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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Britain and Europe


A year ago, my blog rose to a challenge to name the 50 books to keep in one’s library if forced to reduce it to 50 books My basic criteria were (a) the light thrown on the European dilemmas of the last century and (b) the quality of the language and the book as a whole. There’s nothing I would really want to change in the entry. I did, however, leave 6 vacant places – and should now consider if any of the books I have read in 2011 might be added to the list.
And the 10th December post of last year celebrated, on my dad’s birth day, some of the values of his generation which are, today, sorely missed.

The British veto at last week’s EU summit is shocking both for what it represents - the protection of financial sector interests by a political cabinet whose members are funded by these financial parasites; and for the marginalisation it augurs for the country. The Guardian has a useful overview which makes the point that this is the culmination of both daft recent political decisions (such as the Conservative withdrawal a couple of years ago from the European People’s Party, the umbrella group in the European Parliament for the parties which dominate so many European governments these days) and the incomprehending and hostile attitude of so many of the old British political class to Europeans. A friend sent me recently Thomas Kremer’s 2005 book The Missing Heart of Europe which explains much of this mutual incomprehension -
The engineers of the EU are deaf to the rising clamour of national identities as they are blind to the profound continent’s diversity of economic and political cultures. within the continent. Therein lies the breathtaking arrogance of their profession. The fatal assumption all along has been that member states are similar, and that national national diversity does not matter and can be over-ridden by negotiations in a closed political circle. within the confines of a narrow bureaucratic and political circle. But it is precisely this diversity that determines just how far, how fast and how deep European European integration can be.is possible.
Europe’s faultline does not lie in the middle of the English Channel. Across the continent it separates those countries with an eccentric heritage, where power emanates from the grass roots and authority is vested in the individual, from those with a concentric tradition, where power is centralised and the corporate state predominates. The confrontation between France and Britain is not about €3bn ($3.7bn), or integration, or the visceral dislike of two leaders or about reigniting historical rivalries. It is more profound than that.
What makes Britain eccentric is the organic development of its parliamentary democracy; its trade-based maritime expansion; a rich, flexible , multi-rooted and near grammar-less language; a pragmatic approach to life and philosophy; the common law; an anti-authoritarian spirit; an all-pervasive and irreverent humour; an unwritten , rolling constitution; reliance on individual initiative; commercial enterprise and an attitude of easygoing carelessness.
What makes France concentric is almost the exact opposite. It moved from a successful absolutist rule to an uneasy democracy by episodic revolutions; it achieved its pre-eminence through a land mass expansion; the grammar of its language is sophisticated with a vocabulary jealously guarded by an august academic body; its philosophy is steeped in great ideals with logic preferred to common sense; its monarchies, empires and republics are distinguished by a rich tapestry of often rewritten constitutions; it draws heavily on formal, written procedures inherent in Roman law rather than live evidence and courtroom drama; its people defernaturally, if with some resentment, to the authority of the state; a n economic reliance on state-supported enterprises and a fine-honed bureaucracy that governs life through manifold regulations that its citizens have learnt to circumvent.
In critical respects the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and along with Britain are eccentric while Germany, Spain and together with France form the concentric core of the continent
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During the 80s I had a lot of experience of working with European colleagues – in at the founding of the French-led Organisation for Traditional Industrial Regions (RETI), for example, and a member of Dutch and Italian led- networks which produced reports on the experience of urban participation and innovation in Europe. I was also one of the British representatives on the Council of Europe’s Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities for some 4 years. Even with my French and German languages, I would get pretty impatient with the posturing and rhetoric of my continental colleagues! But this was one of the things we contributed to Europe - puncturing the hot air of the overpaid Eurocrats and federalists. Critical as I am of the New Labour Governments, its Ministers made a positive contribution to European developments and earned respect. But the upper class twits who now form the Conservative political class have barely altered their attitude to foreigners in 100 years - and are sadly supported by many nationalistic working class English whose tribal emotions have been touched by the immigration of the past 4 decades. Cameron and his team have been steadily alienating European leaders with their comments and behaviour - and this was probably the personal pay-off.
Having said all that, however, some of the reactions to Cameron's veto are probably a bit extreme. And this article - 10 myths about Cameron's EU Veto - is an important challenge to the Guardian newspaper line. But probably the most continuously insightful blog on the UK position in all these negotiations is the Bagehot one in The Economist journal. However, the best single comment is probably this blogger with diplomatic experience.

Most of my working experience in the past 20 years has been with Dutch or German-led consortia. I got on well with the former - although the German bureaucracy did get to me! However, my worst (sourest and most pedantic)boss was an English woman lawyer who headed the TAIEX office in the 90s which arranged trips for technocrats in EU and aspiring countries in the pursuit of theie future compliance with EU regulations. That office also gave me a real insight into the operation of European civil servants - who devoted their enrgies to in-fighting(the real work was done by those on short-term contracts); and left the office early - secure in the knowledge that they couldn't be sacked.

Britain has been in steady decline all my adult life. The 60s were the years of diagnosis; the 70s of experimentation – with 1979 as a landmark when even the Labour government lost its faith in Keynesianism. The next 3 decades of Thatcherism and Bliarism seemed to many at the time to be giving Britain a new lease of life – but is belatedly being recognised as a disastrous abandonment of its basic industries and encouragement of unsustainable private debt. With the North Sea oil running out and no further benefits to be accrued by the state from privatisations, the future is bleak for the country. It is appropriate to ask how Japan coped with the melt-down it faced almost 20 years ago – and what lessons that experience contains for the UK.
Richard Koo has for some time been trying to get us to look at what that Japanese experience can tell us about the current addiction to deflation and austerityhere; here and here.
Also a video

Sofia was looking like this a few days ago. Its another new acquisition - an Ivan Petrov from the 1960s

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