The EU is important to me because I believe it represents one of the most significant achievements of human history. For the first time, previously waring and generally hostile states decided to put aside historical differences and build something new. Within an increasingly united Europe, trade wars and tariff barriers were to be abolished and political differences were to be settle by consensus.
For the first time in human history, this visionary political entity became, and still is, the only political entity to expand its borders not by conquest and coercion but by consent. For the first time in history, bordering states voluntarily applied for permission to be allowed to join an expanding super-state and for the first time the superstate could insist on the candidate states meeting minimal standards of democracy, human rights, consumer protection and governance as a condition of entry.
Because of this change and as a result of this new vision, a continent previously subject to periodic bouts of destruction and war, or conquest and fights for liberation, has seen seventy one years of continuous peace. Borders, where just a hundred years ago millions of young men - the flower of European manhood and a significant part of its productive labour force - were slaughtered in grotesque killing contests over a few yards of desolate wasteland, are now open and can be crossed unhindered, marked now only by a change in the language on the road signs.
Fifty years ago three European states were subject to Fascist dictatorships and eleven were subject to Communist dictatorships. None of these states had democratic elections, none had the basic human rights we now take for granted, none had freedom of speech and their news media were kept under close government control. All of these states had secret police forces establish for the sole purpose of suppressing dissent and maintaining single-party rule by a self-appointed political elite. Some of them had nuclear weapons pointing at other European states!
Now, as a condition of entry, all these states have parliamentary democracies, all their citizens enjoy full human rights in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights with the right of appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, and all have freedom of speech and a free press. No EU member state can take the life of its citizens!
This was and is a bold vision with the potential to spread peace and reconciliation between hostile states. The former causes of political tension such as the status of disputed territories like Alsace-Lorraine, Schleswig-Holstein, Walloon and Flemish areas of Belgium, have receded into folk memory. No-one would now seriously consider a war between France and Germany over the status of Bosnia, a German and Russian dictator agreeing to divide Poland between them or a German occupation of the Czech Republic to protect the rights of German-speaking citizens. These things are now inconceivable in a united Europe.
Because these things are inconceivable, my father's generation was the last generation to be offered up as sacrificial cannon fodder to settle a European dispute. A continent whose ruling classes saw their peasantry as disposable assets now tries to ensure working people enjoy the fruits of their labour with decent working conditions, fair wages, the right to live in peace, free to pursue happiness in whatever way they so choose and free to live and work anywhere in a united Europe. A Europe which just eighty years ago saw religious genocide on an industrial scale now guarantees religious freedom and freedom from discrimination for minorities.
The European Union has give Europeans the longest period of peace, the longest period of sustained economic growth, the highest level of general prosperity, the highest levels of general and higher education for our children and the hghest levels of consumer and environmental protection in our collective history.
These things were worth working for. They are things our children and grandchildren have a right to expect us to leave for them.
They are things worth voting for.