This turbulent August reminds us of lessons we learnt long ago

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of PLC.

August has seen the customary lull in day-to-day EU news. We had no such luck on the foreign news front, however. It has been plentiful and ghastly. As we seek to navigate the tensions and turbulence of the fast globalising 21st century world, and before the mundane bickering which accompanies every day EU affairs resumes in earnest, it may be worth reflecting once again on the importance of strength in numbers, argues Sir Colin Budd.

Sir Colin Budd is a former Director General for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ambassador to the Netherlands.   From 1993-95 he was chief of staff to European Commission Vice-President Leon Brittan.
In the UK, some of our wisest statesmen were already pondering these problems more than half a century ago.
Harold Macmillan, writing in his diary in 1960, mused about the risk that we would be caught between a less and less friendly America and the ‘Empire of Charlemagne’.
Jo Grimond, leader of the Liberal party, warned that if we were not very careful we would end up with no special relationship either with Europe or with America.
Alec Douglas Home in 1961 argued that it was “only for the briefest period in our island’s story that we could afford to stand alone in the world”;  that the only way to preserve our independence for the future was “to join a larger grouping”;  and that it was only if similar countries with similar needs and similar interests could combine their negotiating strength that they could protect themselves.
For him, part of the case for UK membership of the EC was “the fact that our ability to go on looking after our own interests depends on the consultations and actions of others which we cannot ignore and in which if we are wise we ought to take part (…) In the world that is evolving (…) it is only as part of a strong and determined Europe that Britain’s own character, personality and individuality can thrive”.
Half a century later, their words look even wiser.   In the era of globalisation, national interests can no longer be protected through national institutions alone.   In an age of growing interdependence, the EU member states are much stronger together, negotiating as a unit of 500 million plus people, and able to compete with the other economic giants of the world, than they would be on their own.
In the 21st century, what matters is the extent to which we can shape the world around us, rather than being driven by events outside our control.   The security of the UK is best served if we are strong in Europe, and wherever possible one of those countries in the driving seat,  since cooperation through the EU enhances our impact on the rest of the world.
Safeguarding the earth’s natural resources, promoting a healthy environment, protecting our citizens against international crime, and success in the fight against terrorism are just some of the things that can best be secured through cooperation across borders.
Every British Prime Minister needs to remember that the duty of every government is to maximize the security and prosperity of its citizens.   Provided we use it to the full, and do not simply sulk and snipe from the sidelines, EU membership is an essential part of fulfilling that duty.