The Big Issue, 28 January 2013
So, are you an ‘inner’ or an ‘outer’? Do you want to stay in Europe and carry on rubbing shoulders with its wild welter of peoples, cultures and languages? Or do you want to opt out and stay put in Little England, watching Basil Fawlty on a loop and insisting on the right to weigh your bananas in the good old-fashioned British way rather than how the suits in Brussels tell you to?
That’s the dichotomy that has been set up by David Cameron’s promise of an in/out referendum on the EU.
Of course, British politics has long been split between so-called Europhiles and Europhobes, where one’s decency and levels of enlightenment are measured by one’s attitude towards Europe – with those who favour the EU generally being considered open-minded, and those who oppose it sniffed at for being uncouth, probably Sun readers, possibly tattooed.
But in the run-up to 2017, when Cameron’s referendum is likely to take place, we can expect this cultural divide to deepen. Everything will become about inners vs outers; broadminded Brits vs bulldog Brits; good guys who want to explore the external world vs bad guys who just want to mope about in Blighty.
But this is a false dichotomy. It fails to take into account a third section of the populace: those of us who want ‘out’ of the EU precisely because we want ‘in’ on Europe.
For us, the problem with the EU is not that it invites us to engage with seemingly peculiar peoples in far-flung corners of the continent, but that it does the opposite – alienating us from our fellow Europeans and stirring up hostility between different bits and blocs of Europe.
‘European Union’ is the greatest misnomer of modern times. This project hasn’t united Europeans; it has ripped us asunder.
Consider the antagonism that now reigns between the people of ‘hard-working’ northern Europe and the people of the allegedly lazy, feckless south of Europe.
During the current economic crisis, Brussels bigwigs have ousted elected governments in Greece and Italy and replaced them with more EU-pliant technocrats.
When in late 2011 the then Greek PM George Papandreou proposed holding a referendum on the EU-authored austerity package for Greece, Brussels went mental. Papandreou was denounced as “irrational and dangerous” and it was decreed that Greece would not receive a penny of EU bailout money until a “national unity” government had been set up that would nod through the austerity measures. Under the weight of this economic blackmail, Papandreou resigned and a new, uncritical government was installed.
In Italy, too, elected PM Silvio Berlusoni was pressured by the EU to resign, and a totally unelected “government of experts” was set up to unquestioningly implement EU austerity measures.
The impact of these anti-democratic actions has been to pit European against European
Among northern Europeans, there’s now a perception that the hot-headed peoples of the south are incapable of running their affairs and thus need cool-headed Germans or Belgians to put them straight. And among southern Europeans, there’s been an explosion of hostility not only towards the EU but towards the perceived beneficiaries of it – Germans. In Athens, street graffiti now depicts Angela Merkel and greedy, aloof Germans in general as fascistic.
When Brussels isn’t fostering political tensions between north and south, it’s inflaming cultural tensions between west and east. EU types look upon the peoples and rulers of Eastern Europe as insufficiently cosmopolitan – too right-wing, old-fashioned, un-PC.
To that end, Brussels has insisted that Ukraine (which has a democratically elected government) overhaul its legal system and do something about its alleged problem of racism before it will be considered for EU membership.
And it has publicly upbraided the right-wing government of EU member Hungary (also democratically elected) for passing laws that fall foul of the cosmo-outlook of us superior western Europeans.
Once, western and eastern Europe were divided by an Iron Curtain; now they’re divided by a Cultural Curtain, with those on the west seen as civilised and those on the east seen as one act of parliament away from reinstituting fascism.
The problem with the EU is that it unites only the elites of Europe, governments and officials who are so afear’d of their own populations that they have clubbed together in Brussels to make laws and decisions behind our backs. It was inevitable that this elite get-together would unleash, not true unity, but people-splitting snobbery and double standards.
If, like me, you love Europe and think we need more cross-border solidarity, then vote ‘out’ of the EU.Read more of my articles for spiked and other publications here.