correcting and that all scientists – without fear of losing face – will willingly amend their views when new proof is discovered.
As in science, shouldn’t it be the same in politics – especially when it comes to the future of the country and its citizens?
In the first, and so far only referendum, on whether the UK should be part of the European project that was then quaintly called, ‘The Common Market’, I voted ‘No’. Back then, I didn’t think the UK should continue with its membership. I was very young, probably stupid, and in any event, I was outnumbered two to one.
Since then, whilst generally proud to be British, the concept and benefits of also being a ‘Citizen of Europe’ have grown on me. I appreciate the idea that I can reside, work, study or retire in any other European Union country. And I enjoy living in a cosmopolitan, global, modern Britain, where other Citizens of Europe can also come here and become useful members of our society, as well as friends and allies.
I can also see the advantages of being part of a Single Market, where there is a level playing field for businesses to transact, without the burden and bureaucracy of customs duties, and multiple standards in manufacturing and services that would make trade so much more complicated and expensive.
I also feel safer being part of the European Union, not only because it’s the planet’s biggest, richest trading community, but because it can transact laws to protect us in ways that a single country acting on its own would find impossible. For example, safety of medicines, protection of the environment, behaviour of multinational companies, dangers of international crime and trafficking, quality of imported products; these are all matters that transcend borders, and require a cohesive, international response of countries working in harmony.
The European Union provides such an established structure for regular collaboration, without having to debate each time where, how and when such international discourses could take place, as used to be the case in the distant past of diplomacy, when there were far less efficient and satisfactory outcomes compared to that of our European Parliament.
I also deeply value the personal protections afforded by our membership of the European Union. European directives, such as the Data Protection Act, came about after the appalling abuses of privacy and personal freedoms during the Nazi and Communist regimes in Europe. These were more profoundly felt by those who were most grievously affected on the mainland of the continent, and sometimes not always so fully understood here in the UK. But as a second-generation Holocaust survivor, I am acutely cognisant of the dark dangers of breaches to personal data and privacy, and again, believe that only Europe-wide laws can be effective for such issues, rather than those attempted at a national level.
Furthermore, I think we’ve become generally richer during our membership of the European Union, despite the huge economic hurdles now facing us, which I believe, naively or otherwise, will be temporary. Back in the 1970s, at the time of our entry to the ‘European’ club and that first referendum, Britain was considerably poorer than now. Regardless of our current ‘mountain of debt’, can anyone name a time in history when, generally, the population has been richer, healthier, more educated or lived longer than now? The country has seen a huge transformation in its standard of living during our membership of the European Union.
Most importantly of all, above all economic considerations, no countries during their membership of the European Union have warred with one another; we’ve found peace. That’s quite an achievement, I believe, when one considers that the planet’s only, and hopefully last, two world wars originated right here, in Europe.
Without being able to enter a parallel universe to see what would have happened, all those years ago, if my ‘No’ vote had prevailed, we cannot be one hundred per cent sure whether the UK would have fared better or worse without membership of the EU. But I suggest it may be a dangerous experiment to play with the future prospects of our nation by leaving the Union now. It would be a one way trip, with no easy opportunity to vote ourselves back in again, if ever.
So, with such heartfelt thoughts, based I hope on seriously considered evidence and arguments, is my mind open to change? Yes it is, of course. Presented with better evidence and superior arguments, I could be persuaded to vote ‘No’ in a possible future referendum, just as I did before. And anyway, I enjoy a good debate, where the arguments are seriously and intelligently considered, with respect, and without personal attacks.
Unfortunately, for anyone who’s read my blogs on this subject, so far that hasn’t happened. For posting on the Telegraph about the EU benefits of the free movement of people, I was called ‘a moron’, an ‘utter idiot’ and told to ‘get medical help’. So much for edifying debate.
I’m also concerned that most UK national newspapers, with a combined readership of 20 millions, appear to be fundamentally against the EU, with almost daily inaccurate reports about the function of the EU, and some actually promoting xenophobia in their attempts to forward anti-EU sentiments. The lack of effective discerning challenge against ‘facts’ being presented by the anti-EU UKIP party is also a source of concern. They say that 75% of our laws now originate from the EU; that the EU is run by people we cannot vote for; that hospital A&E department are overrun because of a rising immigrant population. All wrong, baseless, and without evidence.
So, if we’re to have a debate about the UK’s future in Europe, let’s make it clean, honest, respectful and evidence based. Yes, my mind is genuinely open, and I’m listening, carefully, to both sides of the argument.
▪ Jon Danzig is an independent campaigning journalist and film maker who specialises in writing about health, human rights, and Europe. He is also founder of the information campaign, Reasons2Rejoin. You can follow Jon Danzig on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JonDanzigWrites or Linkedin at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jondanzig/