Little to say for myself

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

How Euro Was I?

I was in the studio audience for BBC2's How Euro Are You? last night. It was a live broadcast, and supposedly a bit of fun, but it left me feeling a bit dissatisfied.

That would be partly due to the appalling acoustics in Vinopolis (the massive warehouse-cum-wine-bar just south of London Bridge, where it was held), which made me strain to make out what the panel of "experts" was saying, and I guess partly due to the fact that I was perched on a hard metal bar-stool (with strict instructions to STAY THERE) for the duration.

Mainly though, I was dissatisfied by how arbitrary it is to have a discussion about whether or not Britain should be part of Europe. As one of the quiz questions early on pointed out, Europe represents only 7% of the world's population.

In the grand scheme of things, and given that eastern Asia (where India and China make up over a third of the world's population) is shaping up to be the dominant force of the 21st century, the significance of Europe is of mainly historical interest only. Moving into the next few decades, Europe will signify little more than the place where 1/14th of the population lives, and is crammed full of quaint and interesting places to write holiday blogs from.

So having a discussion about what Europe represents, and how closely we should be part of it, is like talking about a small proportion of anything. Like:
  • Wednesday mornings
  • Trousers
  • The colour turquoise

The European Experiment is never going to work - not because it's too big and unwieldy and all-encompassing, but conversely because, by its very nature, it's too exclusive. It's plonking a dividing line between countries (we're in, you're out) that doesn't exist in reality - and where that line's drawn is determined on the totally arbitrary grounds of geographical proximity. If your country shares a border with one of ours, you may be eligible to join us. What's that got to do with anything?

Would you be happy to have a "circle of friends" system in place that allows you freedom to socialise only with those people who share your postcode? Neither would I.

The downside of European integration is that it emphasises the distinction between "us" and "them" - and that's hardly going to make us attractive to the other 93% of the world.

As far as I'm concerned, total European integration would be a good start, but nothing more than that. I'd rather be talking about how all 6.4 billion of us can make the world work for us all.

However, there were a few good things I got from the evening:

The first was confirmation of my view that Peter Hitchens is a complete and utter wanker. I sat facing him all evening, and through all the comic asides from Andrew Marr and Dara O'Briain, he didn't smile once. Given how informal and light the whole proceedings was designed to be, with even Sir Stephen Wall in an open-necked shirt, he looked like he'd been reluctantly dropped in from the planet Etonia and didn't like the smell. He topped his performance off at the end of the show by saying that Britain, proud to be the home of Parliamentary Democracy and of Common Law (he didn't say Common Decency, but I bet he wanted to), and one of the richest nations in the world, could go it alone and didn't need to be part of Europe. I could see we might be at an advantage if we were the only country with democracy and a legal system, but someone needs to point out to him that lots of other countries have got those now. Just because Greece is the home of mathematics, philosophy and the natural sciences doesn't make it the world's technological super-power.

The second was to see Amanda Platell (another Mail jounalist - what were the chances that they'd both turn out to be twats?) trot out the bankrupt argument (when a member of the audience criticised their xenophobic style) that Euro-bashing tabloids like hers merely reflect the already established views of their readership, rather than influence them. She said that people wouldn't buy the paper if they disagreed with its politics, and it'd soon go out of business. Unfortunately, that argument pre-supposes that the people who buy the paper are at all interested in its politics. People buy the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday for the same reason that they watch East Enders and Big Brother. We're all (to a greater or lesser extent) addicted to sleaze, drama and voyeurism as a way of avoiding looking too closely at ourselves, and the tabloids feed that habit. It's like a tobacco company saying that people wouldn't buy cigarettes if they thought they were harmful.

But the best thing I got was courtesy of one of the women I shared a table with (who was also the aforementioned tabloid-critic). In conversation before the show, she pointed out the stark contrast between the process of regime change that will now be happening in Turkey, to make a mainly Muslim country with a questionable human rights record eligible to "join the club" in 2015, and the process of regime change that's causing such world instability and anguish in Iraq.

Makes you appreciate the value of ever-closer communication, compared with confrontation.

posted by Plig | 15:35 |

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Forget the sentimental notion that foreign policy is a struggle between virtue and vice, with virtue bound to win.
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Forget the crusading notion that any nation, however virtuous and powerful, can have the mission to make the world in its own image.
Remember that diplomacy without power is feeble, and power without diplomacy is destructive and blind.
Remember that no nation's power is without limits, and hence that its policies must respect the power and interests of others.
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