As lots of us feel excited and energised by the European project and European construction, lots of other people, maybe more and more of them, given the current circumstances, feel very strongly against it. They call themselves Eurosceptic and their British idol is Nigel Farage. I have spent a fair amount of my time debating with them, going through most of their arguments, tirelessly challenging, deconstructing, rebuffing myths, clichés and downright lies. I have also learnt a great deal through these exchanges as some of their points are valid. And as a result I feel that I have accumulated enough material to write a blog mini-series on the subject. Each piece will be about one of the Eurosceptics’ arguments.
First and foremost:
Cultural Mindset and Identity
When asked about the reasons for their opposition to the European project and institution by far the most recurrent one comes as loss of sovereignty. Now there may be actual legal and institutional reality in that statement and we will be going through this at a later stage. However what always strikes me is the sheer emotional intensity in which it usually is expressed.
According to the on-line Oxford dictionary, sovereignty means:
1 - Supreme power or authority
2 - The sovereignty of Parliament
3 - The authority of a state to govern itself or another
state to govern itself or another state
4 - A self-governing body
Intellectually they mean 2-4, but truly it seems that the British Eurosceptics’ major grievance with Europe lays in 1- So loss of sovereignty can be rewritten as loss of power and authority. Surely the British can’t be anti-Europe purely on the grounds that they are set in a WIN-LOSE mindset and that co-operation is not really their cup of tea?
In his interview with Colin Crouch (The European magazine 26.03.2012), Martin Eiermann mentions: “It strikes me as a rhetoric that clings to the idea of British dominance despite the geopolitical shifts of the past 60 years”. Later on in the same interview Colin Crouch links modern British national identity to the Empire. The Empire may have gone a long time ago however a fair number of Brits are holding onto its last remains: the Queen and the Commonwealth.
Another piece of the British past glory puzzle is World War 2. History is sadly not part of the compulsory secondary curriculum. The British have developed a very romantic idealisation of the war which, if not entirely false, is taking a few liberties with the truth (for instance the role of Stalin has totally disappeared to mention only one). It can be summarised in an “we are holier than the restof Europe” attitude. In that blitz mythology the British become white knights saving (nearly alone) the rest of Europe against evil, foolishness, laziness and cowardice. That brings me to my last point.
The British strive to be very tolerant and accepting people, which they truly are to a certain extent. They tend to consider their neighbours like the French as more racist and intolerant than themselves. It is, however, interesting to note that this acceptance seems only granted to the beings living on their shores as in their own immigrants. All outsiders, those who do not live in Britain, are seen as foreign as in strange and unfamiliar. According to the urban dictionary the islander mentality is a psychological state… a belief in one’s culture superiority possibly due to their actual geography.
A country looking at the past… fearing the future?
This past, seen as full of brilliance and glory, seems to get in the way of understanding the present and planning for the future. There is an aching denial of the impact that globalisation is having on all of the European countries’ capacity to influence world events.