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What's the point of the European Union?

Today Catherine Bearder MEP made a speech to members of Liberal Youth at their annual conference.

Please see the full text below:

"Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. When asked to answer the question of "What's the point of the European Union" I hold mixed feelings."

It appears to be an argument that emerged and has continued since long before many of you were born, and in many respects, it is an argument that passionate pro-Europeans like myself and I hope, many of you here, are unfortunately losing."

"I do not need to explain to you that the European Union is not, and never has been, portrayed in a favourable light in the British media, and this has made its way into the British consciousness."

"This is something that my generation of pro-Europeans need to be ashamed of, and is a fight that you, the next generation of pro-Europeans, need to start now. As you're out canvassing or hosting events you need to be armed with the tools to argue the case in favour of this Union, and together we need to challenge head on, this negative attitude that exists within our political parties, our media and our population."

"Although this may seem a daunting task, it is one I am certain you are up to; and, luckily, it is an argument that is very easy to win."

"There are numerous arguments as to the point of the European Union that range from "the benefits of creating the World's largest internal trading Market", "allowing co-operation on international issues such as security and the fight against climate change", to simply, reducing the cost of a text between European countries."

"These are all strong arguments, and ones that can be used to defend attacks the next time you're accosted and questioned as to "why are we wasting our time in Brussels?"

"But, the real argument, and the real reason why I hold such a passion for the ideal of European co-operation is irrefutable. There is also no better time to reaffirm these arguments than now."

"There were two anniversaries this week, one a celebration of a momentous event, one a commemoration of monumental loss. When asked "What's the point of the European Union?" I can think of no better examples than these."

"The original green shoots of a Union of European Countries emerged from the ashes of the second war to engulf the whole continent."

"Churchill, who is often hijacked by anti-European parties in order to invoke some outdated idea of "Britishness" and the fight that they are now starting in Europe, has actually discussed this topic. We Lib Dems don't need to steal the image of Churchill to make political gains, but we can remind people of his words, and when it comes to the issue of a union in Europe, his words are quite clear."

"Speaking in the aftermath of war Churchill said that "if Europe were...united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and glory which it's three or four hundred million people would enjoy." Well, it's now five hundred million and that original argument still remains the strongest one for the existence of a strong union of countries in Europe."

"European history over the centuries is one of conflict, that is, up until the last sixty years. While rows between England, France and Germany have been a feature of EU summits, war between Europe's major powers is now unthinkable. The fact that the two world wars that shaped the last century now seem so remote is, in itself, tribute to a visionary project that has permanently changed the landscape."

"I am a supporter of the "one-seat" campaign, which, for those who don't know, is a campaign fighting to locate the European parliament only in Brussels, to avoid the waste of time and money of moving everything to Strasbourg every five weeks. I recognise the advantages to this, not least because it will save me from the ten hour round trip that I have to make every month!"

"However, I also recognise why the parliament building is there, and the historical significance that that location holds, particularly for the French and Germans. Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace region, and those of you who know your history will know that this is the region which, more than any other, symbolises the titanic and near constant struggle that existed between the main European powers."

"The soil that the MEPs walk on is saturated by the blood of the millions of Europeans who have died fighting each other. The building in Strasbourg is very symbolic. Part of our responsibility is to never forget this."

"But, in the same way that Armistice day acts as warning from history as to the potential of tragedy in a world without co-operation between these countries, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall acts as a beacon as to what is possible through unity."

"For three decades the Brandenburg gate and the wall that ran alongside it, was a symbol of (to steal another line from Churchill) "the iron curtain" that so powerfully divided Germany, Europe, and the World."

"When I visited Berlin last month I realised that the Brandenburg gate has now come to symbolise all that is possible with the ideals that make up the European Union. Most of you are too young to recall the events of twenty years ago, but they couldn't fail to affect those of us watching that night."

"On Monday, in Brussels, I attended an impromptu reception. An email was sent round, as they often are, in the afternoon saying that two MEPs wished to hold a small celebration just in the corridors of the parliament. One was a former East German, the other West. They are two MEPs, now in offices next to each other along my corridor! That was once unthinkable."

"This week has been one of Remembrance. But, for those of us who believe in what the European Union represents, this Remembrance has two sides."

"We not only need to take lessons from history and never forget the atrocities of the last century that played such a part in bringing us together, but we should also celebrate, champion, and remember the potential of what can be achieved. It has brought down walls and unified continents."

"It is this potential that is the real point of the European Union. There is still much to be done, and I hope to be playing my own (small) part in this. We need to remember that I have just been elected to only the seventh parliament of this comparatively young institution which, when compared to the 54 parliaments of the modern UK equivalent, demonstrates where we are in this journey that is Europe. But, I know that what is still to be achieved can only be achieved together, In Union."

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