How short are our memories! How quickly things change, for the worse as well as the better. How rapidly we forget how things once were.
Just seventy years ago, Europe lay in ruins after the second most bloody and destructive war in history. Poverty and austerity predominated, people died from starvation and the cold, and economies were destroyed, dependent on American aid for their survival.
Yet within five years, the French and Germans, recognising that war was caused by economic and national rivalries, reached out to each other and formed the European Coal and Steel Community, the foundation for the EU, in 1951.
Just forty years ago, Spain and Portugal were fascist dictatorships, their peoples sunk in poverty and oppression. Greece was a military dictatorship where 3,500 people were detained in ‘torture centres’ and basic civil rights obliterated.
Just 25 years ago, Germany, like the rest of Europe, was still divided, and walls and fences were there to keep people IN the communist tyrannies, not to keep refugees out. What are now EU countries like Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary were still controlled by the Soviet Union.
Just 20 years ago, the Balkans were riven with civil war and there was genocide on Europe’s doorstep.
We now take it for granted that today, there is a European Union of 28 states, embodying ALL of these once divided regions. The old Iberian dictatorships are thriving democracies with prosperous and growing economies. despite the nightmares of the 2008 international banking crisis.
A united Germany which transformed its impoverished and crippled eastern sector in only 20 years at a cost of 2 TRILLION euros, now sets an example to the rest and drives the changes.
The other eastern European states, such as Poland, enjoy growth rates reaching 3.5%, and they have been transformed into modern democracies with growing prosperity.
Once war torn, Croatia is now an EU member and Bosnia has applied to join.
While NATO may have defended us from the Soviet threat and acted as the nuclear shield during the darkest days of the Cold War, it was NOT Nato which brought these once warring countries together into a single economic union, nor was it Nato which brought once authoritarian dictatorships in Europe into the fold of democracy and economic revival. That was and continues to be the EU.
But look again at the time scales above. They are short. Things change rapidly. It is so easy to discount the achievements and take all for granted.
Whether we speak of 70, 40, 30 or 25 years, countries which are today friends co-operating with common goals for growth and prosperity, could so easily revert to being enemies, using their economic and military power against each other.
All wars begin with nationalistic economic rivalries, and those who so willingly and eagerly pursue the ‘Leave’ option in Britain, dismiss ther lessons of history at their peril.
Once you turn your back on economic and political co-operation and believe instead that only a narrow, selfish, nationalistic interest is our ‘better future’, do not be surprised if others follow down the path to disaster.
Who can say what our world, and our Europe would be like in 25, 30 or 40 years if we take this path? Everything that has been achieved could unravel so rapidly and return us to the days of the 1930s.
Staying in Europe is about more than so called bureaucratic regulation, more than reclaiming an imagined lost ‘sovereignty’, more than even fears of immigration; it is about our future and the kind of world we hope that our children and children’s children will live in where they can hope to be free, safe and secure.