There are very few things as galling as being at a party and being reminded, by way of introduction, about a negative stereotype from your country as though it automatically applies to you.
If you happen to meet a woman from Naples, talk about where pizza comes from, don’t talk about the mafia.
If you meet someone from Germany, talk about sausages and beer, not the Nazis.
If you meet Russians, talk about the finest vodka, not the intricacies of assassinating enemies with rare radioactive substances.
If you meet someone from Belgium, talk about moules frites rather than how the only ever famous person they’ve produced in the last 50 years prefers Hollywood to the Manekin Pis.
If you meet… well, you get the idea.
So, if you meet someone from the UK, try to avoid asking the question: “so how come, in a nation of highly educated people, so many are against the EU?” As though being against the EU is in anyway synonymous with stupidity.
It is particularly frustrating to have such a conversation with someone who refuses to see that there may actually be flaws in the European project, and that being against the EU is an intellectually justifiable position. The problem is that the British press rarely seem to make such intellectual arguments – focusing on the push to prohibit bendy bananas and such like.
So, for all die-hard federalists out there, who I may one day meet at a party, if you have to broach the subject of British eurosceptism, here is a very quick summary of why the thinking men of Britain might be slightly wary of further EU integration.
First of all, it is actually much harder to make an argument against the EU than for it. The moment one starts speaking against the EU, one is branded a nationalist. Or possibly a fascist.
But the point with most sensible eurosceptics – and there are quite a few nutters to – is that they are not arguing against the basic principles of the EU. Free movement of people. Free trade. Free right of residence. It is absolutely incredible to think that now one can drive all the way from the Russian border to the tip of Calais and not once be hassled by border police once. Amazing. That is the freedom that our grandparents never dreamt of.
But it is also a freedom that doesn’t need a centralised Brussels government. I was reminded that it is all to do with schengen, which is part of the EU – and something that the UK has never signed up to. Great. Love schengen. But it doesn’t need to be part of the EU. Why can it not simply be an ad-hoc agreement between countries?
Free trade? Excellent. Great. But it wasn’t the EU that created this. It was EFTA. The EU simply absorbed EFTA and then claimed that free trade could not exist without tighter centralisation. Ever Closer Union, to use the 1950s term.
So, much of what the EU stands for is worthwhile, but this does not mean that these great freedoms could not be realised in other ways.
The main problem with the EU, I think, is its dishonesty. Having spent more than five years covering the Brussels beat for various media, and seeing how the monstrosity operates at close range, I can honestly say that the beast’s propaganda machine is just as disingenuous as the British media.
I find it utterly disgusting, for example, that the Irish were twice called to vote on the Nice Treaty – and again on the Lisbon Treaty – until they secured a “Yes” vote. That’s not democracy.
Then look at Greece. It’s economy is in a shambles. Partly because of fiscal mismanagement, but also because it is denied the opportunity to revalue its currency, which could spare it some pain. In a centralised monetary system, of course, the more economically solvent countries – i.e., Germany – should step in to bail it out. But, unsurprisingly, Chancellor Merkel is worried about alienating her voters. Why should hard-working Germans step into support fast-spending Greeks? It’s a very good question.
But the main problem with all of this is that the architects of the euro knew full well that, at some point, the “Greek problem” (could equally have been the Portuguese problem or the Spanish problem, too) was going to happen. But they push ahead with the single currency anyway, simply because this would give much more political credence to the whole system. It is much harder to back out of the EU once your mint has started churning out euro coins.
I was writing about this in 2002, during the introduction of the single currency. But all the negative arguments against the single currency were lost in amongst a hotchpotch of untruths.
I can’t speak for my countrymen, but that is essentially why I am so hostile towards the EU. It is indeed a worthwhile endeavour, if only one could make intellectually honest arguments for its existence, just as eurosceptics should stop spouting all sorts of nonsence about the EU.
And, if you ever meet me in a party and, without knowing me, start talking about British eurosceptism as though I am an authority on the subject, I’ll probably just give you this link and talk about Russian vodka instead.