Yesterday, at work, I was on the phone dealing with a query from a client in Germany. His English was laboured but my German is a whole lot worse – around twenty words of German and twelve of those are the numbers one to twelve – so I wasn’t about to make any judgements. Once we’d finished with business it was clear he wanted to chat, well, we weren’t busy and keeping clients happy is part of my job so I was happy to listen. He’d been a really sweet man to deal with and that wasn’t about to change. He was in his mid sixties and I understood him to be retired from some sort of educational post involving politics.
He asked politely if it would be ok for him to broach a subject that until now has apparently been taboo between our countries. The gist of it was that he was aware the Germans had a bad reputation based on their history (which I assumed to mean in relation to the wars but I could have misunderstood), to which I felt obliged to mention they also had a good reputation as hard workers and brilliant technicians, especially in industry. Regardless of this, his point was that, putting our history aside, we are much more alike than many others of the European Community. It seemed important to him that at least one person over here should know that the general population in Germany did not agree with their politicians’ stance with regard to the European Union. He was perfectly clear in his meaning, using simple words; that the general populace in Germany was behind the UK in standing up to recent proposals put forward by Germany and France.
To be fair, so you know the basis for my thinking, I’m not in favour of the EU. I don’t object to the common market side of it, that’s not a dissimilar concept to the Commonwealth, just involving different countries. I just don’t see why we should want any deeper entanglements. I’ve never been an advocate of ‘bigger is better’; in my mind it simply makes things more unwieldy and more difficult to control. Also, Europe is a wonderfully complex and diverse mix of peoples, lifestyles, and beliefs. Those differences are what makes Europe such a richly interesting place, I would hate to see it reduced to a position where there would be no difference between one country and the next – how boring! However, because of these differences, there is a great disparity in attitude towards work ethics and collecting taxes, amongst many others. Besides, which country’s peoples, lifestyle and beliefs are the best? Who should we all mould ourselves around? No – best we evolve separately. If that evolution leads us into closer ties and eventual merging into one society then fine, but let it happen naturally, gradually, over a long period of time. So far, we’ve been hurried, harried, hustled, pushed and bullied into what we are today – and IT’S NOT WORKING! All countries of the EU have long histories and traditions. We don’t do well being told what to do. We all want to stamp our own personality on the union; we are not ready to be what France and Germany are trying to make us into.
I had rather thought my view was a small and solitary one but my conversation with the sweet German seems to show otherwise. I’ve spoken to others here over the last 24 hours and I’m not the only one to hold these views. The consensus (ok…it’s not a large consensus) seems to be that we’re not ready yet; we’re too entrenched in our outlooks due to our long histories and we need more experience working together under a ‘Common Market’ before we try to take any further steps.
The EU could work, eventually; the US is an example of different states, with different rules working together. So why should it work so much better for them than us? Well, history is a large part. There is just SO MUCH history in Europe between the different member countries, so many differences to put aside. The countries are entrenched in their own history and not naturally looking to associate themselves with others. The Americans were made up of the more adventurous individuals of the old countries, they were people who were looking for a different life and willing to work hard to achieve that. They WANTED to create something new, even if they didn’t know what it was they were aiming for while they were living through it. We in Europe, however, are not made of the same mind-set and until we WANT it, it’s not going to work. The Americans didn’t manage it overnight and even then, not without difficulties. If they, with their younger outlook and drive couldn’t manage it without problems, how can we, with our centuries of discord and differences manage it in a mere few years?
No, I say better to re-trench, work together as best we can until we become more used to each other and wait and see how matters develop. Who knows...perhaps the end result will be better for evolving rather than being forced?