Andreas Kluth – Berlin Bureau Chief plus Germany Correspondent for the Economist – is author of ‘Hannibal and Me: What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure.’ See A.Kluth’s Twitter account & blog
[Work in progress, it'll take the whole day since I'm busy; you can read and comment the continuously edited text in the meanwhile]
[Now - 18: 00 European central time - I have to play some J.S. Bach in a band made of friends; links and other comments will be inserted tonite or tomorrow (Cyberquill, Thomas etc. u gotta wait) ]
Here’s a selection of comments arrived in floods in response to Professor Piero Boitani’s “open” letter to David Cameron [unabridged discussion.]
A reflection on Europe vs the UK – or on Europe vs the US or vs the Mediterranean countries etc. – has always been present in this blog. See a post that is like a prologue to the present dialogues, or another on the Arab shores of the Mediterranean vis-a-vi the North shores.
The discussion this time though got A LOT heated because Europe – just my opinion – is at a big turning point. Better still, the entire world is.
Let us therefore leave the floor to commenters.
To some of Professor Piero Boitani’s main points, first, so that we can better interpret responses from our slice of the blogosphere, eg by Richard, Andy, Christopher, Potsoc, T. E. Stazyk, Cyberquill, Sledpress etc. and by Berlin Bureau Chief for The Economist Andreas Kluth (see caption above) we all have the pleasure (and honour) to dialogue with since many years.
[Andreas Kluth is Germany Correspondent for the Economist & author of "Hannibal and Me: What History's Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure" (A. Kluth's blog.) ALL links in this post are mine, MoR]
[original text; Richard's 1rst comment, below, quotes it all; I cut it just a bit]
I have followed the recent developments in your attitude to the EU with a growing sense of concern and irritation.
Since the age of 10, I have been a strong anglophile. I have studied in England, have taught and published there. [...] Quite frankly, I do not understand your opposition to Juncker, which has left Britain isolated in Europe with Orban’s Hungary (sic!).
Juncker is by no means the ideal President of the European Commission, but he is no worse than, say, Barroso. Was your opposition dictated by the fact that Junker is supposed to be a ´federalist´ and that he was indicated by the European Parliament rather than the governments? [...]
Britain ought to examine herself very deeply on the matter of Europe. The cultural roots of Britain are European, from the 1st century AD to the present. [...]
What is there in ‘Europe’ that annoys the UK? Its bureaucratic structure? [...] Or is it that Britain does not want a supranational European state, something many (not all) Europeans want so that Europe may count more in a globalized world?
But Britain already is out of that state. It has ‘opted out’ of so many things. But to think that it can stop the others from having a tighter union if they so wish, wouldn´t that be considered presumptuous in any human relationship? [...]
If Britain, at the end of such self-examination process, decides it wants to leave the EU, I shall be sad, but will face the situation serenely – and will give up my strong anglophilia [...].
Piero Boitani, Rome
Andreas Kluth [complete comment] :
“Britain’s place within (or without) the EU is one big topic. Whether Juncker was the right person for commish is another big topic. How the EU develops as a whole (with or without Britain) is a third, and the biggest.
Nobody is excited about Juncker, not even Merkel.
He will be the next commission president because of the weird head-game his rival, Martin Schulz (German, SPD), played with the concept of Spitzenkandidaten.
Somehow the German SPD convinced all Germans and most Europeans that it is more democratic if each party nominates a top candidate and the one from the strongest party then automatically becomes commissioner. They were hoping it would be Schulz, but now it is Juncker.
That Spitzenkandidaten method, however, is barely known outside Germany and alien to many Europeans. It is also not enshrined in any EU treaty. Cameron was right to question the method and insist on the prerogative of the Council to nominate a commissioner which the parliament then confirms. He was wrong only to persist in his blocking after it became clear that he left himself isolated.
Merkel and other members of the German elite want Britain to stay in the EU. They view the UK, with Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Austria and Poland as a liberal bloc with interests in less state-centric economic models. Britain’s exit (a BREXIT, it’s called) would hurt the EU in many ways. The main one may be that the EU could go in a wrong direction, the sort that France is associated with.
But the big question is where next for the EU as a structure, with or without the UK.
For most of my life, the direction was “ever closer union”, with ever more integration. The result of the May election is that people no longer want this. So we may have to switch from a “hamiltonian” model to a “holy roman empire” model [you might like this post by A. Kluth on such topics, MoR]. The former is named after Alexander Hamilton, who gave the loose confederation of the United States a stronger federal constitution. Here the EU in effect becomes a country. The latter is named after the 300+-member Holy Roman Empire as it came to be after the Thirty Years War. Here sovereignty stays with the member states in all but a few areas, under the principle of subsidiarity.
In the euro zone, a “looser union” will be more difficult, of course, because with the currency we are now attached at the hip. Hence “banking union”, as it is now coming to pass and other attempts to integrate and align these different economies.
Sooner or later, however, we will discover in the EU that we need each other. Putin may provide the impetus in the east. American may provide it in the west, because it will gradually retreat from the continent, leaving us to look after our security ourselves. And we can only do that together.
Richard [original comment] : “[…] For ease of reference, I reproduce [P. Boitani’s] paragraphs and deal with them seriatim.
“I have followed the recent developments in your attitude to the EU with a growing sense of concern and irritation […] I do not understand your opposition to Juncker [...] Was your opposition dictated by the fact that Junker is supposed to be a ´federalist´ and that he was indicated by the European Parliament rather than the governments? That is actually a more democratic method [...] “
Indication by the majority party in the European Parliament for appointment to the Presidency of the Commission does not necessarily make the process a more democratic one, for a number of reasons. A) There is no requirement for the appointee to stand for election to the post B) the appointee may never have stood for any election to a representative body of the EU C) he is not a member of the Parliament and is not answerable to it D) Analogy to the British Parliament, which is sovereign, fails on all these counts and in particular the House of Commons has the power, in practical terms, to dismiss the Prime Minister: in form the Prime Minister has constitutionally to command the support of a majority if the House of Commons and if he fails to do so he is obliged to tender his resignation to the Queen, who is obliged to accept it.
“In short, your opposition seems to me purely instrumental – […] Unless at the back of it all be an unconfessed attempt at going with the presumed British feeling of annoyance with the EU. Threatening the other EU members with ‘The UK will leave the EU if Juncker is nominated’, or ‘Anti-European feelings in Britain will grow to the point that the 2017 referendum will turn out to be against Britain staying in the UK’, is quite inappropriate, and useless, blackmail.”
This series of opinions does not take into account the will of the British people as expressed in the elections, which is not prompted by a sense of annoyance alone but also by a reasoned concern for the failure of the EU A) to accommodate and absorb a differing legal system and to note how Scotland, though within the UK, has preserved its own legal system for 300 years B) to meet established democratic expectations C) to recognise the perceived shortcomings in the rule of law and in the unfair distribution of the burdens and benefits of membership D) to satisfy an audit of income and expenditure. D) to accept the will of the people as expressed in democratic elections E) to make its deliberations public or to report intentions faithfully.
“Britain ought to examine herself [...] on the matter of Europe. [There is first] a question of [Britan's] roots and culture [which are] European, from the 1st century AD to the present. Yes, there is also a different strain, wider and tied to the British expansion on the sea, and narrower because of its feeling of insularism and isolation from the Continent. But at the critical moments in history, Britain has always made a decidedly European choice, witness the Napoleonic wars and First and Second WW.”
The British are restless under authority and it is not practical to tell them to examine themselves deeply on the question of Europe. Their democracy is an old one, they are politically sophisticated, they are likely to have made, and will continue to make, such examination of their own accord, and their governments are used to accepting the democratic will. Part of that sophistication is a willingness by the individual to accept a government that holds opinions diametrically opposed to her own and a corresponding understanding by government of the need to take into account the wishes of minorities.
It is not altogether correct that British cultural roots are European. There was a relatively advanced social system and culture in place on the arrival of Claudius in 43AD. He came principally for the rich mineral deposits and the Roman occupation was not initially taken easily. The indigenous kings were quick, however, to acknowledge the many benefits of an advanced civilisation and the occupiers were, in their turn, willing to absorb them into their system. It was the Roman way to crack down on rebellion with an iron fist, otherwise more of the existing system would have been left in place. Britain readily acknowledges the irrepayable debt it owes to Rome in so many ways, but its long presence here is as much to do with willing Romanisation as with force – a lesson in itself for the EU.
King Alfred, the only one of the Saxon kings to be called Great, the founder of the navy, the giver of laws, the translator of the bible into the vernacular, the conqueror of the vikings, the creator of England, was profoundly inspired and influenced by his visit to Rome as a child.
Britain has a tradition of classical scholarship and has been deeply influenced by it.
All this does not mean that England remained like Europe. With its roots in Saxon custom, the Common Law began under Henry II in the 12th Century and the first Parliament was called in the 13th Century, the century of Magna Carta. These roots are not shared with Europe.
It is not clear how resisting European threats in the Napoleonic and First and Second World Wars can be represented as a “decidedly European choice”.
“Secondly, there are political and economic reasons. Would the UK be better off outside the EU? Or, has Britain been worse off since it joined the then EEC? To say so would be a gross error. Has Britain been less ‘free’ since joining the EEC? You drive on the left and use miles, pounds, and pints. You have kept the pound sterling. You are out of Schengen. Is someone forcing you to eat taramasalata or sauerkraut? Or to learn ‘foreign’ languages? Or to surrender your navy to the Germans?“
It is impossible to prove one way or another whether membership of the EU has been to British advantage. Its fortunes and those of Europe are naturally linked but that does not mean that it has to be part of the EU and the advantages of continued membership are, at the very least, controversial. Similar arguments were made prior to the UK referendum in 1975.
There is a sense that Britain is less free to determine its own affairs because of the EU. Apart from the pound sterling, the other influences mentioned are trivial.
“What is there in ‘Europe’ that annoys the UK? Its bureaucratic structure? I admit it could be simplified and made more efficient, but you must yourself admit that a democratic administration for nearly thirty countries is not easy to achieve without a bureaucracy, and that the mandate of this bureaucracy is to uniform and unify, not keep the thousand tiny differences that exist within Europe. If you want free circulation of people and goods among those 30 countries, you will need laws – uniform laws all over – to protect that circulation. Didn´t the British Empire do exactly this, impose the same laws all over?“
There is annoyance, but it derives from the reasoned judgments set out in the set out above and the refusal to debate them.
Rome governed the whole of its empire with a tiny bureaucracy. There is in principle no reason why a modern democracy should not aim to do the same.
It is the mandate that Britain takes issue with. If European unity is truly desired, that mandate need not prevail.
The need for laws is not disputed. It is the nature of those laws, how they are created and how they are observed that count. As to uniformity, please see the case of Scottish Law within the UK cited in 2 above.
“Or is it that Britain does not want a supranational European state, something many (not all) Europeans want so that Europe may count more in a globalized world? But Britain already is out of that state. It has ‘opted out’ of so many things. But to think that it can stop the others from having a tighter union if they so wish, wouldn´t that be considered presumptuous in any human relationship?“
Yes. All these matters are legitimate areas for debate.
“Yet the British public is annoyed by Europe (you will of course understand that the rest of Europe might be slightly annoyed with Britain). I suggest that the British public serenely and rationally examine themselves about Europe and decide once and for all whether they want to stay in or quit. Should they decide to leave, they should realize that they will give up, together with what they consider the disadvantages of being in the EU, also the advantages.“
It is better to draw conclusions after debate not prior to it. It is possible for Britain and the EU to separate, but not Britain and Europe.
“One no longer is a member of a family, or a club, if one decides to leave it. They shall have to pay duty on their wines from Europe and grow resigned to selling less whisky in Europe because we will have to pay more duty on it. But at least they will stop having headaches about being or not being European, being or not being in the EU.“
Again it is premature to reach conclusions on these matters prior to a debate on the larger issues. Will the EU debate them?
“I confess that I feel upset when I have to show my passport upon entering Britain. I am particularly annoyed at having to change euros into sterling (something from which only banks profit) and having to buy plug adaptors for every electrical appliance I acquire either on the Continent or in Britain (something from which only the makers of such adaptors profit).“
Unfortunately, annoyances are an inevitable part of life. A proper debate on the longer term issues may lead to an alleviation of some annoyances, but not all.
“If Britain, at the end of such self-examination process, decides it wants to leave the EU, I shall be sad, but will face the situation serenely – and will give up my strong anglophilia without any further headache.“
Britain will of its own accord continue its self-examination before and after a referendum, whether in or out of the EU. Many in the EU will conduct their own self-examination.
It would be a sad failure of the EU if anyone were to reject the call of one of its constituent states with all its diversity, different allegiances and varied opinions all on account of the prejudices of a fledgling institution and at the first major sign of dissent. It is not encouraging for the comity of nations.
Andy [Englishman & long time blog pal; I met him face to face; titles by MoR] :
Democracy. To whom is this letter addressed [...] To Cameron when, in fact, it’s not for Cameron but for the British public. This letter is to chastise Cameron for his opposition to Juncker. And yet, the letter appears in the Independent. This probably excludes 80% of the population. [...]
He talks about democracy when, in fact, the people of Britain (and, to some extent, of Europe as a whole) don’t feel there is much that is democratic about the EU. Most people don’t even know who these people are! The problem with the EU controlling powers and people is that they are such a long way from the ordinary person who lives in Europe. I live in Italy where, for some time now, we have been run by someone who isn’t elected by the people, so here it is accepted. But, in Britain where, as Richard rightly says, a PM without a mandate is required to tender his resignation to the Queen and fight (if he/she wishes) a new election, it is not acceptable. The problem is that, even if there is democracy in the EU, it is not seen as democratic.
Lack of understanding. [...] I don’t think that Cameron’s reaction was so much a result of Farage’s victory as in what that victory emphasises with regard to the feelings of the British people. And Cameron’s future as PM is dictated by the will of the (near-)majority of Britons – namely the next general election. He needs to be re-elected. He will do what he thinks it will take to BE elected. THAT’s the reason for it. He’s trying to emulate Thatcher (at least in the eyes of the electorate.)
Culture. I’m with Richard 100% of the way regarding culture. British culture is completely different from Europe. Our influences have come not only from Europe but from the Empire. [...]
The fact that Britain managed to retain some things does not mean that some things have not been “lost” to Europe. Petrol is now sold in litres, sugar in kilograms. He simply has no idea how the changes we made to accommodate the “European way” affected us! (I speak on a personal note as I was at school at the time)
As Richard rightly says, it is the mandate that annoys us. And, to be honest, the thousand tiny differences are really important. Trying to change most aspects of a person’s life and habits in such a short time is counterproductive. People (and, certainly British people) tend to push back the more someone pushes against us. Stop it! Brussels should be the light hand, guiding countries towards unity. Not introducing laws to make Europe homogeneous which, after all these years, we are not.
Tighter union. The desire for a tighter union was the reason for Britain becoming involved in the wars in Europe. He’s right in one way, we are scared of a supranational state right on our doorstep – in the same way that we were scared of Hitler’s desire for a homogenous Europe. And I’m really not sure that the majority of European citizens would be in total agreement with him. But has he even asked?
I too get annoyed about having to show my passport when I return to the UK – and mine is a British passport! I too wish that Britain had the Euro – it would make my life so much easier. But I fully understand the reasoning. I joke with my fellow Italians that the reason Britain hasn’t adopted the Euro is simply because Europe won’t let us have the Queen’s head on the Euro notes and coins. But is it really a joke? After all, underlying this is the fact that someone is telling us what to do. If someone asks me nicely and it doesn’t make me feel bad or harm me or mine, then they will probably get what they want. If they try to tell me what to do or make me do something, I tend to, at best, ignore it.
And if, at the end of this, he can happily “give up my strong anglophilia without any further headache” should Britain leave the EU, then I think he’s misunderstood the meaning of anglophile. My love for Italy and for things Italian is not affected by the bad things about Italy or the bad things that Italy may do. I love Italy in spite of these things. Perhaps he might want to reconsider how strong his anglophilia is, if, in fact, it exists? You can’t just love the country and the people because they do everything you want, you know?
MoR: “WOW, Andy, I understand your point(s). You make the annoyance of Britain VERY clear (also with splendid writing incidentally.)
Although, in my view – as I’ve expressed it below, annoyance (yours, ours, no matter who’s) is just a tempest in a glass.
A BIG TSUNAMI with waves unheard-of is about to crush us all (us Europeans, at least, if not tighter united: we are cornered I guess).
That you don’t see this tsunami arriving makes your insulation, well, dangerous. Or, worse, you see it and you don’t give a damn because you think it won’t reach you.
Andy: “MoR, thank you for your kind words. I have to add that this is my view of how Britons see Europe and my response to the letter where the author clearly didn’t understand the British thinking. [...] I am intrigued as to what this tsunami might be? [...] What on earth do you envisage coming next?”
MoR: “[P. Boitani] clearly didn’t understand the British thinking .
From what I know of him, he probably knows the English better than you, also for the fact that he can see them from the outside, a big advantage, my friend.
I am intrigued as to what this tsunami might be? What on earth do you envisage coming next?
The fact that you are asking is not only evidence, as small as it may be, that I may be right (little matters) but of the fact that you people beyond the Channel are blind.
You are still the shepherds in many things for many folks (Australia etc., the US to a lesser degree, but you have imprinted them) and for us too (we need you & and we are fascinated by you – not only the MoR lol – since you are our exact opposite.)
Well, where will the sheep go if the shepherds got lost in the mist?
This is the widespread impression ‘on the Continent’ (as sensed by the MoR)
MoR [too many quotes of the MoR but other commenters are arriving, they need the entire picure. Mario: "The way you see it? Gosh" MoR: "It is *my* cafe, shut up]
[*MoR is woken up by a chirp chirp from his phone at 2 am in the morning. He unfortunately gets m-a-d*]
My dear Richard, you English people are as hard as a rock behind a polish of polite manners, so let’s see who’s harder since we have the rocks of the Alps here.
I DON’T GIVE A DAMN about my premises (and you too but will never admit it) [my reasoning was good imo but I had made the darn premises mistake]
We Continental People – Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Holland etc etc – need a *tighter* unification to survive before the huge challenges ahead worldwide so we will get it, and a tiny rainy island like yours – blinded by a past of only 12 generations and lost in an opiate dream that she can still count something – cannot stop it.
Evidence my words are not a-blowing in the wind is the absolute defeat of Mr. David Cameron.
I am not different from Professor Piero Boitani, we’re both true Romans, ardent and good-natured, but when it comes to fighting for a cause we believe in, we Romans (and Italians) have guts superior to yours, believe me (not to mention the contribution to world culture by the Italians and by the Continentals that is overwhelmingly superior to England’s, du point de vue cumulatif mais pas seulement cumulatif, les Italiens suffice.)
Besides, the fact that I love Britain, I love you and Andy, the English IT student I had a rimpatriata with today, Solid Gold and the US Wasps etc etc but also love the French, the Germans, the Austrians, the Spanish, the Russians the Chinese, the Indians (and I know decently enough 7 languages) is evidence of the fact that I am cosmopolitan in space and time, non parochial, while you people beyond the Channel … I’ll stop, I don’t want to be too rude to friends.
[I didn't by the way mention Professor Piero Boitani since he's immensely more cosmopolitan than me]
Thus said, next Sunday I will cheer Germany, not Argentina despite the blood bonds with this country and my love for Pope Francis. The upcoming match is already called here the ‘match of the two popes’.
As you can see, Roma, not Londinium, is at the centre of everything