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Britain and the EU

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The debate on whether the UK should leave the EU is sure to be one of the key talking points of this year. But there is one all-important argument that I am not hearing, that is not been discussed, and  I don’t understand why. For me, this argument seems pretty crucial to the whole thing. What do you think?


The thing is I like Europe. I like its culture. I like its cities. I like its people.

I much prefer the European culture, steeped in tradition to the brash, inward looking US type of culture, complete with its superficiality. I also think the Europeans often have a more sensible and mature attitude to foreign policy. A united Europe may act as a good counterweight to a US that can sometimes get a bit gung ho. I just wish that before the US went into Iraq Tony Blair had been more aligned with the European point of view.

At some point I would like to try living somewhere else in Europe, not for the rest of my life you understand, but for a couple of years, just to tick that box. It will be much easier for me to fulfil that ambition if the UK is in the EU.

Of course, many millions of Brits work outside the UK but within the EU. That’s an advantage of the EU.

It’s a point the immigration debate misses. Yes the EU may be responsible for an influx of immigrants into the UK, but it also provides us Brits with an opportunity to work in other parts of Europe.

Sometimes I think football illustrates the problem. The Premiership is great, but the sheer number of foreigners playing for English teams crowds out opportunities for British born footballers. It’s good for fans, but not so good for the job prospects of talented British footballers. I made that point to a Dutchman once and he made a very good response.  He said why don’t British players, who can’t get a job playing regular first team football for an English Premier league team, go and play for a team in another country? It is something of a puzzle, why do so few Brits play abroad?  Kevin Keegan did it in the 1970s; Gary Lineker in the 1980s, and more recently David Beckham did it. But why so few?

Sometimes I think we are at a disadvantage because the rest of the world speaks our language. Let’s face it, the fact that English is spoken across the world has made Brits very lazy linguists. But then the education and exam system does not help. It is very hard to get a good grade in an A level in a foreign language unless you have some kind of cultural link with the country whose language you are studying. Therefore, for a Brit who wants to go to a top university, studying a foreign language is often a very bad idea.

This is especially true of Mandarin. Now wouldn’t it be sensible to learn Mandarin; to study it at A Level, even as a degree. Forget that idea. Unless one of your parents is Chinese or you spend time living in China, you won’t get a good grade. Universities should take this into account. But to the best of my knowledge Oxford doesn’t welcome students who got a C in Mandarin .

Maybe the underlying challenge faced by Brits learning foreign languages is the same as the problem we have with the EU. We feel different.

Living on an island is major factor.

Our war time experience is crucial in explaining different attitudes too. For the French, Germans, Dutch, Italians and Belgians, what used to be called the Common Market never was about free trade. It was about ensuring we never had a major war in Europe again. I guess the enthusiasm with which former iron curtain countries greeted joining the EU also had its roots in their experience of World War 2 and the post war era.

The UK’s war time experience was very different, and that has clouded our attitudes to the EU.

But this is my puzzle. I read over and over again how undemocratic the EU is; how dangerous its politicians are; how unfair it is that other EU citizens can migrate to the UK and enjoy our benefit system; how wrong it is that the EU wants to give prisoners the vote.

But these problems are not unique to the UK. We don’t have the most generous benefits system in Europe. Do the Germans feel happy about prisoners voting in elections? Are the Brits more freedom loving than the Scandinavians? Are the French any less democratically minded?

It seems to me that all the issues that get the UK media and the electorate so riled apply to many other countries.

Rather than call for the UK to leave the EU, maybe the UK should try to galvanise the views of the many millions of Europeans who are pro-democracy.

It is just that I recall that when the EU tried to give its democratically elected parliament more power, the UK voted against the move. Perhaps the real problem is UK MPs who don’t want to see a loss of power.

These views and comments are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the view of The Share Centre, its officers and employees


Showing 2 comments

  1. Garry Hawkins

    Michael,

    Why no discussion of the third option – no, not in your blog, but in the media and from the politicians?

    Why not go for Associate Membership of the EU?

    It ticks most of the boxes you mention, it still maintains our membership of the single market and the worlds largest trading bloc – it also removes some of the thornier issues like immigration.

    It’s true we’d lose influence in some matters of policy making, but then again how influencial have we been in the inevitable motion towards fiscal, political and monetary union?

    All that said, what worries me more issues pertaining to the EU – are the probability of a black swan event hitting the UK in 12-18 months time. I think the chances of a sterling crisis and/or a UK guilts strike are on the cards; the former being more probable than the latter.

    Unfortunately, no one will hear us scream if our currency is attacked. This is the downside of not being in a currency of 16 nations, including the 4th, 5th and 8th largest world economies.

    No growth, persistent trade deficits since 1981, a persisting budget deficit with no real austerity in sight, zombified banking system, more QE in the offing and the potential for rising inflation…

    It’s not looking good for UK plc.

  2. Cambridge PhD Student

    I don’t know about Oxford, but Cambridge takes several students each year to study Chinese who know essentially no Chinese before starting their degree. Particularly when someone hasn’t had the best opportunities earlier in life, latent potential is much more important than current knowledge. In my own experience of supervising undergraduates for Chemistry, a student with very little chemistry knowledge but excellent maths and spatial reasoning skills can, with hard work, very quickly outstrip someone who has been spoon-fed to an A* at A-level.

    P.S. I got >95% at AS level Japanese, despite having no Japanese friends or relations and never having been to Japan. How? I actually put effort into memorising grammar and vocabulary because time spent learning a language is never wasted, unlike for my other A-levels where I did the minimum amount of work necessary to get an A. (Half the stuff they teach you in science A-levels is wrong anyway.)

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