Monday 12 December 2011

Memberships and relationships

I can’t remember the exact date, but I think it was sometime in 1974, just before the referendum on continued membership of the Common Market.  Plaid Cymru was invited to send a delegation to Brussels and Luxembourg to learn more about the institutions.  About ten of us went, on what was obviously an attempt to persuade us not to campaign for a ‘no’ vote.  On that, it failed.
We had talks from the office of the Commission, as well as visiting the Parliament.  But perhaps most instructive, to me, were the visits to the offices of two of the Permanent Representatives.
As well as visiting the office of the UK Permanent Representative, Dublin gave special permission for us (there was some concern about being seen to be interfering in the affairs of another state) to visit the office of the Irish equivalent to get an Irish perspective on the same issues.  The contrast between the two was stark.  It certainly helped me to understand why the Irish had a different attitude to the European project.
At the office of the UK Rep, we were very formally ushered into a room where a senior civil servant with a suit, a bow tie, and a very posh accent politely offered us tea before asking how we thought they might be able to assist us.  At the Irish office, the host wore an open-necked shirt and a sports jacket, and said something like “Come on in boys – would you like a whiskey?”
That’s superficial stuff, of course, but it reflected for me the underlying current of the subsequent discussions that the Irish were into enthusiastic membership and collaborative working; the UK were more about maintaining a ‘relationship’ with the institutions.
The way in which people use language often reveals a lot about the underlying attitudes.  The language being used by politicians and commentators alike about the current situation in the EU is a case in point.  Time and time again, we hear the phrase (or variations upon it) that there should be a renegotiation of “the relationship between the UK and the EU”. 
The very words serve to frame the context.  They convey a message that the EU is somehow something different and separate; there’s an implicit externalisation.  It puts the UK in a different position to the ‘Europeans’.  It’s perhaps a reflection of a long insular history.  (I’d like to be able to say that it’s an English problem, and that Wales is different – but anyone who believes that attitudes in Wales are very much different on this question is probably delusional.)
It reflects the observation that I made all those years ago about ‘membership’ vs. ‘relationship’; no UK Government has never quite made the jump from the latter to the former.  Cameron is merely carrying on where his predecessors left off.  But he’s taking us down a very dangerous road.  It might suit the speculators in the City, but it will not help areas such as Wales.  Rhodri Morgan’s point in Saturday’s Western Mail about looking after the interests of Airbus rather than the interests of the City is a very valid one.
I campaigned for a ‘no’ vote in 1975, and still think that was the right position at the time.  (Actually, our slogan – ‘Europe yes, EEC no’ - was rather more sophisticated than that.  Probably too sophisticated to be able to communicate it effectively).  But after that vote, the facts changed, and I, like others, came in time to accept the changed context.
The EU is far from perfect.  There is much that I would like to change.  But we cannot, as some of the cheering Euro-sceptics seem to think, turn the clock back – being outside the EU now would be a very different prospect to remaining outside in the 1970s.  Europe and the world have changed and isolation is not a good place to be.


Anonymous said...

Plaid AMs and members need to be careful of pocking fun at Carmeron and the Tories. Firstly, I don't believe it's all down to 'little englander mentality' or xenophobia. There's a very valid argument for not being in the Euro or EU and having the people who told us to join the Euro a few years ago now telling us we're 'on the outside' and 'need to be inside' etc is not credible. A lot of people/states taking the wrong decision doesn't make it a right decision.

We're in danger of using the same language we throw at Cameron about being 'on the outside' with 'no influence' etc etc as people have used against Plaid for decades.

Sometimes it's right being on the outside.

The Euro is a slow car-crash. This is a sticking tape. I don't want my tax policy decided in London nor Berlin and certainly not Paris with it's awful arrogant record towards small nations and languages.

Those 'swivel-eyed' Tories who stood behind Redwood in 1995 - they're were right and they won. They put their country and their principles before their party. Something no Labour MP or AM has done nor Plaid for that matter. If only Plaid MPs and AMs had shown such guts and passion to stand up for the Welsh language during the Simon Glyn affair or for arguing for Welsh independence in the last 20 years we won't be now with a useless Labour government in Cardiff.

Plaid need to be careful not to mock nor judge too quickly.

Anonymous said...

Forgive for mocking the previous comment who lifted the 'slow car crash' slogan from UKIP. Surely if think the car is about to crash, you do not position yourself on the bonnet.

I too have been on a business delegation to an EU institution in Brussels and during the charity auction in the Flying Geese (pub) my Irish and Scottish friend joined our little plan and set off a bidding war for golf clubs. The French soon clocked on to what we were up to, and joined in. The EU commissioner, the host at the time, jumped in to impress the audience with his prowess, putting in some rather bizarre bids. It got ridiculous......this might be a good opportunity to let Neil Kinnock know, we left the €1000 golf club HE paid for on the bus, as Ryan Air wanted to charge for luggage. All in a good cause.

The comments John has made about the culture of the 'British' attitude to Europe is spot on.

Jac o' the North, said...

The British / English / civil service / political establishment / media / attitude to 'Europe' and to 'Europeans' is summed up by the use of those terms.