Geography book primary school 1965: To a Unified Europe.
The United Kingdom decided to leave Europe today; good riddance to them, I would say. Let me give a little personal reflection on this, based on the way I, as a Dutch boy, was raised in the early 60s with ‘Europe’ in our blood. I don’t reflect on the current situation directly, because I don’t live in Europe and I cannot and will not assess the sentiment about Brexit, or Europe, at this very moment in The Netherlands. I hope to find out a bit about that in my visit the next few weeks.
Back to 1964. 4th class of Primary School (year 6). The war ended only 19 years before, West-Germany was a neighbour and former invader. Holland had lost Indonesia only 16 years earlier. The sentiment at school was ‘Europe’. Of course we lived in the Netherlands, but we were taught about Europe; The Netherlands was proud
to be with Belgium, France, Luxembourg, West-Germany and Italy one of the founding fathers of the European Community of Coal and Steel and of the Europe Economic Union. No questions asked, this was it and it was good. As kids we were raised in the knowledge that Germany and Italy belonged with the other four countries to one community. ‘Europe’ in this sense has been part of our default thinking.
From 1960 we did not have border control with Belgium and Luxembourg, and with the treaty of Schengen the borders to the other three countries opened up as well in 1985.
My geography book of primary school, 1964: The six founding countries on a map; in ink (no ballpoints yet!), my handwriting, the names at the right.
In discussions with British, here in Australia, I have learned that for them Europe was much more a ‘formal’ thing. It does not have that feeling of ‘unification’ and it never did. Maybe that made the current Brexit so easy for them. I often wonder whether in how many countries that ‘European sentiment’ really exists. I’m sure about France, Germany and the Benelux. But others?
Of course, since the 60s a lot has changed. Personally I would have liked to see the expansion of the political and economic power of Europe with just the original 6 countries, or maybe a few more… Spain, Portugal, the UK, Austria, Ireland. I thought that that was the plan, and then forming a sort of democratic super government that would have got real power on certain topics, like defense, foreign policy and trade. With a democratic European Parliament that could have worked. But things have worked out very differently.
The established European Parliament has been a farce, right from the start; I’ve always refused to vote in its elections, because I considered it an insult to the term ‘parliamentary democracy’. No power, heaps of costs and bureaucracy and it was anything but the law making and law enforcing body it should have been. The individual countries did not give enough power to Europe to make it work.
Another problem has been the rapid inclusion of many other countries, in my view pushed by the USA. The fall of the wall in 1989 made the USA push Europe to rapidly include the Eastern European countries. The vessel to do this was the EU. I believe that that was the nail at the coffin of the EU. In my – distant – vision it has given fuel to the right wing anti-Europe movement and to crisis like the current immigration problems. Issues caused mainly by the USA and the UK because of their Middle East policies, have now to be solved by Europe. And now gets too hard, the UK simply runs away.
In my vision of saving Europe, based on nothing more than a view from far overseas, it is necessary to re-create a hard core of some countries, maybe the six founders, and a shell of loosely connected other, independent countries. Europe should be based again on this strong nucleus of cultural and economic unity. Get a strong core, around the German and French economies, together with Italy, the Benelux and maybe 2 or 3 others and take it from there. That nucleus never needed the UK, and still doesn’t.
Good riddance to the UK, good riddance to many others.
But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The EU is a beautiful baby; it just needs really caring parents. Six of’em will do.