There was a full house in Barley when the WI invited Michael Hindley, a previous MEP for the area, to speak on “Understanding the EU”.
He said that the original idea had come during the Second World War. In 1943, Jean Monnet became a member of the French Committee of National Liberation, the de facto French government in exile in Algiers. It was at this time that he first became explicit about his vision for a union of Europe to regain and retain peace. During a meeting of this committee, Monnet declared: “There will be no peace in Europe, if the states are reconstituted on the basis of national sovereignty. The countries of Europe are too small to guarantee their peoples the necessary prosperity and social development.”
He wanted to avoid a repeat of the economic and political collapse which in Germany had allowed the rise of Fascism and in Russia the rise of Communism.
The first step was in May 1950, when Robert Schuman, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs proposed to place all German-French production of coal and steel under one High Authority. The idea behind this was that if the production of these resources was shared by the two most powerful countries on the continent, it would prevent any future war. As the governments of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg replied favourably, this declaration laid the basis for the European Coal and Steel Community, the predecessor to the European Economic Community and subsequent European Union.
As the UK chose not to join at that time, by the time Edward Heath decided to join, the “rules of the club” had already been put in place and he had to accept them.
Moving to the present time, Mr Hindley outlined those areas over which the EU has no power: finance, taxes, defense, education, the NHS and social services.
After he had answered many questions he was thanked for honestly stating his own position and explaining both sides of the referendum debate.
The evening ended with the judging of the Easter Craft competition by visiting members of Downham and Fence WIs. The winner was Jeanette Fagan with her Easter willow wreath.