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A continental love affair

A continental love affair

Pointed paean to Europe of 'hope and solidarity'

by David Marsh in London

Fri 20 May 2016

Denis MacShane, the former Labour MP and British Europe minister, has a nose and an ear for a good story. At a time when others (myself included) believed the chances of a UK referendum on European Union membership were slim, he spotted the possibility that this could exert a convulsive shock on the British and European system – and wrote a book on the issue in February 2015: Brexit – How Britain will leave Europe.

As the campaign gallops towards the final act, MacShane has produced another book – short, readable and pointed – Let's Stay Together: Why Yes to Europe, demonstrating what he calls his 'love affair' with Europe and why the UK should carry on the community of 'hope and solidarity' after 23 June.

MacShane underlines that the debate is mainly about emotion and judgement rather than hard-and-fast fact. For MacShane, a cosmopolitan and conversational urbanite who can engagingly raise his glass and make rousing political speeches in a profusion of European languages, the continent's appeal lies in the history of peace and co-operation since 1945. In particular, he cites with feeling the freeing of Poland (from which his father hails) and other central and eastern European states after the fall of the Berlin wall.

MacShane approvingly quotes Charles de Gaulle's welcome to the reawakening of free speech after the liberation of Paris in 1944 – even though the General turned out to be no great defender of liberal media when he regained power after 1958.

Minor quibble – MacShane says Paris was liberated by the Free French, whereas he might have mentioned the role of American and British arms. He does however rightly place emphasis on the importance of the EU and Nato working together, saying that Britain's membership of the Atlantic alliance embodies a greater derogation of national sovereignty (for example, the obligation to go to war with any belligerent against a Nato member) than anything in the EU treaties.

As a genial pugilist who enjoyed teasing his rivals, MacShane was regularly given a hard time – greeted by 'an audible hiss and buzz of rage' from the Tory benches – in Commons debates.

With a level-headed style (but not without panache) that protagonists on both sides of the EU battleground would do well to emulate, MacShane eschews rhetorical overkill and keeps his arguments down to earth.

He scotches a few myths along the way.

The phrase to which many Brexiteers take exception – 'ever-closer union' – was inscribed in the preamble to the Treaty of Rome signed in 1957, referring not to states but, more innocuously, to 'peoples'. MacShane reports how, when he was Europe minister, British officials helped remove the essentially symbolic phrase in the European constitutional treaty that was voted down in 2005, but it reappeared in the Lisbon treaty that took its place. 'I am sure none of my conservative eurosceptic friends came up to me to thank me for removing it before 2005, just as I am certain that no Conservative made a fuss when the phrase popped back in 2007.'

MacShane unrepentantly reprints his list of '50 reasons to love the EU', which first appeared in the Independent newspaper in 2007, including such choice findings as 'Making the French eat British beef again' (No.14), 'British restaurants are now much more cosmopolitan' (No.47) and (No.50) 'Lists like this drive the Eurosceptic mad'. Reason No.36 is 'Britons now feel a lot less insular'.

On 24 June we shall find out whether this is true.

This is the second in an irregular series of reviews of books by OMFIF advisory board members on the EU referendum and associated topics. Let’s Stay Together: Why Yes to Europe is published by I.B. Tauris. Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and a Senior Advisor at Avisa Partners. He is a member of the OMFIF Advisory Board.

David Marsh is Managing Director of OMFIF. This is No.63 in the series – the 100th article will appear on 23 June.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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