At the heart of the European Union lie the culture and common values of each of the the participating nations, including the UK. It is an integration forged out of the fires of two world wars, and it was the vital intention of the founding fathers of the Union that such conflicts should never happen again. Despite what the British popular press may have you believe whilst the debate over “Brexit” rages, this European project has, thus far, been very successful in creating and maintaining the security and peace enjoyed by its citizens since the end of World War 2.
In 1963, Charles de Gaulle of France signed a treaty with the German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, binding their nations together in a cooperation to form a Europe free from the stains of nationalism. Some twenty years later, Francois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl extended this mutually beneficial agreement in the Maastricht Treaty, to which the UK signed up, and which created the modern EU.
Today, Europe and the whole of the Western Alliance faces appalling problems; sectarian war in the Middle East, a resurgence of Russian nationalism in Syria and along its own western borders, and an unsustainable influx of migrants. Neither is there any official European foreign policy to help find solutions, or any integrated European army to police eastern borders.
For all its current difficulties, the EU remains a force for stability, embodying the ideals of law and the values of the European Enlightenment. It is this stream of historical experience (hard won over three centuries) in which the UK was a leading intellectual force, which should indicate hesitation and caution in a vote to exit Europe, to at least think carefully before casting a vote.
David Cameron’s hardest battle is yet to come, though the early skirmishing is already taking place. He has to persuade large swathes of a sceptical public and a hostile press that the concessions he won at Brussels in February were actually worth anywhere near enough to warrant our remaining part of the union, as he suggests. Ultimately it boils down to one question, though: Are we, at this point in our history, prepared to risk isolation and the break up of the UK, when we have so much to lose in terms of respect, influence, trading advantage and cultural links to the continent? We should not forget how easily nations can slip into war in the absence of solidarity with others who share a common heritage.
Whatever decision we make, it is one we will have to live with for a long time.
Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.