Friday, July 08, 2011

An absence of history

With a certain amount of indignant squawking, the Failygraph is reporting that "Members of the European Parliament are backing calls to fly the EU's blue flag with yellow stars at sporting events, such as Wimbledon, held in its territory and, most controversially, to have the EU emblem on national team shirts".

The proposals, to be released next week, stipulate that all national sports teams, including football, rugby, cricket and the British Olympic team, would be forced to have the EU emblem appear on their jerseys.

The idea, we have been told, has been dismissed by the Tories as "simply daft", and we are also told it is contained in a report on "The European Dimension in Sport", drafted by Spanish centre-right MEP Santiago Fisas Ayxela which will be presented to the Parliament next week.

The trigger for this is the Commission Communication on Developing the European Dimension in Sport, published in January this year, but - as always, the media forgets (or simply does not know) its history. This initiative goes back much, much further, to the European Council meeting on 25–26 June in Fontainebleau in 1984.

Then, the Heads of State or Government of the Ten (pictured) – which just happened to include Margaret Thatcher - "declared that they wanted to strengthen Europe's identity and image amongst its citizens and throughout the world", and an ad hoc working party on a People's Europe was set up.

The working party was chaired by the former Italian MEP, Pietro Adonnino, and its task was "to propose measures likely to strengthen the Community's identity and promote a Europe without internal frontiers", from which emerged the second Adonnino report, presented to the Milan Council of 29 and 30 March 1985. Embedded in that report was this section:
5.9. Sport

Since ancient times sport has been an important forum for communication among peoples. It is an important part of the lives of a large number of people within the Community. That is why it is all the more regrettable that the enjoyment of international competitive sport has been drastically marred recently by hooliganism. The Committee has therefore considered both of these important aspects below.

5.9.1. The administration of sport is predominantly the responsibility of sports associations independent of government. The Committee proposes that the sports associations be invited to encourage action where it is consistent with their responsibilities, along these lines:

(i) for certain sectors of sport, organization of European Community events such as cycle and running races through European countries;

(ii) creation of Community teams for some sports to compete against joint teams from geographical groupings with which the Community has special links;

(iii) inviting sporting teams to wear the Community emblem in addition to their national colours at major sporting events of regional or worldwide interest;

(iv) exchanges of sportsmen, athletes and trainers between the different Community countries, to be encouraged by programmes at the level of the Community and the Member States;

(v) support for sporting activities especially for particular categories of persons, such as the handicapped. Student sport activities should be organized in conjunction with the twinning of schools and towns.
From this emerged the idea of the Ryder cup, with its European team. Since then, though, the idea has stalled, but sport is now an EU competence under the Lisbon treaty. Thus, armed with new powers, the commission is now seeking to "develop" the principles set out in the 1985 Adonnino report.

This, of course is not the first organisation to use sport as a means of enhancing national identity, as we saw in 1936, when Hitler tried the same thing. Now that the "colleagues" are so keep on fostering their own version of the "European idea", it was always inevitable that they should try the same thing.

What is both salutary and fascinating, though, is to note the extended timescale. Like an elephant (in the room), the Commission never forgets, and its patience is infinite. So what was approved by Thatcher in 1985 comes back to haunt the heir to Heath in 2011, 26 years later – in a treaty he could have stopped, by chose not to.

Like as not, the EU won't get its badges this time, but the idea won't go away. It will keep pushing and probing until it gets what it wants, waiting another 26 years if need be, unless we (or events) destroy it first.