I regard myself as a European. I love French and Italian culture, Greek architecture, Spanish Tapas and Dutch cheese. I live in England. I run a travel business selling amazing holidays in Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Greece. I’m proud to be British and I’m even prouder to be European.
24th June, 2016 – Like many other British people I woke up this morning to discover that the referendum held yesterday to decide Britain’s future in Europe has been won by the ‘Leave’ campaigners. The turn out was high at 72% and the voting was close, about 17 million voted to leave the EU and 16 million to stay. I voted to stay. My initial reaction was one of sorrow and disbelief. I have worked with my European colleagues and friends for the last 40 years (almost). I have many friends in Greece, Italy, Spain, France and Holland. We are all so similar, we all work hard, we all encourage our children, we all look forward to our free time in the mountains or by the sea. We all love our history and heritage. I feel as if we have been manipulated by our politicians. There is now economic uncertainty and a sense of anxiety fills my heart.
I want to try and explain in my opinion, why the British have voted to leave the European Union. Firstly it is important to understand that the European Union originated in the rubble of the Second World War. Originally a trading area, known as The Common Market, it was an attempt by politicians to unite Europe and encourage trade between France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Over the years this ‘Common Market’ has grown aggressively into the European Union that we see today. It is a giant, monolithic edifice that wastes tax payers money faster than we can earn it. It is like the cannabalistic plant in the ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ growing, enlarging, becoming greedier and greedier. It is run by a group of arrogant, out-of-touch bureaucrats and politicians who are universally disliked. In fact these bureaucrats could have avoided yesterday’s disastrous voting decision by modernising and stream-lining their activities in Brussels and Strasbourg. But of course that would have meant tightening their belts. Unlike every day people, like me, who have to balance their income and their expenditure, the fat cats in Brussels and Strasbourg don’t concern themselves with accountability. They never have and they probably never will.
The EU as a bureaucratic structure is deeply flawed. However it does give us a global voice in the world. It gives us free movement of people and goods within the member states. The introduction of the Euro currency has simplified and improved trade in Continental Europe and has strengthened economic ties between member states. Even we in Britain have benefited enormously as we can pay suppliers in different parts of the EU in the same currency. So why am I so upset about the referendum decision? For me it is a backward looking and xenophobic step. It shows that more than half of the voters in Britain believe that their lives will be better outside the EU. There is no evidence whatsoever to support this. We have politicians and campaigners fanning the flames of fear and isolation. The voters of Britain have allowed these politicians to de-humanise our European neighbours, so that many see them not as friends but as enemies. A threat that must be dealt with at any cost. This is simply not true. We are all so similar. We are all Europeans. It is so much kinder and healthier to focus on our common goals and interests rather than our differences.
The French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy commented in the French press recently that ‘the French too would leave the EU given a referendum opportunity’. This may or may not be true. The truth is that many Europeans are disillusioned with the EU and the waste of public money. So why oh why could Brussels not have listened years ago and adapted and reformed to make itself useful to the people it is supposed to serve. In practical terms Britain’s departure from the EU is going to be a lengthy and tortuous process. It will take an absolute minimum of two years. This is a complicated political mess that has been imposed on us unnecessarily, in my opinion, by our own elected politicians.
For too long the government elite in Westminster have ignored the increasing prosperity of the London area and the terminal decline of traditional manufacturing areas. When the novelist and essayist EM Forster wrote ‘Two Cheers for Democracy’ he talked about the weakness of the democratic system. He observed that the system only worked as well as the electorate. In other words, informed voters vote in an informed way. Without access to intelligent and rigorous debate voters are left not knowing which way to go or who to support. The quality of the debate, on all sides, in the lead up to the referendum was very poor.This leaves social media and the press to influence voters through fear, intimidation and down right manipulation. Tragically this has happened here in Britain in the ‘oldest democracy’ in the world. I think David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum, always a risky business, has back-fired spectacularly on him. An incredibly close result has sealed our fate. Any successful business owner will tell you that you keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Our fellow Europeans are our friends. We’d be so much better off influencing Europe from within.
My friends in Italy and France are still my friends – in fact I am going to send them messages of reassurance today. As for the bloody politicians, what a bunch of self-serving tedious idiots they are. We’ve been let down by our so-called leaders. In moments of private introspection I wonder if any of them feel ashamed. They certainly should do!
I was European yesterday and I’m European today!!!
Reviewing this article that I wrote – over three years ago now – nothing has changed. I just feel rather sad! I’m mostly living in Italy these days…..
1st February, 2020
5 thoughts on “What does it mean to be European?”
Thanks for explaining. When I heard the news yesterday afternoon here in Australia, I was shocked and in disbelief as I felt in my heart that it would not happen. Although I am not a Brit, I am a descendant, I am very SAD. I do not understand their thinking. It certainly has affected the entire world. Our stock market plummeted and lost about 53 billion dollars in one day. I suppose we just now wait and see what the outfall is.
Yes – I think the outcome might be positive eventually – I hope so. Certainly the EU has become a massive cost to all EU member states. It does seem to me though that the politicians forget that people are just people. Mostly friendly, caring, interesting folks……as my son likes to say about us humans…..’We are all just monkeys in shoes….’
May I have your e-mail address – I’d like to send you something – please.
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here you go Janet. email@example.com
Ditto here to what Lyn said except I am Canadian. I spend part of my year, every year in Italy. My husband is Italian and I will be starting the process for citizenship this summer. One of the things I was truly looking forward to was the possibility of a longer stay in the UK at some point without having to get a visa. I guess this is off the table now. I so agree with your comments that this is the result of uninformed and xenophobic attitudes. I believe, and have believed for a long time, that we are all part of a global community. Our ‘siblings’ in Africa, Syria, Pakistan, El Salvador, Colombia, Burma, and every other place that there is and has been difficulties, are still are our global family and should be treated as such. To look at it any other way leads us into NIMBY-type thinking which is truly good for no one. Research in countries in the global north all over the world shows that immigrants – particularly refugees – make good, hard working citizens in spite of what the media tells us.
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Hi Diane – as the dust starts to settle – we will embark on a 2 year leave journey when the Btitish government invoke Article 50. Then there is a 2 year time scale. I don’t think there will be any significant changes in the near future. I still feel very sad and upset. On a more cheerful note I travel and write about Italy all the time – I recently wrote about the charming small city of Ferrara – it might cheer you (and me) up thinking about that!!
I do appreciate your comment and that you shared your thoughts with me – makes me feel less alone!