Remember pen pals? When I was a kid growing up in Derby, that was the closest anybody ever got to people living in Europe. That and the one girl from my school who went to Spain on her holidays - an exotic place which the rest of us imagined with awe. Then we joined the EEC, which along with so much else brought us prosperity and cheap flights. I'd bet there's not one single kid from my schooldays who hasn't now been to Europe. On holiday, on business, on a trip to their twin town.
I am European to the core of my being. A modern languages graduate, I spent a year on a town-twinning programme in Germany, before hopping on a train to Brussels with a mission to work at the European Commission. I also love Britain, which is why I eventually came home to live in London. But that we might quit this precious relationship we have built with Europe is unfathomable to me. There's enough written elsewhere about the positives of trade and free movement of people, but allow me to add some softer reasons why we should never leave the EU.
Europe was created to maintain peace. Simply that. After the war, six countries joined together to keep tabs on Germany's coal and steel production, to ensure that it was used only for reconstruction, and not for armaments. The goal was to prevent war in Europe from ever breaking out again. Peace. Why would anyone risk the assumption that a future war with another European nation is fanciful? In the past, European monarchs inter-married to maintain peace, these days we have the European Union. It's nowhere near perfect, but it's a solid union of 28 countries. Peace is not secured just by some military outfit called NATO, it's about two generations of interaction, of intrinsic ties, of living in each other's pockets.
At the European Commission, I worked on the regeneration of coal and steel communities, from the Durham coalfields to the Portuguese steel towns. Alongside my programme were the European Structural Funds - the Social Fund and the Regional Development Fund. In my time, the 1990s, the UK would sweep up on them both, taking the largest share from the pot. Our national, and regional governments tapped into these funds to magnificent effect in our less well off regions. Across Britain, vast swathes of our infrastructure; roads, bridges, airports, railway stations, universities - hotels even, have been built on the back of European funding. Just look for the plaques. What's more, our great European tourist destinations, Spain, Greece, Portugal, were all developed with these EU Structural Funds. The Algarve alone was unrecognisable as the lavish tourist haven it now is, before Europe pumped in its millions. Incidentally, we'll have to shred that EHIC card which gives us free medical treatment on holiday if we leave the EU.
And what about the raft of EU programmes that have enabled our peoples to come together? To understand each other, to recognise we're not so different after all, to learn from each other? ERASMUS for the interchange of university students. HELIOS for common approaches to help the disabled. HORIZON for joint research and innovation projects. COSME for small businesses. The list is endless. All this possibility for cross-fertilization.
As for the 60% of legislation which allegedly comes from the EU. Well, if it's major, then why aren't the tabloids all over it? Truth is, Europe has no say over any of the stuff we fret about at general elections - school education, our health budget, spending on social security, income tax. Our government has control over the core essence of our lives in the UK. But in Europe we stand robustly together for the bigger picture. And how are we supposed to influence the legislation it does put out if we're on the outside looking in? We'll still be affected by it, still have to conform to product standards if we want to sell abroad - but then they'll be set without our input.
As human beings, surely we are stronger in union? Would a worker leave a trade union and face the bosses alone? So why would we leave this union that is now so intertwined and constant, so familiar and enriching? If we step out of Europe, we risk drifting off on an ice floe. And in this currently volatile and fearful world, surely that is a scary prospect? I want my child to live inside the European Union. I'll be distraught if she has to grow up in a UK, which stands alone against the world.
Diane Chandler is a writer, and worked at the European Commission during the 1990s.Suggest a correction