I have a dirty secret
I have a dirty little secret. I want to share it with you. I know it’s not how most people think these days but… I love the EU. I don’t just mean Europe – the physical entity, with its fine wine, multitudinous cheeses and balmy weather – no, I mean the EU, The European Union, the institution. There I said it, I feel a lot better now. I don’t know what Nigel Farage will think of me. I am 50 years old, white, British and working class. He will have assumed that UKIP would be my natural home. He’ll probably think I’ve let him down, but I can’t help it, I love the EU. I like the idea, the concept. Nation States coming together and working out how best to co-operate and share the glorious privilege that being born on the continent of Europe bestows.
The EU has changed the way we think and the way we live. It has crept up on us so we haven’t really noticed. It is only when you look back the changes become apparent. I’ll give you an example: No working class man or woman in the 1970’s ever came home, poured them selves a large glass of red wine, plated up a generous portion of aubergine pasta bake and settled down in front of the TV. It didn’t happen. Not like now. In countless homes men and women are nightly drinking themselves into a satisfying stupor on £4.99 bottles of Cote du Rhone, unable to focus on the subtitles of the latest Scandinavian drama.
We have become more knowledgeable, more articulate and more experienced about the food and culture of Europe. When I was a child I considered a slice of pizza to be an exotic foreign delicacy. Like most families we survived on a strict diet of meat and two veg every day. The exception of course being Friday, when we’d crack open a box of fish fingers. Today the range of food available and our expectations of food have become much more in tune with the rest of the continent. We want it to be good.
So how did we get here?
In 1973 Britain joined what was then the European Economic Community (or Common Market). In 1975 we had a referendum to decide whether it was a good idea or not, and a whopping 67% majority thought that it was. To start with it just seemed to be just about farming and fishing quotas. In the 1980’s Margaret Thatcher got very cross about it but then integrated us even further. Somewhere a Cheese Mountain and a wine lake appeared, but on the whole I for one didn’t pay it a great deal of attention. No doubt the EEC was changing our lives, but the pace of change was like a snail without a shell, sluggish.
Soon though, the turbo boosters were fired up. In 1991, in a small town in the Netherlands called Maastricht, a plot was hatched. The Common Market/EEC was cast aside and replaced by the shiny new European Union. We were now citizens of Europe. Didn’t we rejoice? No, not really. But this time there were noticeable changes. We could now go and live anywhere where we wanted, for as long as we wanted, and listen to as much Euro pop as our ears could tolerate. We take that for granted now. It’s easy to forget that until 1975 three of our current favourite holiday home destinations: Spain, Portugal and Greece, were fascist dictatorships; where drinking Sambuca from the navel of a sunburnt receptionist from Stoke could have led to a night in the cells, an enthusiastic interrogation and a warning to leave immediately never to return. This new freedom also spawned several new genres of television. We could now watch people on several channels; buying houses in Europe; selling houses in Europe; and perhaps most excitingly of all building houses in Europe. We could also now watch young adults on holidaying in Europe from the comfort of our own living rooms. At one point I actually thought it was a legal requirement that any group of teenagers travelling to the Mediterranean, had to be accompanied by a camera crew to film their every drink, vomit and sexual encounter; for the purposes of insurance I assumed.
I like the practical things the EU has given us: The Working Time Directive. Who could not like that? We now have in law some very nice rules. We have the right to a minimum number of holidays each year. We have the right to rest breaks, and at least 11 hours off in any 24. It prevents excessive night work and ensures you get at least one day off after a weeks work. It also provides for the right to work no more than 48 hours per week: if you choose. Who can argue that those are bad things? (I can think of quite a few actually).
I like the Human Rights Act. It simply put the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. A convention that was written mostly by us, in the 1950’s, and supported by no less of a humanitarian than Winton Churchill. Who doesn’t like Human Rights? (Yes I know, it’s them again)
I want my son to continue to have the option of being able to work and live anywhere in Europe. Its easy to forget how privileged that makes us. It is a luxury that thousands of people outside of Europe annually risk, and lose, their lives trying to attain.
That brings me to another confession. I like immigration. I like people coming here, spending their money, building up our economy and contributing to the growth and development of this wonderful country.
The love I have of the EU doesn’t make me love Britain any less; in fact the opposite is true. I love Britain even more. I love how it has changed. I feel British and I feel European. The two are not mutually exclusive. Countries need to grow and adapt. If not, they wither away, and become like a UKIP/Tory conference speech: hollow, backward looking, and a little bit mean.
If you love the EU, please share this blog. If you don’t… well lets face it, if you don’t you certainly won’t have read this far.