Can Europe Make It?

I want to know whether the political class in Brussels is any different from that in Westminster

Joe Lo
17 January 2014

My name's Joe Lo. I'm a 23-year old who's lived in London all my life apart from an enjoyable 3-year stint at University in the northern city of Sheffield. I live in a 3-bedroom flat with my girlfriend and three of her friends and I'm studying an intense year-long course in Journalism at Kingston University. My main interests are politics and football and I'm a Green Party voter and a Chelsea FC fan.

To the European Union I feel ambivalent. I'm not a Eurosceptic but neither am I a Europhile. A question that's often asked in Britain is "who runs Britain? Brussels or Westminster?". This is a rhetorical question. It's taken for granted that you'd much rather be ruled from Westminster (the area of London where the British parliament is based) than Brussels (where the European parliament is based). For me, the question seems less relevant. The important question is what sort of people are running our lives? In whose interests? At whose expense? Not where exactly they are located geographically.

So what I want to know is whether the political class in Brussels is any different from that in Westminster and over whom do ordinary people have more control. I think they are very similar. They're both mainly made up of rich, white men and bend to the wishes of big corporations not the ordinary people who vote for them. The proposed referendum on our membership of the EU is a meaningless distraction from the real issues that affect British people like unemployment, the cost of living and inequality.

I think many of my friends feel the same as I can not remember ever discussing the EU although I discuss politics regularly. I think this is because my friends are young and live in the multicultural metropolis of London. The people who are obsessed with the EU are generally older and live in less internationalized areas. Perhaps they have never visited Europe. For my generation, living in the EU is a fact of life. We don't consciously think about it but leaving it seems a bit weird, a bit drastic. Like leaving Facebook. You could do it but why would you? Everyone else is on it. 

This doesn't mean we feel "European" though. I would describe myself first and foremost as a Londoner. Secondly as British or English and only European as an afterthought. Only 14% of British people in a recent survey described themselves as European compared to 48% of Poles, 39% of Germans and 34% of French people. When we go on holiday across the channel we describe ourselves as "going to Europe". I have an Austrian friend who finds this irritating. "You are in Europe", she says, "What are you talking about? You are just going to another part of Europe". 

I think there are three reasons why we feel like we are not European. The first is geographical, we have to cross the sea to "get to Europe". Prices for the ferry, Eurostar train and the Channel tunnel are expensive so this is a real barrier. Unlike most of Europe we can't just drive across borders. We have to bring passports and book in advance.

The second is linguistic. There are many non-European countries that share our language. This is not unique. Much of the world speak Spanish, French and Portugese but those countries are largely former colonies that have a very different standard of living and culture to their colonisers. Whereas English-speaking former colonies include wealthy, culturally similar ones such as America, Canada and Australia. A recent poll showed that we see these countries as our strongest allies, with France only in fourth. The talk of a "Special Relationship" between America and Britain is much mocked, both seriously after the unpopular Iraq War and humorously in the romantic comedy Love Actually, but it seems we do still cling on to the idea.

The third is historical. While most of Europe was invaded by Hitler or the Soviet Union (or both) during World War Two, the British mainland was not invaded. Although we love to talk about the Second World War, as it was the one time in history we were "the good guys", we escaped from it relatively unscathed and so the idea of European Unity is not seen as of such vital necessity.

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