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Little Europeans

Posted by Richard Sunday, June 19, 2005

It says something for the "state of profound crisis" afflicting Europe that I decided to take the best part of the day off and do some gardening. Somehow, that seemed so much more important.

Putting the crisis into broader perspective, however, is The Business, which picks up on a theme we have rehearsed on the Blog – the fact that the obsession with Europe, far from being grandly international, is stultifyingly small-minded. In its leader headed: "Leaving little Europe behind", The Business definitely strikes a chord when it observes:

At a time when India and China are emerging as new superpowers set to overtake Europe and in the midst of unprecedented economic, geopolitical, demographic and scientific change, it beggars belief that Europe's leaders spent last week arguing over a subsidy programme designed to placate French farmers after the second world war and an incomprehensible and inward looking pseudo-constitution that would condemn Europe to continued decline.
We ourselves have remarked how determinedly Anglocentric the British media have become and it serves as a salutory reminder of our insignificance that, while the great "Battle of Brussels" dominated the front pages and led the television news bulletins in the European press, in the United States, Asia and Latin America it barely registered at all.

Interestingly, I did a piece for the BBC World Service a couple of days ago and, for his last question my interviewer asked: "Is it a crisis?" For the political élites, yes, I answered. But for the rest of us, we look upon this shambles with something little short of amazement and wonder which planet these people come from. Once again, therefore, The Business captures the mood. "In as far as it could be bothered to pay any attention," it says:

…the rest of the world looked on in bemusement and incomprehension as British Prime Minister Tony Blair clashed with French President Jacques Chirac over a series of small, parochial and technocratic spending plans that few Europeans understand and that even fewer in the big wide world care about.
The piece then moves onto to raise a point that has been troubling us for some time, and to which we will, in due course, consider at length:

Far too much of Britains intellectual capital and time is being diverted and squandered into dealing with European matters, including the 100,000 or so pages of the acquis communautaire; it should be redeployed to addressing international developments which matter. The best and brightest in government, civil service, think-tanks, universities, law firms and businesses are still unhealthily obsessed with what has become, over the past 20 years, a profoundly defective and destructive set of European institutions.

If Britains best brains and resources were instead devoted to working out how to cope with the rise of China and India including how to increase trade and cultural links with emerging Asian nations it would do more for the prosperity of ordinary people than any gathering in Brussels of a clapped-out Euro-élite.
Actually, it is worse that that. without it even being realised, virtually all the mechanics of policy development and formulation – in government, academia and in think-tanks – has been subsumed, harnessed to the European cause, so there is very little structured thinking and policy research outside the European framework. Thus, when critics rightly say of Eurosceptics that we have not developed an alternative, they are right. But the reality is that no one at all, of any significance, is doing any serious work on how Britain – or Europe – could look without the European Union.

So it is, says The Business, that the political establishment's "backward-looking obsession" with European integration blinds them to the rise of Asia – and much else. And while they are so obsessed, "slowly but surely, economic and demographic pressures, combined with a decline in scientific and educational achievement, will see Europe become an economic, military and even educational backwater."

For Britain to meet the challenges of the 21st century and to make the most of the greatest global economic boom in human history, the paper concludes:

It will be necessary for one of Britains mainstream political parties finally to understand that the current relationship with Europe is past its sell-by date. So far, there have been no takers; but the hope must be that the current crisis finally encourages someone, somewhere to break the outdated post-war consensus and to embrace a new vision for the country.
It is ironic, as the paper observes, that the pro-EU chattering classes that dominate government and the BBC have liked to dismiss Euro-scepticism as the last gasp of Little England. Such loose thinking is no longer tenable, it says. It is now clear that disentangling Britain from the European morass is the essential first step towards a truly internationalist perspective for the 21st century.

In fact, that is how it has been all along. There may be the "little englanders" in the Eurosceptic ranks but the greater number, in our experience, subscribe to the idea of a "Global Britain". It is time the "little Europeans" moved out of the way and let us through.