It wasn't so long ago that any discussions relating to Europe would have centred around maybe half a dozen of the region's different sovereign states, rather than the continental federation of 28 which now constitute the comparatively new economic and politically driven construct, which is the European Union. Where once the international community spoke about and dealt with the likes of France, Britain, Germany, Holland, Sweden and Denmark, along with a raft of other ancient nation states, now the international community commonly speak to and deal with faceless appointees of the EU, rather than the national representatives of the individual sovereign countries, which for the most part have willingly allowed themselves to be subsumed by the growing continental monstrosity, with its unerring mantra of "ever closer unity".
It's hard to imagine that impoverished Portugal once led the western world in sea-borne exploration of the globe, producing some of European history's greatest ever maritime explorers and opening up the western coast of Africa, along with parts of South America, for trade, for settlement and yes for exploitation too! But who will remember all of that rich cultural history, now that Portugal has agreed to sell itself, its people, its future employment prospects, its national currency, all for the prospect of being good little Europeans, rather than remaining proud and independent Portuguese, or even Iberians?
The same might be said of their larger neighbours, Spain, the only European nation to have ever truly rivalled Britain on the global stage, in terms of its own imperial ambitions; and that but for the vagaries of the Atlantic weather, might well have become one of those small number of foreign states ever to successfully invade England. Alongside its Iberian neighbours though, Spain too has chosen to essentially abandon its rich cultural and nationalistic past in favour of becoming just another region of the proposed United States of Europe, sacrificing control of its currency, its jobs markets, its national borders and its traditional fishing grounds, simply to become a fairly unremarkable member of this new socio-economic club.
As for France! Well, what can one say? For hundreds of years, France and England have shared a love/hate relationship that generally defies rational explanation. Whether we have been fighting one another, or fighting against a common foe, our mutual and traditional antagonisms have never been that far away, but still our political leaders have managed to put them to one side, if only for as long as it takes for disaster to be averted, or for the danger to be confronted and overcome. From a purely French perspective, one can well understand that the emergence and development of the European Union, with its ethos of ever closer union, is generally not regarded as a threat or a danger to France itself. Why would it be, when France was one of the chief architects of the post World War II proposals that brought the first incarnation of the Union into being? Added to that is the fact that France commonly treats EU rules and regulations as a buffet of choice, picking out the bits that it likes and disposing of, or ignoring those parts that it doesn't quite like the look of. Even though France has been called upon to surrender its national currency, its border controls and a multitude of other national competences, in order to comply with the EU's myriad of new rules and regulations, overall, by benefiting from them directly, or by just ignoring those that don't add benefit to their economy or society, one can well understand why France would actually regard the EU as a worthwhile experiment.
As regards Britain's attitude to Europe generally and the European Union specifically, one supposes that it depends on who you ask? For the most part, it seems highly likely that a majority of Britons are largely indifferent to "Europe" as a general subject, either because they haven't given the matter a great deal of thought, or don't know enough about the subject to offer an informed opinion about it either way. Likewise, one would assume that most Britons don't really care that much about the EU as an organisation, unless of course it happens to be mentioned with regard to immigration, or the Human Rights Act, both of which tend to receive a significant amount of attention in the British media, often for the most negative sorts of reasons. The truth is though that if someone were to suggest filling in the Channel Tunnel and building a high wall around the southern coast of Britain, the vast majority of us probably wouldn't be that bothered by the plan, providing that some sort of reasonable justification was offered for doing it. We simply don't care enough about Europe, the EU, or anything else on the other side of the Channel, why should we?
Okay! So some poor souls might miss their Brie, their Champagne, their French Wine, their Swiss chocolate, but so what? Shit happens! For all such losses though, if someone were to justify the move by telling the British people that virtually all immigration from the continent would stop, or that they wouldn't be seeing any more Islamic clerics abusing our welfare systems through the use of the Human Rights Act, most people would welcome the move; and some would even help build the wall, or fill in the tunnel with their bare hands. Europe was, is and will always remain a nuisance to most Britons, as it simply represents a reminder of the complete waste of British lives, influence and money that have been invested in the place for the past two hundred years or more.
In fact, it might well be argued that it is not the success of the European continent or the European Union that has seen Britain attach itself to this particular political experiment, but rather the failure of our own British politicians to come up with a viable alternative. It's little wonder that the British people are so unenthusiastic about Europe and the EU when most of them recognise that in reality it is and always has been a really, really bad idea, but one that we've been forced to choose, because there isn't another on offer. To put it into some sort of perspective, the EU as an idea, is a bit like pretending that a drainpipe is a bucket; and the user being constantly surprised when the water keeps pissing out of one bottom of it!
Of course the initial concept of the EU, a European trading bloc, where tariffs and duties were removed for member states, was a pretty good idea, but as with most politicians, the architects behind the scheme just couldn't stop tinkering with the idea. Clearly never having heard the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" they did try and fix it; and screwed it up entirely! Then when they found themselves in a socio-economic hole, they just kept digging, presumably on the basis that if they dig long enough and deep enough, then they'll emerge into daylight at some point in time?
Although we'd all like to think that the EU is being run by the brightest and the best, clearly nothing could be further from the truth. Small men having small minds can be the only explanation as to why what started off as a straightforward customs union, has subsequently morphed into a continental sized economic and bureaucratic nightmare that even the likes of Dr Steven Hawking would struggle to explain; and he's a clever fellow, unlike some of the political pygmies who seem to think they're in charge of the EU.
The less charitable amongst us might choose to believe that the EU is little more than a giant spider's web of deceit, woven with strands of financial impropriety, political shenanigans and sheer human vanity, at the centre of which sits the likes of Angela Merkel and her political associates in Germany. "She who pays the piper, calls the tune", so they say and there can be little doubt that financially strong and industrially active Germany is definitely pulling all of the various strands that constitute this particular web. There's nothing wrong in that of course, provided that Frau Merkel and her political cohorts are honest enough to admit that they're in charge, because they can be and choose to be, as well as admitting what their true intentions are. If their long term goal is to create a United States of Europe, similar to the USA, then tell people that. If they're determined to recreate some form of Socialist Federation, similar to the old Soviet Union, then they should tell people that also. Because, sure as eggs is eggs, people are going to figure it out for themselves at some point and if they don't like what they see, then what's going to happen then?
Obviously I can't speak for other countries, but here in the UK it has become something of a standard joke that most of our failed politicians are simply exported to Europe in order to work for the EU in some or other role, Lord and Lady Kinnock, Lord Mandelsson, Baroness Ashton, to name but a few of the so-called worthies that we've managed to off-load to the continent. Bearing in mind that they've hardly covered themselves with glory on this side of the Channel, therein perhaps lies a clue as to their actual abilities, after all one rarely disregards a star striker, whereas a clapped out old fart is another matter entirely. Sadly though, the fact that the EU accepted them in the first place is noteworthy, suggesting that the entire organisation is being manned and run by a variety of national rejects, has-beens and second stringers, with the odd few political exceptions , like Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall and Godfrey Bloom, thrown in.
The nearest comparison that one could point to when describing the EU and the European Parliament is probably the Eurovision Song Contest, which may in fact be fairly indicative of the way things work on the continent. The judging panel (in this case the Parliament) sits and listens to the individual song (in this case, the particular piece of legislation); and then when it's finished, they consult with their neighbour (in this case, representatives with a similar political outlook); and once they're sure that it's of mutual beneficial interest to them they vote in favour. However, as with Eurovision, any legislation connected with or of benefit to the United Kingdom, is automatically greeted with a "nil" point, so good luck to Mr Cameron when he attempts to recreate that "Bucks Fizz" moment between now and 2017.
Of course there's no good reason why our European neighbours should do us any favours, after all they're as indifferent about us, as we are about them. The only people who keep wittering on about being good Europeans are those EU employees, who generous salaries and over-inflated egos are entirely dependent on the project carrying on indefinitely, so a certain amount of self interest needs to be taken into account when considering such things. It would represent a massive failure for the EU project if Britain were to withdraw from the European Union, not least to those countries who are equally exasperated with its excesses, but too timid to say so publicly. Better to let Britain get all of the political grief, while they might gain some of the benefits, from any blood that the UK may be able to draw from the European Parliamentary stone. That's assuming of course that whoever we have as Prime Minister doesn't allow themselves to be as easily hoodwinked as Mr Cameron obviously was over the last round of European budget cuts, or his veto that wasn't a veto, until someone with a bit more commonsense explained it to him, although even then he still believed that he'd scored a victory, which just goes to prove what an embarrassment he really is!
Ultimately, the European Union may well have begun life with the noblest of intentions, that of preventing any future wars between Germany and its continental neighbours. The fact that this common treaty eventually evolved into a Common European Market was perhaps inevitable and laudable, had it remained simply that, a common customs union, or common marketplace. Sadly, earlier ill-conceived continental dreams of a Europe wide federation of states have subsequently been adopted by various politicians, often as much for their own personal vanity, or their individual nation's interests, without any real thought being given to how such radical socio-economic developments might impact on those less advanced nations who willingly chose to join the project.
One might well regard the European Union like a set of child's building blocks. Typically, the child on first use might simply continue to place the blocks on top of one another, unaware or indifferent to the instability affecting the structure, until eventually it falls over and crashes to the floor. It might take a child a few attempts to figure out that they need to secure the foundations of the pile of bricks, in order to ensure its stability, but eventually they'll work it out and no-one gets hurt in the process (unless of course they happen to be using real house bricks, in which case it's probably not a good idea to let them play with them in the first place) In a sense though that's exactly what the architects of the EU have been doing, allowing children to play with real house bricks, which in real life has resulted in the peoples of Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain and Ireland getting hurt. However, rather than taking the bricks off the child, they're currently in the process of inviting even more children to join in the game, including those from Macedonia, Montenegro, Turkey and Serbia. One wonders if they too will be enticed by the supposedly cheap money, the new roads, the shiny new cars, as were their Greeks, Cypriots and Spanish counterparts, who are now busily extracting themselves from the mountain of debt that engulfed them?
It cannot be a coincidence that Germany, one of the chief architects of the European Union and the central financier of the project, also happens to be one of the main beneficiaries of this enlargement and the ongoing European indebtedness. Could it genuinely be the case that the entire EU project is little more than a glorified Ponzi scheme, where new members are constantly required in order to feed the financial rewards given to earlier participants? If that's the case then what happens when you run out of European countries who are desperate to join? Do you move into Asia, Africa, the Middle East? And where do you stop?
Maybe a simpler answer, is that the EU is a big project being run by small men, who have neither the capacity, competence, or the personal integrity to handle such a massive undertaking, always assuming that it should have been started in the first place. Big, old countries like Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Britain haven't become easier to govern, they've become far more complicated, so quite why, the likes of Catherine Ashton, Herman Van Rumpoy or Jose' Manuel Barroso believe they can represent them, understand them, let alone solve their problems is a complete nonsense. Why would Angela Merkel, David Cameron, or Francoise Hollande care about the day-to-day problems of Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal, Denmark or Sweden, when they're elected and paid to look after the interests of their national electorates? And if the answer is that Catherine Ashton, Herman Van Rompuy or Jose' Manuel Barroso are paid to do that job, then I'll pose the obvious question, how on earth would they do that? Small minded men and women dealing with big national and international issues....why would we rely on them to solve what are fairly insurmountable problems? That would be as stupid as asking a history graduate to run the entire British economy, wouldn't it?