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‘Far more unites us than separates us’

Submitted by on 29 Sep 2016 – 09:00

Fondly recalling the principles of the Schuman Declaration of the 1950’s, Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP, Member of the Christian Democrats, writes that despite Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, the same needs will unite us more than separate us

Sirpa Pietikäinen

In his declaration for an establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, 9th May 1950, the Luxembourg-born French statesman, Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Robert Schuman stated: “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements, which first create a de facto solidarity.” This statement is now as timely as it was at the time of its first reading.

Despite the fact that the European Community was established on a seemingly industrial and technical way, the underlying reason behind it was to preserve peace and create solidarity amidst diversity. The second important notion is that Europe will not be “finished”, rather it is an ongoing project, which will be formed by each generation at a time.

The European Community later turned into the European Union (EU), and we’ve witnessed several developments that have deepened integration between countries ever since. Time and again, the discussion on the European Union has circulated around petty regulations that make the life of citizens harder, particularly on how jobs get lost because of the single market or lower priced labour coming from other countries. It is true that we still have problems to solve, and there is need to be creative in making fair but enabling rules at the same time.

The core idea of the EU, however, is not outdated despite it sometimes getting buried under the critique. We need fundamental rights for people, equal treatment, social security as well as protection against violence as much as ever. The EU has delivered on all of them, which is demonstrated for example by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation, securing social security rights to all its people, even when moving from one country to another. However, more needs to be done, in order to secure the rights and well-being of all citizens residing in Europe.

Within the past forty years of membership, the United Kingdom has become closely integrated with the other member states in all these sectors. Therefore, it is hard to see how the UK could maintain purely economic relations after it has left the Union. The situation compared to the EU’s free trade partners is dramatically different, since we have generations of people whose lives have been built on both sides of the canal. Many UK citizens will remain living in the EU, and vice versa, so there is a clear need to ensure equal rights to all of them also in the future.

If the UK wants to adopt a model similar to that of Norway, that would be practically easy, but I don’t see what are the economic or political benefits compared to an EU membership, where the country can at least influence the decisions from the inside.

While the future of Britain is unclear at the moment, and it will be for as long as the negotiations on separation haven’t started, we can only know one thing. The EU will continue its way forward, creating more harmonization and policies that unite its countries and people. As the UK has been one of the best examples of a democratic country ruled by liberal values in Europe, the EU would appreciate maintaining close ties with it. We share the same history and cultural heritage.

The most natural way to proceed now would be to activate Article 50 in the European Council, start the official negotiations on the UK’s separation, and to work for a best possible deal for everybody; people, companies and future generations.