I have to admit it, I am a Europhile. Most years I pack my bag and head for St. Pancras. You stick your ticket in the slot, go through security and half an hour later you are on your way. Down the Tunnel and I am ready to sample other food, language and culture. Second thing I have to admit, I hate flying, but Eurostar is easy and inexpensive, it also is less polluting than flying.
Over the years since I retired I have visited France, Brittany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Catalonia by this method. Sometimes I go on an organised trip, sometimes I go native, and just take what comes. One of the greatest things is that when I wear Cornwall badges or tee shirts people come up and greet you like a long lost pal, particularly in Brittany and Catalonia. I feel really guilty that they all speak perfect English while my attempts at their language are pitiful. I wonder if all this will stop if we carry on with this anti-Europe nonsense?
Yes there are things wrong with the Politics of Europe, but they have nothing to do with the people who live there. They complain about their politicians just the same as we do. So what is fuelling the upsurge in Europhobia? There is some suggestion that the root cause is not politics at all, but some form of Xenophobia or even racism. The Greek word root for Xenophobia means a morbid desire not to play host. This means that we like being treated by others, but when it comes to our turn we duck out, not very nice. Some people say that this stems from the Second World War, when Germany and Italy were our enemies, and some, such as the Swiss stayed out of it to their own advantage. I find it difficult to believe that this is still being used to infect relationships with present day Germans. The younger generation find it hard to credit that they are still being blamed for a war fought by their Grandparents.
If it is true that politics is at the root of it, is the situation so bad that the baby has to be thrown out with the bath water? Or is it something that can be worked on and rectified? I think this will depend upon where you think the problem lies. Some say it is the cost balance, we pay more to Europe and we don’t get much back. Some say it is a financial mess caused by the Euro Zone in relation to Sterling. Yet others say it is concerned with legislation that allows our laws to be over ruled by Europe. There is also the point about the dichotomy between the European Parliament and the European Commission.
So lets look at these issues. The UK has always seen itself as one of the great movers and shakers in world power, so we are supposed to be top of the list for everything. Some chance, when we are hundreds of times smaller in population and land size when compared to China, India or the USA. But we do find it hard to admit that we are a poor relation. Therefore we tend to do everything by the book except admit that we need help. As a result, we tend to be judged by the prosperity of the City of London and the South East. Rather than distribute power and wealth equally across the UK, the Government has chosen to ignore the “regions”. This has meant that areas such as Cornwall have been defined as poor and failing by European standards and have allowed us to draw down funds, first as Objective One, and then as Convergence funding. We may have arguments over how this has been spent or wasted, but it has meant some adjustment in our finances.
The question is, where will this money come from if we turn our back on Europe? Will the Tories or UKIP give us the equivalent amount from what they will be saving in European payments? Hang on! I have just seen a squadron of cows take off from Newquay Airport! Therefore, if we like to give the impression that we are all fat cat City Brokers and our politicians are all Public School educated and that we are all rolling in cash, it is hardly surprising that Europeans want us to give money to them rather than the other way round. What is needed is a look at the method for measuring how the European cake is cut, so that we get our fair share, not going on hunger-strike so we don’t get anything.
With regard to the Euro, I have to make a third admission, (things go in threes), and that is that I am hopeless with money. I find it very easy to only have one form of currency when I go to Europe. I do realise that the standard of living and the tax system varies from country to country, but would it not be simpler to use the “Mars Bar” rate of exchange? This is a formula created by a prankster who found out that no matter what happens to the rate of inflation it will still take the same number of Mars Bars to buy a house or a car or anything else. Therefore why can’t each European Country keep its own currency and then have a universal currency that is used for everyday activities such as shopping and paying bills? This would be the Euro and we would use it as a token.
I don’t agree with the idea that European legislation over rules everything in the UK. It is true that where issues overlap State borders there has to be some common law. It is no good one State being allowed to do things that are forbidden in another. The problem is that because there are so many States, and a lot of egos to be massaged, the process cannot be rushed. Therefore EU Directives seem to be always being reviewed and altered. It is a choice between this and a hard line, take it or leave it approach, and I think the current system is preferable. Some people ask why should we do things the same way as the Germans or the Dutch? My answer to that is, if theirs is the best way, why not? It is this old British Jingoistic supremacy rearing its head again.
The big issue of late on the legislative front has been the European Court of Justice. The reason why this has become a hot potato is because a good number of cases concern immigration, and so we have a covert racist agenda at the back of it. Perhaps people should realise how hard it is to get a case taken to the European Courts. Firstly the matter has to be dealt with by the UK Courts, and generally a lower court must first agree that it is a matter for the High Court. If the decision of the High Court is challenged it goes to the UK Court of Appeal. If there seems to be grounds to challenge the Appeal Court ruling, then the person or group can apply to the Supreme Court to take the case to the European Court. I think that as a final safety valve this is a good system. It can however, be milked by unscrupulous lawyers, but this doesn’t mean that the system itself is wrong.
The final, and to my mind, most difficult problem is the combination of the EU Parliament and the EU Commission. This will need a lot of sorting out. Firstly, there are far too many European Civil Servants. Some of them are very good and are of a far higher calibre than those found in most of the States, but they have multiplied out of hand, and this is costing too much.
My main grouse though, is the way in which each Country is represented in the EU Parliament. Some areas such as Cornwall, have specific problems that have a European dimension to them. Examples here would be fishing policy, long coastline open to drug smuggling, low disposable income, reliance on farming, and a host of others. Cornwall is also unique in that it is recognised by Europe as having a cultural identity. Kernewek, the Cornish language, is recognised by Europe. In order to support the cultural and political identity of Cornwall, a political party was formed 60 years ago to promote these issues. It is called Mebyon Kernow, the Party for Cornwall.
However, even if every person in Cornwall, eligible to vote, voted for MK in the European elections, the party would still loose its deposit. This is because the European seat of which Cornwall forms part, is known as South West England and Gibraltar, and this has a combined electorate of about 4 million.
Of this, Cornwall has an electorate of about 420,000, and is therefore unable to elect a representative that will have the issues of Cornwall as their key consideration. It is often said that this is only fair when you consider how small Cornwall is. People who think this way need to ponder the following, Iceland applied to join the EU in 2009 and is well on the way to achieving this ambition. The population of Iceland is under 320,000, and so the electorate over 18 will be about half that of Cornwall, and they will have their own MEP. The main reason why the Icelanders want to join the EU is to support their fishing industry!