What have the Romans, sorry the EU, done for us?

by Alan Wheatley | 08.06.2016

Monty Python got the debate on Brexit right in Life of Brian. Reg, the Judean rebel leader played by John Cleese, becomes exasperated when his comrades unexpectedly reflect on the benefits of Roman rule.

“All right, but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?” he asks.

Back comes the answer: “Brought peace.”

For Rome, read the European Union. Yes, the EU has plenty of faults, but we have come to take its benefits for granted. We do so at our peril.

Economics and immigration have figured prominently in the debate. But these are second-order questions. They overlook the fundamental reason why the European Economic Community was set up: to bind France and Germany together so closely that another war between them would be impossible. And so it has proved.

Brexit would not sow the seeds of a new conflict. But it could trigger demands from other member states that gradually cause the EU to unravel like a skein of wool. Whipped up by the refugee crisis, nationalism and xenophobia are already rumbling too loudly for comfort in some corners of the continent.

Brexiteers with short memories also forget the critical role the EU played in embedding democracy and human rights in southern Europe after the collapse of right-wing dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece. Similarly, the EU – and in particular Margaret Thatcher – deserve credit for entrenching free elections, the rule of law and largely open markets in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Europe’s hinterland is immeasurably more secure now that the Soviet Union’s former satellites look to Brussels instead of Moscow, and to NATO instead of the Warsaw Pact. Since the Balkan wars of the 1990s Croatia and Slovenia have become EU members and others are queuing up to join.

So I will vote to remain because the crumbling of the EU could upset the peace and stability that my generation, like Reg’s rebels in Life of Brian, takes for granted. As former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has reminded us: “The evil spirits of the past have by no means been banished; they can always return.”

This article is a shortened version of one which appeared on InFacts and in the Telegraph.

Edited by Michael Prest