The Importance of the European Union

If you have an aversion for political commentary, look away! Not party political – I don’t do that because of my job. This was prompted by my experience these last two days.

I’ve just been to Zagreb, in Croatia, to attend and speak at a conference which was part of the International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December, at the invitation of the British Embassy there. On the way back I was talking to the driver, who was great at describing all the developments in Zagreb’s architecture and way of life since what the Croatians call “The Homeland War” – the battle for national independence in the early 1990s. He described how many Croatians of his generation had experienced a “black hole” in their lives for about ten years, when life was all about survival. Things have now got much better of course, and accession to the European Union in 2013 was both a symbol of the progress made and an incentive to tackle things like governance and corruption.

That theme recurred in most of the discussions I had before and during the conference. The importance of being part of the EU, as a means of addressing the things that are still not right in the political and state culture.

That’s the EU, the institution reviled by most of the British media, and mocked by the rest. If it isn’t the threat of unwanted immigrants, it’s straight bananas and “faceless bureaucrats” governing us from afar and strangling us with regulation.

Such is the dislike of the EU in parts of the British political firmament that we are now committed to having an in/out referendum in 2016 or 17. The British government is seeking to negotiate a new settlement for Britain, at exactly the same time as Europe is grappling with so many more important things: the refugee crisis, the terrorist threat, the travails of the Euro, the economic woes of some of the member states and the transitional challenges for those new members like Croatia. The Prime Minister will present the outcome of the negotiations to the British electorate as the basis for their decision.

I can guarantee you that the arguments as the campaign progresses will be depressing in the extreme. The Outs will cite immigration, regulation, loss of sovereignty. Basically foreigners messing up our country. They’ll claim we can be like Switzerland or Singapore – utterly different countries in size, diversity, economic and political importance. The Ins will start with positives about the economics of the single market, but will give up half way through and rely on scare stories: loss of jobs, no influence in the world, deserted by America, and so on.

No-one will recite the sort of thing I heard in Croatia. No one will suggest that as a part of that vital change, we in the UK can play a valuable role through sharing our experience. If they do try no-one will listen. You won’t see much in the press about the fact that that very existence of the EU has allowed Western and Central Europe resolve its differences through negotiation rather than fighting since 1945. And that it may achieve the same in Eastern Europe now. This is so not-to-be-underestimated. The previous history of all of Europe was near-constant war over the centuries.

These are the intangibles that make staying in the EU – and playing a positive part – a no-brainer for me. Solidarity: never more important than at this time when there are so many grave challenges. That solidarity was evident at Wembley the other night, when English football fans – yes, the fans once known for their hooligan antics across the continent – stood with the French and sang the Marseillaise. How do we bottle that and inject it into the political culture?

So, to be honest, I hope the fear of the unknown, and maybe people’s memories of those enjoyable European holidays, be they the trip round the Venetian canals or the beach and rave in Ibiza, or even the trip to Calais to get some good value wine, swing it for the In vote.

But right now, it seems to be in the balance.

Crazy.

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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13 Responses to The Importance of the European Union

  1. dc says:

    deep dude. did you see zagreb v bayern?

  2. Dood says:

    very deep dude.

    OK, I’ll lay down the air guitar and try to write a proper reply. (I can also afford to be a little more party-political than you.)

    What you say makes perfect sense, and I agree with it completely. The European project may be flawed, but it is a great one, and has a truly moral core that Eurosceptics either don’t understand, or willfully ignore. But you are absolutely right to fear what may be in the air. I worry, like you, about the changing tone of political discourse in this country, and the apparent flight from consensus and (dare I say it) compromise. My own political views, as you know, would make me a prime candidate for deselection from my favoured party, but extremism seems to be gathering force just about everywhere.

    In France we have the FN, who polled 28% (the highest of all parties) in last week’s regional elections. In the UK we have the preposterous UKIP, whose effect at the last election (in terms of seats won) was mercifully minuscule, but whose influence – not only in the media, but in politics as a whole – is far more profound. And in the USA we have Donald Trump, for whom no more words are needed.

    Back to Blighty, and it’s not inconceivable that as the next election looms, we could have Boris as PM, Corbyn as Shadow Leader, and a re-emerging UKIP feeding off disaffected Labour voters. And in that context, Euroscepticism could well and truly come to the fore.

    We always talk about the good sense of the British people, their aversion to extremism, and their final preference for moderation, conciliation and the search for a middle ground. I do believe that this version of Britain exists – I just hope it reveals itself when referendum time comes around.

  3. Dood says:

    Sorry, me again. I said I wouldn’t dwell on Donald Trump, but I AM enjoying this petition. (For any of your international followers who are not yet aware, an online petition to ban Trump from the UK has just passed 430,000 signatures in 24 hours.)

    Let’s hope that this is the sane and moderate national streak that I was prattling about above.

    Now, off the soapbox and back to the air guitar.

  4. Dood says:

    Good thought. If my current level of consultancy work continues, I soon will be.

  5. Dood says:

    Trump petition now up to 553,662. And counting.

    • John S says:

      David Mitchell was good on Trump in the Observer today. The best weapon is laughter. Surely he is too absurd to get elected. But there is a shred of doubt that is hard to shake off.

  6. Resa says:

    Wonderful commentary! Canada is taking in 25,000 Serbian refugees by March. It’s a bit controversial, but most Canadians seem proud & happy about it. Hopefully we will be able to rectify all of our indigenous peoples’ problems soon, & be proud of that as well.

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