Alphen, the Netherlands. 30 December. Just before Christmas I received an email from a friend of mine for whom I have great respect and have known many a year. He is a fifty-something and like me a tired British social democrat and one-time believer in the great idea that was Europe. His email came as a shock. He suggested that I was ‘right’, the Eurozone crisis had parted the waves of Euro-speak to reveal Germany and France for what they have always been, Britain’s natural and irreconcilable enemies. I beg to differ.
My friend had been following closely my strident defence of Britain in the teeth of the Eurozone crisis and my critique of Germany and France for their flawed and self-assumed ‘leadership’ in the name of ‘Europe’. Not a natural ally of mine the Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker summed up the flawed strategy perfectly when he said, “we know how to solve the problem, we just do not know how to get re-elected afterwards”.
French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in the nineteenth century that political liberty is easily lost because democratic peoples want equality even if it means losing liberty. Germany and France are trying to achieve something much more ambitious - leadership, equality and democracy in crisis. That does not make Germany and France enemies. Yes, it is a fairly fundamental squabble about who is in charge of Europe and how it should be organised but my objection has not been in principle to the leadership of Berlin and Paris, but rather their attempts to exclude London.
My friend's email also touched on much deeper issues that all of us in our fifties and beyond are forced to consider. None of us can expect to die from the land into which we were born. Change happens. However, since my 1958 birth the change that has taken place in my land of Europe has been so revolutionary – for better and for worse. Like him and millions of my fellow time-travellers I do indeed feel alienated not least because much of the change has been imposed upon me. He is also right that ‘positive’ discrimination does indeed condemn many men in their fifties to the wastes of ‘freelancery’ (unemployment without benefits). But we are where we are.
Weak governments Europe-wide are now forced to make difficult choices to manage the dangerous consequences of their previous inactions. Youth unemployment is soaring, populations are rising seemingly uncontrollably and social and cultural diversity now challenges old concepts of society. Britain is a case in point. One only has to look at the place to realise that the London-elite are utterly detached from the everyday reality of ordinary Britons.
So why do I persevere sending out blogs into the unfathomable ether? It is precisely because I do feel alienated from the political process however futile my blogging may on occasions seem. Far from retreating from politics now is the moment to engage. Indeed, if I do not engage liberty in Europe will slowly die. And, strangely, being a fifties-something man I have earned the liberty not to cow-tow to anyone, however powerful or important they believe themselves to be.
Irish poet W.B. Yeats once wrote; “When you are old and grey and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book, and slowly read, and dream of the soft look, your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep”.
So, my friend, I am sorry you misunderstood my meaning but Germany and France are not Britain’s enemies, they are not even friends, they are family. The shadows are indeed deep but there is always hope and you too must engage for the sake of our Europe.
Happy New Year!