Thursday, 17 January 2013

Where's Britain going to be in Europe?

David Cameron's speech in Amsterdam on the Britain's future in Europe will be listened to with great interest around the world. Is Britain preparing to leave the EU? Unlikely. So what's going on then, with a majority of Brits wanting out?

Follow any mainstream British media outlet and read its forums and comments. There is a clear loathing of Brussels, money wasted, uncompetitiveness, immigration from new EU member states, unelected officials.

John Bull astride his Island Realm, the John Bull who fought two world wars to restore democracy to the peoples of Europe, has woken up to find the Continent run by a clique of jumped-up unelected little Napoleons, foisting their unreasonable Directives on his freedom-loving nation. Now John Bull wants to live on his own.

The EU is far from perfect. There is way too much waste, way too much money being spent on ways that fail to increase the EU's global competitiveness.

Britain has many of the answers - free trade, a complete single market in goods, services, energy, digital content, greater personal freedom - but currently lacks the balls and the muscle to FIGHT for them WITHIN Brussels. Like a tubby, whingeing child losing the football match, out of breath, wanting to leave the pitch. Rather than shape up and fight for what it believes in.

The EU needs MORE of Britain, more of that tough spirit and determination that saw off Hitler, created a massive global empire, invented industry,

Reading the comments on the Daily Telegraph's pages, I get the feeling I'm listening to rants from the retirement homes of England, people with no interest in the nation's future, just a frustrated longing for the England of their birth, a country of fair play, fair hair, common sense, no ID cards, unarmed policemen and a gentleman's word, which has sadly evaporated. It has evaporated because of globalisation. The EU is a part of that process, but it can also be part of the solution. Except that Little Englanders' vision is too limited to see that.

The United Kingdom is one of five EU member states not to have experienced occupation during WWII. The other four were all neutral (Sweden, Ireland, Spain and Portugal). The remaining 23 all knew what it was to have foreign troops on their soil. Unlike the rest of Europe, the UK therefore feels no great need to huddle together for comfort and security into a strong entity that can see off external threats.

The threat to the United Kingdom is internal.

It is entirely feasible that Scotland will pull out of the United Kingdom following a referendum to be held next year. Once-Great Britain, without Scotland, outside the EU, will become a global backwater, increasingly ignored politically and economically. Hundreds or large multinational corporations that established manufacturing operations in the UK to be within the EU will pull out, decimating Britain's industrial base. London will desperately try to negotiate a free trade agreement with Brussels on favourable terms but will have very little leverage with which to do so. [I spoke today with a Polish manager of a Japanese firm with its European HQ in London. "Will it remain there if the UK quits the EU?" I asked. "I very much doubt it," he replied.]

Within five years, we can see an EU which includes Scotland and who knows - even Wales - but excludes a geographical oddity called England, out on its own. Plus an even greater oddity, Northern Ireland. A Moldova or even Transdniestria of the West, embroiled in civil war between those who want to be part of Ireland (and Europe) and those who want to be part of a political entity that's just fallen apart. England, bereft of foreign investment (which it has been exceedingly successful at attracting - ten times more than Poland over the last 20 years ), will find itself in a permanent state of recession, with no real engines of growth (what will it have left to trade? Minis, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys built with German capital? Hondas Nissans and Toyotas built with Japanese capital? Jaguars and Land Rovers with Indian capital?).

The money markets will move on; New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Frankfurt will attract funds away from London; English will cease to be the de facto language of the EU, being replaced by French - or worse, American English (they're both itching to take over all those English language schools), England's influence will dwindle.

It does not have to be this way. The EU needs a shake-up from the complacency and torpor from which not even the PIIGS crisis has shifted it.

A slimmed down Brussels bureaucracy focused on getting the EU globally competitive, lean and fit, innovative, inventive, fast, with truly world-class infrastructure (including here in Poland!) and transparent, predictable legal framework.

I hope Cameron comes at the EU with all guns blazing. "We're going to shake this place up," he should say. "We're firmly in. We're taking over, we're taking the lead; move over Merkel, move over Holland (you sad little shoshalisht) we're going to shape up the EU into a dynamic family of European nations, confident of our place in the world."

We need a strong UK giving direction to a strong EU.

One alternative - Britain on the outside - would be disastrous both for Britain and for Europe. And indeed for Poland.

The other alternative - more likely - more fudge and muddle - more of the same old same old and Europe and Britain slowly losing ground to more ruthless competitors.

This time two years ago:
Jeziorki under water

This time three years ago:
In a nutshell - the best science book I've ever read

This time four years ago:
Flashback to communist times

This time five years ago:
Pre-dawn Ursynów


White Horse Pilgrim said...

I think that there is a nice case of psychological projection going on. England is a wasteful, expensive, bureaucratic unconsciously the 'other' is accused of these faults. Basically England is a nation needing collective therapy. Instead the people have chosen a denier of truth as leader. It's a frightful thought that a referendum might be held on EU membership. The narrow-minded masses might just vote to leave 'because foreigners take our jobs' without the faintest idea that Britain needs to be competitive.

Detailed research has shown that construction costs up to 50% more in Britain than in France, Germany or Switzerland. McNulty said much the same about train services. Food and clothing are expensive here. Half of our food production is thrown away needlessly. But why face up to this and do something? It's easier to blame 'foreigners' over the channel.

Besides Cameron is no patriot. He's a privileged toff with no idea of how ordinary people live. If he grasped what life was like for most people (and if he cared) he'd take steps to reduce the cost of living through genuine improvements in safety. Instead the disabled get their welfare payments cut whilst his cronies get lucrative contracts to provide lacklustre public 'services'. Well, I suppose that people get the leaders they deserve.

student SGH said...

Socjalizm - tak, wypaczenia - nie

Literally translating: Socialism - yes, distortions - no

In earnest - Great Bratain has always walked a different path than the rest of the EU, mostly in economic terms. You can put it down to Black Wednesday that Britain has not adopted the single currency, but I think it was a destination. Brits seem to have always held dear more liberty and independence than continental Europeans...

Being in the EU is like marriage - living together is not a bed of roses, but living apart is even worse, you I suppose Britain will eventually choose the lesser of two evils.