Opinion: Europe and peace – the ties that bind and the dangers of the rise of the right

There are many sound economic reasons why Britain’s continued membership of the EU is good for our country and for Europe itself. We are already making that case as the Euro elections approach in May 2014 and must continue to do so.

However, there is one over-riding reason that is barely getting mentioned as the whiff of ‘little-Englander patriotism’ in euro-sceptic campaigning risks once again becoming the stench of right-wing xenophobic nationalism in Britain and across Europe.

The historical development of the EU has provided the ties that bind European nations together in peace after a century of vicious blood-letting, including the industrialised mass exterminations of Jews, Romani, homosexuals, the disabled and those who defended liberty and democracy.

Twice Europe has plunged the world into war: twice we have sent a generation of young people off to fight. Just 70 years ago we were coming to the end of WW2 in which 55 million Europeans died in 6 years and the continent faced starvation. The chimneys of extermination camps’ crematoria still smoked as the unprecedented level of brutality reached its crescendo and the fighting ended.

The camps, rapes and murders returned in the 1990s’ Balkan wars. The massacre of 8 000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica was in 1995.

The 1930s saw supporters of democracy fail to politically defeat the rising tide of rightwing extremism during one period of austerity. We must not repeat this failure again as the classic symptoms of scapegoating and demonisation appear in the rhetoric of UKIP/Tory campaigns and their media supporters.

Our current position of ‘recognising the public’s concern about levels of immigration’ worries me. Only 0.28% of the UKs population are EU migrants in 2013. The increasing focus of anti-immigrant legislation on non-EU migrants and illegal immigrants begin to have a disturbing feel of unintentional, low-level racism and outright bullying. The public is now totally confused between illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, non-white British citizens and fellow EU workers. Aspects of the implementation of recent changes to legislation on immigration and the Tory ‘pro marriage’ proposals would seem to be producing results that no Liberal Democrat should ever attempt to defend or condone.

It is clear that our European campaign for 2014 must address the issues that are the top concerns of the electorate. Our campaign on Jobs and the importance of the EU for future sustainable growth and economic prosperity is viable and has voter purchase. However, we must not be afraid to face up to the challenge of populist anti-immigrant disinformation, and not compromise our position as European internationalists.

Europe’s record of genocide and violence is appalling. The EU, whatever its faults and its undoubted need for continued reform, helps hold us together in peace.

We have a duty to inform the country of the dangers of UKIP/Tory anti-EU propaganda and their focus on ‘levels of immigration’. They should beware the superficial smiles of Nigel Farage and those who argue for a weakening of the EU.  History argues differently.

* Ian Jones is the Chair of North East region Liberal Democrats

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9 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Dec '13 - 9:54am

    I agree social ties between nations mean war is less likely. The European monarchs of past knew this, which is why they all started marrying each other! The EU helps build these social ties.

    I don’t agree with overly bashing UKIP though, a controversial view, but a personal one.

    Thanks for the article, it was a welcome reminder of the horrific wars of the 20th century, including the Balkans war, which I don’t know enough about.

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Dec '13 - 9:55am

    Thank you for the most important post I have read on here. What a that pity your party cannot clone you. You might win an election outright. I would vote for you on the basis of this post alone.

    Many of us are feeling an increasing unease at the way politicians are allowing the Daily Mail , Express etc., to shape the arguments. Myths are allowed to become unchallenged facts as politicians chase the populist vote.

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Dec '13 - 10:17am

    @ Jayne Mansfield
    I had a ‘senior moment’, and could not remember one of the examples, I intended to give.

    David Cameron is panicking right, left and centre introducing measures that in my opinion fuel the idea of EU immigrants as a problem. Last night on the news, Jonathan Portes National Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, described these measures as , ‘a phantom measures to combat a phantom problem’. People coming to Britain are entitled to benefits from their own country for the first three months. Why didn’t I or others know that? Why were we not told?

    Also on the news were an admirable couple picking sprouts on a farm near Hull. The farmer, insisted that he could not get British labour. without EU labour, the industry would shrink. In fact, the woman, an engineering graduate, when arguing that, she and her partner were not taking jobs, pointed out, that there were still many jobs going begging and that they would love British to come and work beside them.

    The couple had, worked such long hours that they had bought a house in Hull- so they had not only taken ‘our’ jobs, but also one of ‘our’ houses. I want people like this in my country. I admire them.

  • Michael Parsons 19th Dec '13 - 11:32am

    I used to think the EU offered us economic gain; but now I have doubts made stronger by the euro and its straight-jacket policy, that denies citizens the right to their own exchange and deficit decisions no matter how grave the situation, and which we have already managed to avoid but somehow still try to comply with.
    But two things stand out: First, the unqualified freedom of capital flows, unleashing the vulture funds and effectively preventing policies that would make payment of corporate tax no longer voluntary [there is a big Coalition smokescreen about this in terms of debates on “lowering” corporate tax rates to compete with Ireland, when in effect no tax is paid at all!] And second, freedom of movement of labour – not just licences to reside and trade, or encouragement of new industry, but of all labour; this gives rentiers the whip-hand over workers and producers in terms of driving down wages, worsening conditions of employment, destroying social legislation and avoiding even the low “minimum wage” guarantess [which sleepy old Vince is desperately foot-dragging over, by making remedies too complicated]. Outshot? the bankers, the oligarchy, are free to strengthen the supremacy of an elite of consumption, (even downto enjoying cheap sprouts picked by engineering graduates?) as against one of production. So perhaps better out?

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Dec '13 - 1:55pm

    @ Michael Parsons
    As some one who in my youth did seasonal pea picking and potato picking, I don’t want cheap sprouts, I want sprouts!
    And it seems that local labour no longer want that work.

  • So Ian, given you want to prevent an occurence of the mistakes of the 30s presumably you want the end of the Euro? Fixed exchange rates played a major role in the failures of the 30s. Now, this is a ridiculous argument, we should assess the Euro on its own merits, but it’s in essence the same argument you are making.

    Euroscepticism and xenophobia are correlated, but that doesn’t mean you can use the fact that some eurosceptics happen to be xenophobes to argue that euroscepticism will lead to a return to war in europe. You talk about austerity leading to extremism, but it’s the “good europeans” who are imposing austerity on Italy and Greece and Spain – not UKIP and the Tories.

    Also what’s going on here: “Only 0.28% of the UKs population are EU migrants in 2013” – it’s not clear exactly what you are talking about, but on a plain reading that’s less than a tenth of the actual figure: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign-born_population_of_the_United_Kingdom. I would be perfectly happy if the actual number were 10% – and that’s the argument you should be making.

    One of the reasons the public is so confused about the differences between different categories of immigrants is that your side of the debate is just as happy to play fast and loose with misleading statistics as the other side.

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Dec '13 - 4:17pm

    @ Tristan
    So who do ordinary voters like myself turn to to obtain statistics that are not misleading?

    How far can one trust the use of statistics by any politician?

  • @Tristan, how is he playing with statistics? The percentage of people who moved here from the EU and now reside here is statistic he referred to and gave you.

    I am not sure if you even read the statistics which you linked us to (from Wiki, no less), but they are reviewing completely different things and include immigrants from outside the EU, making them completely superfluous for this issue.

  • @Ian, well said; it is sad that people are happily dancing to the same tunes that have been heard far too many times before throughout history.

    Self-preservation, if nothing else, should make people wary of this train of thought, but sadly the problem is a deep rooted one that the political sphere was allowing itself to erroneously use immigration as a scapegoat long before austerity was the talk of the day; however, previously, the political class ignored the dangers this was always going to bring with it at a later date (now) because it was the good times and people were happy enough that a little bit of ‘pandering’ was never going to be a big issue as no one had need to actually ‘do’ anything about it. Now, however, those seeds of doubt that were previously placed there have been allowed to grow like weeds as a period of struggle sets in and people are looking for anyone – but themselves – to blame for their woes.

    If you people that someone or something causes a problem and then that problem occurs, you have foolishly already given them their strawman to blame for the problem.

    Once the problem occurs and they have their strawman engrained into their psyche, it is hard to convince them otherwise; especially when doing so means you have to admit you were lying before.

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