Monday, 31 December 2012

It Was 40 Years Ago Today...

As everyone seems to be having a go at the subject, humour me with your patience while I unload my two pennyworth about the European Union.

I was twenty-three and about to leave London for Newcastle-upon-Tyne when it happened. I have no clear memory of the day Britain's entree to the European Economic Community, as it was deceptively called, became official, though I suppose fireworks were let off as they were tonight to bang in the New Year.

But I do recall arguments on radio programmes such as Any Questions? Those were the days of Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Conservative MP Russell Braddon, Methodist Minister Donald Soper, Tony Benn - formerly Anthony Wedgewood-Benn. The battlelines were drawn, if I remember rightly, between the high ground of being good Europeans and proactive members of the European club, and the low ground of Britain retaining its own identity as a sovereign state with historic loyalties and trading links with South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Because nobody wanted to be accused of living in the past and being a stuffy little Englander, the pro-Europeans won the moral argument and, two years later, the referendum

It's taken 40 years for us to understand that being pro-European is one thing and pro-European Union quite another. The problem has been, as some identified long ago, that we were sold an economic idea whereas all along the true purpose was political, a federal, supra-national superstate. Edward Heath and his cronies mocked those who warned of this as scare-mongerers, probably Leftie scare-mongerers. For a long time I was one of those who went along with the notion that the Common Market was 'a good thing' - the A A  Milne phraseology is deliberate. And as I got older and found being in the cities of Europe more interesting, this association with things European and the political set-up in Brussels and Strasbourg kept me supposing that the European Community was a good thing. Oh bear of little brain. It was mental laziness really; thinking didn't enter into it.

Also, part of me was reluctant to believe that even a monstrous entity that is now the European Union could be entirely without redeeming aspects - though what they are, I can only guess. 

My life is passing through this historical episode, like an insect making its way through an enormous capital city; but I can't weigh up or estimate the effect on me of the past 40 years of the European project. I think part of my historical imagination stopped after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the end of Soviet Communism. Everything after that, even the bloodbath in former Yugoslavia, was consequence of the bigger cataclysm. And now the foundations of the project, with its vast superstructure of expensive schemes and initiatives, are slipping into the mud

In another 40 years, long after Alexander Beetle (me) has disappeared, another generation of Europeans may wonder what all the fuss was about. And it will then be up to historians and political anthropologists to remind them that Rome, which certanly wasn't built in a day or even a century, lasted a hell of a lot longer than the Treaty of Rome and its subsequent incarnations. 

1 comment:

Edward Spalton said...

Working in the animal feed trade, the transition to the EEC was radical. We moved from an essentially free trade system to the siege economy of the Common Agricultural Policy. With its millimetric regulations. We were cut off from our traditional and unsubsidised supplier of milk powder, New Zealand. EEC milk powder was two or three times more expensive but we got a subsidy which offset some of the cost when we made it into animal feed - and a new breed of intrusive officialdom to police the process. The same thing happened with wheat,

It took me thirty years to find out where this lunatic policy originated - in the agricultural policy of Nazi Germany. The EEC's biggest budget item by far was directed in considerable detail. By the dead hand of Reichsminister Walther Funk. I translated the main paper outlining the system. It is available on under the title
"The EU's Evil Pedigree"