Europe and Xenophobia
One thing I love about going to other EU countries is that, even with anti-Europeans or people with Euro-reservations there, they are still more communitaire and bigger-thinking than many Brits on this matter.
People in Britain rattle on about independence when it went ages ago in the days of 'the gnomes of Zurich' and when you bought your first Peugeot/VW in the 1960s, or earlier as the British empire was formed and then fell, or earlier when capitalism took root 300-500 years ago. Did you know that only 12% of the organisations of the City of London are British-controlled? Did you know that only 22% of shares in national media are British-held, and BBC accounts for 17%?
I find that people around Europe who have reservations about EU nevertheless have them for much more considered and open-minded reasons than Little Englanders, whose visceral abreactions have a lot to do with unsociability, fear of change and emotional tightness.
Even capitalism, nominally a British and European (particularly Dutch and Italian) invention, had its roots in several major non-European sources:
the goldfields of West Africa (yes, black people) a millennium ago;
the Normans themselves, most of whom deigned not even to speak English for the first 150 years after their invasion;
the Crusades (in which advanced Middle Eastern banking notions such as cheques came in, and the Templars founded many basic European banking principles - but they were mostly French);
the Black Death (of Chinese origin, which had the effect of starting wage-labour in Europe and gave birth to the early urban middle classes) and finally
Jews, who became bankers to European power-holders (often because they were not permitted to own property or have rights, so they developed ways of becoming indispensable to Europeans - they also became doctors and scholars).
So, the roots of capitalism, ironically for our time, lie in Africa, the Middle East and China.
So this rather silly notion of loss of independence really is more of an indicator of tabloid mentality than a grasp on reality. Again, in my judgement. Who were the inventors of 'free trade'? Why, the British - or, more specifically, the English, or more specifically, our masters (in the early 1800s).
Who are the people who stand to gain most from maintaining this 'independence'? - your masters! Or some of them, at least. Why? Because all the crap about UK being the 'fourth largest economy in the world' has little to do with the wealth ordinary Brits have or control, and a lot to do with the enormous sums held and controlled by capitalists and corporations.
Britain has one of the highest proportions of wealth out of ordinary people's hands in the 'developed' world - this is a social justice and power issue. Of course, conservative power-holders and media-owners (many of whom are from former colonies) want to keep things that way because it keeps them unaccountable and keeps the withering UK-USA-Oz triangle alive. Brits are pretty passive toward their masters, rather like Americans.
There's lots of talk about democracy, of course, but much of it is codswallop - the Anglo-American systems are still very much ruled by unaccountable, uncontrollable masters, and none of our elected power-holders of any party gain much power without their backing. Britain is ruled by 'the market', and the people with the biggest sway in 'the market' are the biggest capitalists. The notion that retaining the Pound gives us independence is, well, naive - the Pound is controlled by 'the market' too, not by the Chancellor or the BofE Governor.
As for all the paranoia about outsourcing of jobs and immigration, it's important to balance this against the most untalked-about statistic that's relevant here: *350,000 Brits are leaving this country every year* - more than the population of a city such as Cardiff or Nottingham. That's one million every three years and three million per decade.
Thirty years ago many of them left for jobs and opportunities but now it's property-owners with a tidy sum in the bank who are sallying forth to 'deprive others of their independence' by bidding up property prices elsewhere. However, many of the recipients of this Brit influx seem to be more open-minded and positive about this than Brits towards their own immigrants - they just want to know whether we're human, decent and will join in with their national and local affairs.
Part of the reason for British narrow-mindedness on this issue is the high level of control the British media holds over our people, who loyally quote media values and oft-repeated statements without thinking. (For example, the 'whitewash' response to the Hutton Report, and the general ideology that politicians and judges are bad while journos are, of course, faultless, good and worthy judges of all and everything, is actually an attempt by media people to tighten their control over the national agenda - and Brits are so blind to this that they let it happen!)
Yes indeed, EU is by no means perfect. Criticisms toward it tend to conveniently overlook two key factors: 1. UK's own many imperfections and 2. the fact that, without EU, the regulation and big-institution pattern would still happen, as is the case in Australia, nominally an 'independent' country. The issue here is, our country, our currency, even our air, are controlled by multinationals, and EU is an attempt, however faulty, to counterbalance this with an entity big enough to tackle them at their own game.
Britain is nothing, just small-fry with an elevated sense of self-importance. We simply rattle lots of pans without providing a clear message and, at times, make a big fool of ourselves in doing so - the most recent example being the Iraq invasion, a wonderful example of British-style good judgement.
To live in a community, it's necessary not only to stick up for and voice your own agenda, but also to see yourself as others see you, and validate others' viewpoints too. Without this, it's just what Chinese call 'beggars and thieves' - fairweather relationships that buckle when the agenda changes and the interests of the collective become paramount.
Personally, I believe Britain lost its way in the 1960s, and hasn't found itself since. We did have a chance when unilateral disarmament was mooted in the 1970s-80s but, as usual, we missed a good opportunity. Britain lost its way by fudging its national vision. We joined EU because we were afraid of what might happen if we didn't. We had no clear vision of what an independent Britain would look like.
By the 1980s we gained a new breed of anti-Europeans, stuck in antipathy toward anything beyond Dover, failing to propound a positive national vision. Why? Because they're in with capitalists, and capitalism itself is visionless. I would support an independent Britain that went organic, abolished its arms trade, took a healthy moral stand on many of the world's ills, reformed its own social injustices and system of governance and truly encouraged its unique national creative strengths, bravely taking the risk of demonstrating an alternative path into the future.
Now that's an independent vision, something to fight for and be proud of! But anti-Europeans are, imho, stuck in a much smaller, ass-guarding, self-preserving vision leading nowhere except to isolation, probably without glory.
I don't think EU will progress truly until it reforms itself fundamentally, to become much more people-oriented. This will come, since Europe's economy is in structural decline and its spirits are on a riser if only it could lose some weight and stodginess - our true future wealth is cultural, creative, human and spiritual.
But withdrawing from EU, or undermining it, would not solve most of the problems commonly attributed to Brussels. I judge the influence of European values on Britain's otherwise rather stuck society and institutions to be largely positive. We pay a price for being insular.
Anti-Europeans will no doubt pick apart what I've written above, but I challenge them to stand back and think deeply, and give us a positive vision, and to demonstrate truly that this much-vaunted 'independence' has something in it above and beyond a tight-assed control-freakery which has to put up barriers and look on other world citizens as a threat to our way of life.
I'm fed up of the lack and the low standard of true debate over the matter of our national and European future. I'm fed up of the emotive, narrow-minded, xenophobic claims made. Sure, there's an argument for keeping Britain as an offshore nation with no binding affiliations, but I don't hear it being made. All I hear is a refusal to work with change, an attachment to the past.
It has something to do with a national psychological pattern in which we Brits participate in the world only as dominators - and when we can't dominate we get shirty and isolationist, to make sure others cannot do to us as we have done to them.
The world is re-forming into continental blocs and nations are becoming obsolete in favour of regions and continents. Westminster is entirely dispensable! This is the next step beyond superpower dominance, a world pattern set up more by Britain than anyone - USA was an inheritor.
Bizarrely, the globalisation process started from Bristol, financed by capital from wool merchants in Trowbridge. It's not globalisation but the way it's happening that is odious.
© Copyright Palden Jenkins 2004.
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