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Alumni Perspective: Fraser Cameron

Fraser Cameron (Corpus, 1973)

I was fortunate in having Sir Harry Hinsley (St Johns) as my PhD supervisor because not only was he a fount of knowledge and provider of insightful comments on my draft chapters but without hesitation he dipped into the faculty budget to buy the entire inter-war Cabinet records on micro-film when the 50 year rule changed to the 30 year rule. This was of huge benefit to me although the many days and weeks spent in the dark room of the Seeley library cannot have been conducive to my eyesight!

I was thus deeply honoured some 40 years later to be invited to give the Hinsley memorial lecture and the subject I chose was the European Union as a peace project, seeking to draw inspiration from his magisterial work ‘Power and the Pursuit of Peace.’ My thinking was conditioned by the 15 years I spent in the FCO including spells in both West and East Germany, and 15 years as an EU official in Brussels and Washington DC.

I had witnessed at first hand the desire of 17 million East Germans to live under a democratic system, and later worked on the enlargement of the EU to include all former communist countries in the East. I was proud that the then British government under Blair adopted a liberal and strategic view of free movement even ahead of France and Germany.

In the last two decades, the unification of the European continent as a peace project has become a reality with disputes between member states taking place over fish quotas or environmental standards rather than territory as was the case for most of European history. The EU’s soft power, based on its single market and its high standards in areas such as data protection and chemicals, has become more and more important with countries around the world seeking close relations with Brussels.

British officials played a prominent role in establishing the EU as a peace project, promoting the single market, enlargement and also contributing to the EU’s common foreign and security policy. The past three years have thus been very traumatic for those of us seeking to build on these achievements and increase the UK’s influence within the EU.

Viewed from Brussels, Brexit seems a colossal exercise in self-harm although one certainly cannot blame Cambridge. It voted over 70% remain in 2016 just as it did in 1973 when I was chair of the Cambridge in Europe campaign.

One can only hope that over time the anti-European virus that has infected the British political bloodstream is lessened if not eradicated as a result of the experience outside the EU and Britons once again can contribute to the unique peace project that is the European Union.