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We knew we were joining a Community
15 Feb, 2018

Leavers’ claims that the EU used to be just a free trade area are wrong

Leavers like to say “no-one told us that the EU was more than a Common Market”. It suggests that the EU has changed its essence, or that the electorate was lied to in 1975. It also allows them to justify having had a second referendum after the 1975 vote, while objecting to a referendum once we know what Brexit means. London4Europe Committee member and former senior civil servant Michael Romberg looks at what was known at the time we joined the European Economic Comunity.

Certainly the peace and democracy side of the EU barely features in the debate in the UK. Nor does the idea that the UK is part of the European Project.

However that is not the same as saying either that the predecessors of the EU were only ever a free trade area or that no-one told us that there was more to it than trade.

The Schumann Declaration

The origin and nature of the European Communities is clear. They were set up in the aftermath of WWII to secure peace amongst member states. The Schumann declaration of May 1950 is often taken as the founding document of what is now the EU. It starts with the words "world peace".

The 1971 White Paper on joining the Communities

The opening of the 1971 White Paper shows the origins for the Communities (paragraphs 9+), including: “ 14. The Communities were thus founded to ensure the peace and prosperity of the six member countries … by a gradual elimination of the economic barriers and differences which had divided them in the first half of the century and before.”

Paragraph 15 of the White Paper quotes the 1969 Hague Communiqué of the Six which called for the completion, deepening and enlargement of the Communities and which talks of a Europe composed of states which is “conscious of the rôle it has to play in promoting the relaxation of international tension and the rapprochement among all peoples, and first and foremost amongst those of the entire European continent”. The Communiqué goes on that such a Europe “is indispensable if a mainspring of development, progress and culture, world equilibrium and peace is to be preserved.

Incidentally the case for British Membership of the European Communities (paragraphs 24+) is not different now from what it was then: “The European Communities have been established because the member countries have far more interests in common than differences. Western Europe is one of the great centres of world events, but individually none of its countries is now powerful enough to exert a decisive influence.” And “Our geographical, military, political, economic and social circumstances are so similar to those of the Six, and our objectives so much in common, that it is in our best interest to join forces with them in the creation of a wider European Community of free nations, whose joint strength and influence on the world can be so much greater than that of its individual members. If we remained outside the Communities, we should have to maintain our national interests and develop our national resources on a narrower base. No doubt we could do this; but the task of doing so would impose progressively heavier burdens on us and would become progressively more difficult as European political and economic unity proceeded without us in a neighbouring Community several times our size.

At paragraph 28 the White Paper recognises the Communities’ primary concern with economic policies and looks forward to the broadening of the scope of the Community’s external policies. Paragraph 33 looks forward to working together for our common interests.

Paragraph 37, discussing the alternative of a North American Free trade Area notes that “the six have firmly and repeatedly made clear that they reject the concept that European unity should be limited to the formation of a free trade area.

What did we do in 1973?

To make the point clearly and simply, we left the "European Free Trade Association" to join the “Communities”.

The clue is in the names.

The 1975 Referendum

In 1975 also the Government produced a leaflet for the referendum. It was sent to every household. As important as arguments for economic prosperity were arguments concerning political/military security and food security.

The section on the Aims of the Common Market makes clear that they go wider than trade:

“The aims of the Common Market are:

To bring together the peoples of Europe.

To raise living standards and improve working conditions.

To promote growth and boost world trade.

To help the poorest regions of Europe and the rest of the world.

To help maintain peace and freedom”

Nor is the primacy of EU law a recent surprise

The relevant Wikipedia page explains the supremacy of EU law and refers to a UK court decision that holds that the doctrine of the general supremacy of EU law was well established by the time that the European Communities Act was passed and that therefore Parliament would have understood its existence.

Conclusion

Peace not trade has always been the core of the EU’s mission.

We knew what we were doing when we joined the European peace and democracy project. It was the right thing to do then. It is the right thing to Remain in it now.