Monday 29 September 2008

EUtopia- Orwellian Nightmare, or Just Logical Sense?

The abortion issue proved- divisive.

The result was a tie- Nine votes each. So in the circumstances, I'm going to award victory to the Pro-choice camp. Why?
Firstly, because I voted myself and therefore in the event of a tie should disqualify my own vote.
But secondly because it could conceivably be argued that the post that preceded it gave the 'yes' vote an unfair advantage.

So against my own feelings on the subject, I have to announce that the readers of this blog are Pro-choice.

Now to this week's topic.

Now Europe isn't an easy topic. I think it's fair to say that ardent Pro-Europeans are not exactly common in the UK. The general feeling amongst the public seems to be that it's 'better to be inside the train pissing out than outside the train pissing in'.

And I'll admit that at one time I was an ardent Anti- European myself. I will admit that when I was a student I was a member of Conservatives Against a Federal Europe.

And there's a huge range of solid arguments one can make against the European Union, and some powerful arguments one can make for saying the UK certainly, would be better off leaving totally.
Indeed myself, I often toyed in the past with the idea that one advantage with giving full independence to Scotland and Wales would be the possibility of ultimately forming a new Federal Union of the British Nations on more equal terms- including a united Ireland, a Union outside the EU

I'm not entirely sure this idea doesn't hold some water at some level, and indeed it is perhaps- as things stand certainly a realistic political solution to a lot of problems.

Probably one of the key reasons the EU is disliked in the UK, is gut feeling. Historically, our culture isn't European. It is widely divergent from that of our continental brethren. In many ways, the Atlantic ocean feels narrower than the English channel. America, Canada, Australia, they are far away, but not strange. Not really. I've caught Australian films whilst channel surfing and not immediately realised they were Australian, not British.

But on the other side of the channel, they eat garlic, urinate in the street, eat frogs and saurkraut, indulge in sado-masochistic sex acts, spend three hours drinking the same cup of coffee, pay high taxes, never do any real work, are either Nazis or Communists by definition, love bureaucracy and paperwork and drive on the wrong side of the road.

They all kind of understand eachother. After all, they've periodically invaded eachother. They share history. Charlemagne and Napoleon ruled most of them, Charles V ruled half them, they discovered that they could overthrow their Kings a long time after we did and their ideas of liberty and freedom are still new found ideals they're struggling to work out, rather than a development of angry barons cornering a weak King on an island in the Thames.

We look at Europe with apprehension, and its not just because we don't really trust the European politicians, we don't particularly trust their electorates. We're pretty sure Hitler could never have won an election in the UK.

We feel, in our hearts, that Britain is stuck next to Europe geographically, but it doesn't belong there, not really.
Because the history of most continental countries, takes place largely on the continent.
Ours is a global history. Yes, we have Wellington and Montgomery. But we have Wolfe, Warren Hastings and Cecil Rhodes too. European, we think. We're almost as much American. Or Asian. Britain doesn't really belong to a continent, it's kind of embedded itself in them all.

Yet stayed an island. There is a definite thing called continental culture, certain things that they do in pretty much all European countries- like sit in cafes watching the world go by- which we just don't do here.
We are the anglosphere.

Perhaps we look at the littler peoples next to us that we have turned into peripheries of Greater England and we fear the same.

But in a sense beyond the purely nostalgaic, there is a certain logic to some of it. Most European nations depend heavily on eachother for their economy generally. Even Germany does 80% of its trade with other EU members. The UK stands out. It only does 40% of its trade with other members of the EU. Germany may be the world's fourth largest economy and the UK the fifth, but it is still true that if you go outside the EU, the UK is at least the third most important trading partner in a majority of the countries of the globe.

The UK can rightly point out that it puts significantly more money into the EU than it gets out. It would be justified in saying it would be better off out.

And of course, going further, if the UK were to withdraw, ultimately, it would rather there was no EU at all. Because although the UK, unlike most other members probably actually doesn't need the EU, it would be outside the train pissing in.

And in the world of today, we can think of many good reasons to leave. Cut our taxes, control our borders, stop these Polish migrant workers coming in and taking our jobs.

It's a bureaucrats dream that doesn't take into account a thousand years of history.
So we feel.
Take a look at Brussels, we say. It's a cesspool and it is that, that cesspool that has polluted the honest, muddling along, common sense waters of British politics. Brussels did it. New Labour is a disease caught from the continent.

And perhaps that fact is truer than we realise.

As it stands, the institutions of Europe are far removed from the ordinary voter, incomprehensible and patrician. We are governed, we feel, by a secretive and unfathomable bureaucracy who now leash our elected governments further and further.


But I've realised than so often in the UK, our perspective is skewed by the fact that the UK is what I refer to as being a 'proper' state. As opposed to what I describe as a 'Mickey Mouse' state.
What do I mean by that? Well, OK, without being offensive and that really isn't my purpose, I'm not denigrating the people of the 150+ states that I would class as 'Mickey Mouse' states, but that's what they are.

If you're not a member of the G8 summit, or if you don't possess nuclear weapons, then let's face it, you're a country whose voice in World Affairs just isn't likely to be heard.
People in the UK have been told for so long that they're just an ordinary country that they don't look at the facts. No, we dropped. From No 1 slot, true. But we're still in the top ten. This is far from a typical country.

And the point is, look how hard we find it. The UK. To make ends meet. It's about economies of scale. We feel our taxes here are too high, but then we point to the fact that taxes are high too in other European countries. But think about it, you'd expect them to be.

Because it's far easier to find the money to pay for things in a tax system of 60 million than it is with nine million.

Take the North of Ireland. Do you know why, as things stand, there won't be a united Ireland? No government in the Republic would take on the financial cost.

Because if you took the cost of how much the Six Counties costs the mainland British taxpayer and transferred it to a Republic taxpayer, the cost becomes FIFTY TIMES PER HEAD what it cost the UK taxpayer.

In the modern world, countries like Holland, Denmark, Portugal, they've gradually been becoming interdependent for decades. They tacitly rely on other countries to defend them, and they've cemented into larger economic groupings. Total independence in all areas isn't something they could do, and still maintain their quality of life.

The continent of Europe probably contains the best internal infrastructure in terms of transport, communications, provision, etc of any part of the globe. But it's hard to administer that and co-ordinate it properly with a patchwork of nation states clinging on to a national/ethnic identity that is fast losing any meaning. London, Paris, Rotterdam, these are all multicultural cities.

A new Europe IS emerging, and it is emerging with a new culture, a culture created by a mixture of those whose ancestors fought over the continent, and those who were shown the European way as the way they should live and have now come to join their supposed superiors to find they are not welcome in the new Europe.

And that, that is something we have in common.

Because what are these nations any longer? Are they set in stone to the end of time? Who are the British? Who are the French?

Increasingly our way of life IS becoming similar. The Europe that is emerging is NOT the dream of the Federalists. But it is a culture. It is multicultural, urban, it has a sense of history, yet it has the potential to b a standard bearer of modernity at its best.

There IS a lot wrong with Europe, yes. A lot.

But I don't think those problems are best solved by erecting a frontier across the channel.
Instead of trying to escape the continent, why not work as hard as why can to put as much of those British values we know to be the best ones into a United Europe?

The liberty of Pitt versus the Liberty of Napoleon.

I think that vision can be sold, I think it's the Europe that could emerge, a Europe in which we don't feel outsiders, because we wholeheartedly threw the bits of England worth throwing into the mix, into the mix.

Because Europe is going to unite, with the UK, or without it.

And we might as well face the facts that in a couple of generations, across Europe, we'll find that many cities have coffee coloured majorities, that Polish, Italian, Swedish, French, Croatian, and English too, surnames that once were the exclusive feature of one nation, are now found and taken as normal just about everywhere.

And really, will that matter so much?

I think Europe really is one of those things where Britain might have to face the fact that it really isn't what Europe can do for Britain, but what Britain can do for Europe.

And perhaps consider that though the current reality is pretty dire, the long term idea of a multicultural European state might not be such a bad thing after all and be better for every single one of us, long term.

Because let's face it, our Britain is no longer this...

But this...

And I'm all for that.

Poll's in the sidebar. Have your say!


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I like the J Monnet concept of Europe, myself. No one here, btw, spends 3 hours on a cup of coffee - more like 3 seconds!

Anonymous said...

I think it's a very interesting post too, but I am not totally convinced by your argument.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. When in the UK, I'd travelled to the continent, and have made a few trips back since college. To me, it seems as though there is a very similar feel. I can more readily see the commonality between London and Brussells, let's say, than London and Cincinnati (although London and New York have very similar feels to them--then again, New York is much different culturally than the rest of the nation).

Brits and Americans share a common language, cultural and previous political ties, so that that might account for some of the feeling of affinity. But the historical ties and shared history make England really far more European than an island unto itself, IMHO. I know you're being humorous, but I don't see the cariactures as that vast, really.

BTW, Hitler could not have risen in any other government than the Weimar, precisely because it was set up to fail by the Versailles Treaty. The coalition building that wound up with a Nazi powerbase was only possible through an extremely fractured rule. As I recall, the UK was one of the allies at Versailles deciding the treaty--more so than the US, who was attempting at the time to push through Wilson's Fourteen Points. Of course, the Nazis would have been dead in the water without the international funding through British and American sources, among them such corporations as the Chase Bank, General Motors, Standard Oil, the Baron von Schroeder Trust and so on.

Anonymous said...

Multiculturism is dying on its knees, it's a failed ideology and does nothing except create discord. And the English are different to the Europeans, we always have been. The only reason people see similarities between London and other European cities is because of the 'changes' that have occured during Red Ken's stay. Move out into the sticks and it's a different matter. A vast number of people hate the EU, apart from the big business's which are more concerned with making money than any sort of principals apart from that. Look how much upset there has been over Browns refusal to honour the referendum promise. There is a rising tide of anger and resentment towards the EU as they are actively involved in trying to remove many of our freedoms and this is not taking part in the UK alone but in other countries as well. The EU loves bureaucracy and corruption, the public hates it. They lied to us about the EU in the 70s, they're lying to us about it now.

Anonymous said...

This was a very interesting post and since I have never been any further off American soil than Canada, I am not in a position to comment further, but I did like the read - thanks! Cat

Anonymous said...

Welshcakes- I don't imagine they do, but it's the common perception.

I can an hour on a cup of coffee easily. I have one with me most of the time I'm on the PC- I just periodically go and get another one.

jmb-I'm just not sure nation states are any longer capable of dealing with the world of today. After all, most of them are smaller than the world's largest corporations, in terms of power and territory covered.

And ethic differences are becoming largely meaningless. So we might as well have continent sized federations.

Ultimately of course, within the framework of a federal world government, in my opinion.

X-dell- I don't know. I always notice the difference between London and the continental capitals as soon as one gets back. London is HARDEr, London has no time to stop and stare, it's one of the world's chief cities. It glistens in glass and concrete, and echoes with a hundred languages.

I've never ben to New York, but it always strikes me when I see it in films as being very similar to London in a way Paris is not.

I'm not entirely sure about shared history. Since 1066 England/ Britain has certainly been involved in continental affairs, but the reverse has rarely been the case. And of course, since Elixabethan times, it has preety much been involved in the affairs of all continents. In a very real sense thye free world still only operates on two legal systems- Roman Law and English Common law.

You're right about Hitler, I think the wider point is of course, that in the past Eyropean countries have been far less certain about their freedoms and dictators have come to power very easily as a result. In the thirties it was hard to find a European country that WASN'T a dictatorship.

It is true, I think that ideas of liberty, in the sense that the government has to prove you can't, rather than the citizen find the bit in the consitution says he can kind of way, are far more taken for granted in the anglosphere.

Britain certainly had a key role at Versailles, but never let it be forgotten that Britain severely restrained the French. If Clemenceau hah had his way, France would have annexed the Rhineland and reparations would have been even worse than they were.

Ginro- I agree with you about the EU as it is. It's a bad institution run on outdated, protectionist, bureaucratic principles with little true democracy.

But I'm not sure that invalidates the fact that in principle the continent provides a logical governmental unit for the 21st century.

If there was a referendum, as things stand, I woul probably vote against the EU as it stands.

But that doesn't mean that's its the principle I'd be voting against, just the fact that the corrupt institution that it now is neeeds throwing out and e need to start from scratch with true democratic accountability.

Cat- I think, like most Americans, you'd be surprised by the 'old world'.

We get more of a glimpse, I think, how you see us than you get a glimpse of how we see you. And the England America sees on it's screens isn't England, just a certain angle of it.

The continent as a whole is, without a doubt, the most 'humanised' region of the globe.