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Europe: An Explanation

An American reader – yes, Random Rants is truly a global enterprise – has asked why I haven’t bothered to write about the recent European parliamentary elections.  There is a two-word answer: nobody cares.  Or at least in Britain nobody cares.

Yes, I know, we should care.  And, yes, of course there are some people who must care, or there wouldn’t have been any results for the newspapers to make a fuss about, and no reason to write about the political ‘earthquake’ of the UKIP victory.

But the underlying and undeniable fact is that few people in Britain – I can’t testify for the other 28 countries – bother to vote, and even most of those who do turn up at the polling station haven’t the faintest idea who their sitting MEP is or who the various candidates on the ballot paper are.  Most couldn’t tell you which party has the majority in the British contingent in Strasbourg (or is it Brussels?).  I can’t, for one.

In short, the European parliament, along with all the other institutions that increasingly hold sway over the governance of most of the continent, is considered by most Britons to be an irrelevance and a needless encumbrance, a handy vehicle for providing itinerant anonymous politicians with an unexamined boondoggle and a nice little earner to boot.

I plead guilty to such democratic dereliction myself. 

Two weeks ago I dutifully showed up at my local polling station out of a sense of duty without having the faintest idea who the candidates were.  An attendant handed me a sheet of paper as long as an unravelled roll of loo paper.  On this scroll about 15 names appeared, representing parties large and small, famous and anonymous. 

In the latter category was a party called “I’m English First, British Second, and Not European at all”.   Catchy, isn’t it.  I bet he collared a few hundred votes.  I can’t say for sure because I didn’t bother to look up the results. 

Some of the other party names were equally facetious.  I voted for a candidate from one of the mainstream parties, if you must know, but don’t ask me his name or anything about him.  Or perhaps it was her, I don’t remember.

This week, or some time soon, the member countries will be voting for a European president.  Who gets to vote, and in what precise forum, I can’t tell you.  You can look it up yourself if you’re that interested.  I’m not.  All I know is that we the citizens of Europe do not get to vote.

The favourite for the post is a former prime minister of Luxembourg, who was kicked out of office in his last national election.  I don’t recall his name offhand, but I’ve read that he’s a committed Federalist.  In other words he believes in a United States of Europe.  For that reason, or perhaps in spite of it, he’s supported by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.  Naturally he’s strongly opposed by the British Prime Minister David Cameron.  Where the other countries stand, I can’t tell you.  I think a lot of horse-trading goes on during these affairs. Other candidates include the Irish Taoiseach (I dare you to write that without looking it up) and, reportedly, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. I think there’s also a lady from Latvia, or Lithuania, or perhaps it’s Finland.  I’d have to look it up.

As you can see, there’s a good range of choices from around the continent.  What’s lacking is a good range of voters.

I’m being very flippant is how I bet you Americans are thinking.  But let me ask you this: how would you like to be represented by a president from a foreign country of 5,000 people who was elected by a cabal of his peers and not by the voters?   I think I know the answer.   

Now, I’m going to surprise you.  I think Britain should stay in Europe.  It’s a dreadful mess, politically, economically and financially, but now that Britain has lost the Empire there’s nowhere else for us to go.  And I don’t want to pay 30 percent more for a decent bottle of wine.

But my fellow Britons by and large despise the whole European political edifice, and much of what it stands for.  They’re right to, if mostly for the wrong reasons, and I think the rest of Europe is starting to feel the same way, I’d say for the right reasons.  Something will happen to Europe over the next decade, I’m sure, but don’t ask me what.  A reduced Euro-zone would be my first guess.

By Britons I suppose I have to exclude the Scots.  They haven’t voted for independence yet, and they probably won’t, but the point is that many of them don’t want to belong to a prosperous country they joined three centuries ago, but would happily join a failed one that was founded a few years back.  Go figure that one out.

The point I’m making is that if Britons take the rather lofty view that Europe is a mess, they might consider sorting their own affairs out first.  For Scotland also read Northern Ireland, where a large part of the population would rather feel they were contributing to the decline of the Irish economy than to the rise of the British economy.  Sorry Wales, you’re too small to rate a mention.  Keep beating England at rugby and stop worrying about the rest.

I hope, my friend Scott, you feel that this brief insight has brought light where there was once darkness.  But don’t ask me again. 

Or, as my Mum used to say, ask a silly question and you’ll get a silly answer.

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