Time for the European Debate to Grow Up


The local and European elections are just two days away but still the stream of paper that comes through the door from various parties, some real, some that surely must be made up and some I wish were made up, shows few signs of pursuing any real debate on key issues around Europe and about our sustainable future (except perhaps the Green Party – they have wisely practised what they preach and not destroyed a small forest posting endless copies of the same pamphlet through my door).

It is as if when George Bush announced you are either with us or against the era of political debate reduced to playground taunts was confirmed. This is a big grown up world but still politics wants to reduce it to simplistic binary oppositions. This is either a sad indication of the state of politics today or the society politicians are trying to reach. It is not possible to have a grown up relationship with Europe. You have to be either for it or want to withdraw from it as now heralded by the simplistic yes or no of the referendum. I know that some parties are advocating more referendums so that the people get to speak but if the people can only speak yes, no or don’t know political debate begins to resemble a big game of twenty questions or one of those flow charts you now get in magazines to work out if you are ill or not.

Another favourite was the British Nationalist Party’s pamphlet (insisting they aren’t racist it is just that they like other races in their place i.e. not where they are). You either love this country or you leave it. So its not possible to love Britain but think come on the Empire’s over lets get on with a new forward looking national identity that embraces the multi-cultural consequences of our wealth and footsteps through the world. it is not possible to love Britain that but worry that narrow interests are seriously impacting on the environment we all have to share.

We cannot simply ignore we are part of Europe. The case for withdrawal is being set in the negative context of we don’t like Europe so we had best have nothing to do with it (as long as we can negotiate a full free trade deal after all it is not the rights that we get from being in Europe that we don’t like it’s only those pesky responsibilities). Instead of saying hang on, this European constitution has gone too far, the whole thing is not going in the right direction. Instead of joining with Europe to shift the direction of our zonal identity we want to jump ship and swim in the other directions. It is possible to criticise the EU’s political deadweight at the top without wanting a divorce. We cannot possibly claim to be a unifying link between America and Europe if we stand coyly on the edge of both. The events this weekend have shown us that our isolation of 1940 was not in fact our most splendid moment and that a free Europe was achieved through unity.

Of course our zonal identity, that which exists between our national identity and the idea of a global whole has been a long time confused. It used to be the Empire and then it became a choice between Commonwealth, Europe or Atlanticism and we are left scratching our heads a bit about which way to go?

My vision would be that we can indeed play a full role in each of these. But only if we lose the Empire bit. We are quite unique in the potential we have to participate in a range of multi-national communities but we have to keep up to do so. We need to stop running away from the Federal word. It is our insistence on doing so that is forcing Europe towards a tighter political integration than it wants or needs, instead of the looser federation of rights and responsibilities that would suit it better. We need to be in Europe, but Europe needs its national sovereignties like Federal America has its strong state entities, cultures and identities. Europe should focus on issues such as the environment, trade, asylum and international development and terrorism that can only realistically be tackled at a greater level than the national and where the European technocrats should be most valuable, leaving other political decision to nations. There should be a single currency whilst being sensitive to the different economies and market conditions of each nation. The burgeoning political level of Europe should be stripped off and reincarnated as a truly representative system instead of the being a reward for political service at a national level it is now. There should be an elected parliament and an elected commission and president so that people feel more connection with European leaders. It is complicated, it is a complex relationship that will need to be negotiated. Relationships are hard work not fashion accessories and it is for this very reason why we cannot just retreat to an idyllic ideal of Albion, a place where we only need yes and no to get on.

Even if you don’t agree with my vision of Europe I hope people will agree it is more than a question of yes or no.

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