Tuesday, 21 June 2016

EU Referendum - A Wider Vision

I grew up looking across the English Channel. I grew up wanting to live and work in France. I grew up learning French so I could go across the English Channel and live and work in France. When I was grown up I went to live and work in France. That was before 1993 and the formation of the European Union (until then it had been the less binding EEC), which means it was less easy for a Brit to live and work 'abroad', but it was still possible. It required some focus and dedication, but that's not such a bad thing, is it? It certainly makes you question yourself closely as to your wants and desires which, you could say, is also a good thing. In the early 1990s I went to live in Italy. This was still pre the European Union, but it was still possible to live and work there. Europe was not a closed door.

All the talk about leaving the EU being a big, scary unknown black hole perplexes me. We've lived without being part of the EU a lot longer than we've lived as part of it. Back in 1993, I sat at a dinner and, greatly daring, suggested to my learned neighbour (who's now an eminent QC) that there was more than a little irony in the fact that just as we were witnessing the very bloody break up of Yugoslavia (The Yugoslav Wars), back into its original, component countries, here we were trying to mulch a whole load of historically, culturally and linguistically independent countries into an amorphous blob called the European Union. Had we not just seen that such actions end up - whether many decades down the line or not - with a mass revolt against the political and economic ambitions of the (relatively) few? At the same time (1990-91) we were witnessing the dissolution of the USSR which, crucially, signalled the end of the Cold War. It seemed a little odd that our European political leaders were thinking that scrunching together a group of disparate countries and cultures just because they shared the same bit of Planet Earth (i.e. the Continent of Europe) was a good idea. Had they just sleep-walked through the previous few years of bloody upheaval?

I am fed up with the emphasis - on both sides of the debate - on politics and economics. Why is this not about people? The Human Factor? When will politicians learn that people - especially the British it seems - do not want to be herded and dictated to? Good, effective leadership is about suggestion and example. The European Union, in its current form, is arguably the perfect hiding place for power junkies and bullies and for otherwise no-hope politicians (I'll refrain from naming names): a big unwieldy machine where people get lost and gobbled up in the cogs and wheels and pipes and where gremlins can lurk undetected.

Globalisation - another of the key arguments in the Remain camp - needs careful scrutiny too. It is a very complex subject and has spatial, economic and social connotations. Yes, the world is better linked than ever before thanks to the massive advances in transport and technology over the last century. In that sense humanity is becoming more 'global'. Everyone can travel and communicate across the planet. Trade is easier. Migration is at an all time high. Things that could never be conceived of are now possible. People's eyes are open to all the possibilities out in the big wide world. No-one is confined these days to their village or their town or their country. People's horizons can be truly broad. But does this always breed happiness? Is it not a bit like the baby who's placed in the middle of the room because the parents misguidedly think they will like crawling around and touching everything when in reality they feel insecure and vulnerable and are much happier in the confines of a playpen with a few chosen favourite toys and in sight of their parent? It's great to globe-trot, but more often than not it's even greater to 'come home'. We all need roots. We all need stability. It's a basic human need. Too much choice creates stress and confusion. Carefully selected choice is certainly an excellent thing - but can the same be said of limitless choice? And anyway, even if you don't take this view, I don't believe that globalisation is only achievable if we stay in the EU. Arguably, a world without a European superstate, would actually widen horizons still further and encourage ambitious people and adventurers to take their skills further afield, beyond the comfort of the Eurozone.

If I sound dangerously like a 'Little Englander', this in fact could not be further from the truth. I have never felt particularly 'English' (whatever that is) and am chameleon enough to embrace living in different cultures. However, it is this very experience which also teaches you how similar, yet how different, humanity can be, even within the confines of the Eurozone. I've had the most amazing times living in France, Italy and Spain - particularly living in northern Italy for four years and where my first child was born. It was a wonderful life and we made wonderful friends - Italian and multi-national - almost all of whom we are still in touch with thanks to modern mediums such as Facebook. Nevertheless, while on the one hand we never wanted to return to England, on the other hand we were very conscious that, however integrated we were, however well we spoke the language, we would never actually be Italian. We would ultimately still always be relative strangers in a relatively foreign land.

True, if globalisation and migration continues exponentially, then ultimately we should all feel 'at home' wherever we are in the world. Yet I feel this is a very, very long term ideal. It may certainly eventually happen, but I sense that The People will decide this rather than the politicians - which is what true democracy is all about. Maybe now is not quite the time; or rather, the way in which it is being presented to us is currently not palatable to all. The idea needs time to mature in people's minds and bit by bit the whole integration thing will perhaps take a more natural course. Agreed, that if we leave the EU right now, there may be a delay. Possibly a long delay. But taking stock is not such a stupid thing to do. Assess, analyse and do not be afraid. One step back may ultimately be two steps forward.

Diversification is usually what guarantees longevity (as Darwin's Origin of Species and Natural Selection prove); but such things take millennia of development and adaptation to occur. My concerns are that politicians are rushing the fusion and that there are many who just want to see it as a 'Success Story' in their own political and human lifetime which, in the vast sweep of history, is frankly absurd. If we come out of Europe now - and if others follow - this is not to say that there is no future for a united Europe. Instead it should be seen as a learning curve. The best things in life take time to mature. Why are we in such a headlong rush? Our Prime Minister went to Europe with suggestions of how things could be adjusted and he was stone-walled. Is this the right attitude for positive development of the European Union? I read it more as certain countries/politicians seeing it as a threat to their political careers as well as to their political legacy. And let us also be aware of the language: a united Europe could be a very different thing from a European Union. If we are 'united', we are usually in accord: in a 'union' there can often still be discord.

The Remain campaign has largely focused on economic disaster as their reason to stay; similarly, the Brexit campaign has been associated almost entirely with concerns over immigration quotas. Yet there will be many of us who feel neither of those things. Intelligent people will listen to both sides but ultimately draw their own conclusions from their own observations and convictions. There will undoubtedly be many who vote to leave simply because they feel the political, social and economic model isn't quite right. They will not all be fascist xenophobes causing the UK to become a marginal bit-part in the epic EU drama. Equally, there will be many who vote to stay who feel passionately that the European Union, in whatever form, is the way forward and fear that an exit vote means we will be out in the cold for ever more. While younger voters have never known a Great Britain outside the EU, older voters have. Agreed, we will not be returning to the world as it was then (which would be wholly retrogressive), but at the same time, should we feel unduly scared by the idea of being independent again? As with most things in life, you win some and you lose some: there will be losses but there will be gains. The main gain, in my view, is that we would return to being a proper democracy rather than a member of a superstate where only the most powerful seem able to have a defining voice. Perhaps the disillusionment with our politicians is associated with the fact that none of them seem to have the power any more to affect significant change.

One of the things that is being claimed by the Remain campaign, aside from economics, is that we are safer by being part of the EU. Indeed, the initial six countries that signed the Treaty of Paris in 1951, did so as a reaction to World Wars 1 and 2, in an attempt to ensure that no such horrors should take place again and in the belief that we are stronger together than apart. While this is a truism, there is also an irony in the fact that the larger the European Union becomes, the more of a threat it potentially becomes to world peace. We saw the domination of the USSR last century and it was only when it broke up that the Cold War ended: now it is the European Union that is rapidly becoming this huge geo-political entity which is flexing its muscles every time its peace and ideologies are threatened. The suggestion of a European Army alarms me more than comforts me. As western democratic ideologies gain geo-political weight, so the eastern ideologies see them as more of a threat and the territorial and ethical mistakes of World War 1 and 2 (such as the Sykes-Picot agreement), let alone those of the British Empire, come back to haunt us. Terrorism in Europe is growing exponentially: is there not a link here? Moreover, the United States wants us to remain in the European Union as it sees the EU as a buffer between it and Russia. I do not feel safer for having the USA on our 'side' - in fact I see such a stance as simply provoking the age old problem of superpowers vying for world domination in some sort of real-life Bond movie.

Indeed, the EU is arguably becoming less democratic by the day. The Individual seems to be increasingly obliterated by The Group. We have handed over the keys and our right to drive the car. People in their own countries no longer have the full weight of their vote. There are thousands of laws and regulations which they no longer have knowledge of, let alone control of. Some might argue that this is the future. This is what globalisation is all about. This may well be true, but the one factor that is being consistently ignored is The Human Factor. What makes us human is our right to choose, our right to be cognitive human beings not stupid herd animals. This is the factor that is being overlooked, and overlooked at Europe's peril (and, indeed, at the world's peril). If the UK votes to leave, perhaps this will encourage all the countries involved to take a step back and get a better overview; to analyse what works and what doesn't and not be so arrogant as to ignore those areas that are not ideal. The problem we have created is that the ability to have more lucid independent vision has been obfuscated by The European Machine. Elements of George Orwell's prescient novel '1984' are arguably happening in 2016 instead. That's quite a disturbing thought.

So what is the answer? In truth I'm not sure I know. I do believe, though, that sometimes you have to do the hard thing to end up in a better place. That may mean voting Out on June 23rd which will undoubtedly set the cat among the pigeons in the EU; but if that leads ultimately to an intelligent re-assessment of the European Union - what truly works and what truly doesn't, and how a more effective model may pave the way in some far distant future to greater union across the entire world map rather than just in Europe - then perhaps that's a dice worth rolling.

The 'Out' vote, contrary to public perception, could ultimately claim a wider vision than the 'In' vote. Now that would be a turn up for the books.

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