Our future is with Europe

April 23, 2003 ,

PETER Hain has been front-page news lately but not for his Welsh duties. He has been vilified for opposing a referendum on the Convention on the Future of Europe.

Until recently, few people were aware of the convention. Its purpose is to write down the rules for the European Union now that 10 new countries are joining the existing 15.

For most Euro-sceptic newspapers, this represents a monstrous betrayal of British liberty. In truth they are using a perfectly reasonable document which respects national sovereignty, regional identity and individual freedom, as a cover for their real desire to pull Britain out of the EU. There has only ever been one UK-wide referendum. It was called by Harold Wilson in 1975 when the public voted to stay in the Common Market.

Of course, in Wales we had referendums in 1979 and 1997 on devolution, as did the Scots. Local referendums on Sunday opening were once quite common in Wales, and more recently Northern Ireland voted on the Good Friday agreement, and English cities have voted on whether to have elected mayors. But at a UK level, the 1975 vote remains unique.

In the early 1990s, there was a mighty row about the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union as we now know it. But there was no referendum. The problem with referendums is they have to be boiled down to a single question. They are not very good for establishing the details of a treaty. Withdrawing from the EU would be a disaster for Britain. Most of our trade is with Europe.

There is an even bigger picture to consider. In the last century millions of people died because of national rivalries in Europe. We have just marked the 60th anniversary of the last wartime bombing raid on Cardiff.

The EU is a force for democracy and peace. Consider the facts. 30 years ago Greece, Spain and Portugal were military dictatorships, now they are stable democracies. The impending membership of Cyprus is beginning to bring unity to that divided island. We should celebrate the expansion of the EU.