NOTE: This website was updated 17 April 2018 Links to pages on the old website may no longer work
ECOLOGIST James H C Fenton
TIME TO STAND UP FOR THE EU Note: this was written in February 2016, before the EU referendum Everyone seems to be leaping onto the anti-EU bandwagon and even those who say they are in favour qualify their approval by saying it needs a major overhaul. However I fully support Judith Gillespie in her letter to The Herald of the 29th of January who argues strongly in favour of the EU. Where has all this anti-European rancour come from? Oft-quoted problems with the EU are trotted-out, particularly migration, over-regulation, lack of democracy, and worst of all, the ‘unaccountable Brussels’ bureaucracy’. People speak in generalities about these and, in the current herd mentality of Britain, they are echoed by politicians of all hues, by the press, even the supposedly impartial BBC. ‘There is a need for reform’, is the cry! Facts, indeed any evidence-base, appear irrelevant. I see this emotional, anti-EU rhetoric as a form of peer-group pressure: everyone is doing it, so there must be something in it. It is, if you like, the spirit of the age, not amenable to ratiocination; for at heart, we are not rational creatures but under the thrall of the emotional zeitgeist. In the past it might have witch-burning, anti- papist or reds-under-the-beds, today it is the EU. There are so many positives about the EU that it is hard to know where to start, but history is as good a place as any. Europe over the centuries has not always been a very edifying spectacle, with wars looming prominent. The Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, the Seven Years War and two World Wars, to name but a few. In spite of all this aggression, culturally we in the UK have a lot more in common with our European neighbours than with the other countries of the world. In the past we in Europe have all acted like children who are for ever squabbling and fighting each other. The wars have sapped all the energy, with little left for trying to create a better future for everyone. It was only after the Second World War that the realisation dawned upon nations that ‘togetherness is strength’, that continual squabbling and fighting led nowhere and it was best to work together to achieve common goals. Hence the birth of the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Court of Justice and the United Nations. But our memory is short and, unfortunately, human nature being what it is, it is harder to work together than fight each other, so we are descending once more down the path of least resistance: negative criticism rather than creative problem-solving. Working together means compromise, means giving up cherished positions, a lot of give-and-take, a willingness to see another country’s point of view, and an understanding that your position might not be in the interests of the greater good. Much easier to be the spoilt brat demanding his or her way! Thus the post-war optimism and unity has given way to the ‘each-man-for-himself’ mentality, with fragmentation back into nation states. And it is not only the UK which is pulling up the drawbridge. But surely the lesson of history is that fragmentation leads to eternal conflict?  I find it appalling that we in the UK take pleasure in sitting on the sidelines watching the difficulties of other countries or institutions, such as the Eurozone or migration, instead of rolling up our sleeves and doing our best to help our neighbours. I get the impression that those of a strong Eurosceptic persuasion would get great pleasure in seeing the whole EU collapse just so they could revel in saying ‘I told you so’. What petty-mindedness! But the problems out there are difficult, with no simplistic answers. They can be social, such as the length of the working day or income inequality, financial such as tax havens or fiscal accountability, environmental such as pollution or wildlife loss, agricultural such as food security or disease control, energy such as efficiency or a pan- European grid, or global such as terrorism or migration. We in Scotland and the UK cannot solve these by ourselves, and neither can any individual country. They are trans-national problems which can only be solved by all countries getting round the table and thrashing out solutions. But think what the EU has achieved to date on issues such as these. For the ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ have always been selected as the brightest and best, people with an international outlook and who can horizon-scan and prepare us for the future. For example the EU has led the way for setting the standards for low emission cars:  if it were not for the lobbying by car manufacturers, today we would all have extremely fuel-efficient cars – to the benefit of the climate and us all. Rather than using the term ‘bureaucrat’, I think the term ‘back office support’ better represents what they do: no organisation can manage without such people. And they cannot impose regulation or uniformity: this can only be done with the agreement of the majority of the EU members: and does not the UK believe in democracy? I think the EU has produced immense gains for Europe. Without the EU Directives, would transboundary issues such as water quality, habitat and species loss, air quality and eutrophication (nitrate and phosphate pollution) have been tackled? Surely an independent UK, in seeking to gain a competitive advantage, would be leading a race to the bottom in environmental quality, arguing against these and other ‘regulations’? And what about the Common Agricultural Policy? Would we still have farmers in the less favoured areas of Britain, and food security, without the EU? What is going to happen without the CAP? And the grant schemes such as LEADER and LIFE have surely been beneficial? And whatever you might think about the Common Fisheries Policy, it at least provides a forum for discussing how a global resource best be managed. And the Euro? Any currency has its ups and downs: currently it is down, but has been very successful in the past. Has not the pound shown similar fluctuations? And what is so special about the pound? Certainly a common currency gets around one of the commonest scams in the world today: currency exchange and trading, a parasitic system and a licence to print money. And the idea of a European Defence Force is eminently sensible, defending our common European culture. And was it not the EU arguing for a cap on bankers’ bonuses and the UK government arguing against it? And similarly on working time? And surely passport-free travel is the aim of any civilisation? The concept of border controls and passports is largely a 20th century phenomenon and a regressive step at that. Certainly there are problems to be tackled in this world, indeed there will never come a Golden Age when all our problems are solved. But in these febrile times, a return to a world of fractious nation states would take us even further away from this platonic ideal.
A View from Argyll James Fenton’s perspective on current conservation issues Click here for previous blogs