It has recently struck me how passionately people have been describing and defending their identity. At the same time there has also been some slightly less attention paid to French language, etiquette and how different people are from one place to another. Of course people using SFN are of a variety of nationalities and identities, for example we have several times seen reminders that correspondents are from the USA, New Zealand or wherever.
However, the ‘British’ are at the core of what concerns me here. Naturally one must question what those people are? I am of Scots origin, which is different to being of Welsh, English, Irish, Manx, Cornish or whichever origins people claim. Then we have those who are a mixture or are what they say but are of other origin: I have a Welsh friend with an entirely Irish Gaelic name and another in Scotland with an almost unpronounceable Italian name. Then there are many crossovers, mixed nationalities, races and for all we know planetary origins. Then we have different loyalties. Some will say they are English or whichever other whilst others suffice with British. Some of those are absolute royalists others are what we might call republicans. Then we have political party lines, we need not waste time on that because I imagine we all know what is meant. Thus the distinctions may go on and on until I spend so much time on them I miss the point I intend to come to.
That is Europe. First of all there are those who somehow cannot really accept that the British Isles, which are a very few kilometres from the European mainland, are part of that continent. I make exception, of course, to the Republic of Ireland which has integrated into Europe without the same apparent disdain. Irish individuals may feel that way, but the nation as a whole gives the impression of being part of Europe. Thus we have the rest of the British Isles that refer to themselves as the United Kingdom. Of course, I mean no disservice to those who are very much European in their minds and overtly so in their actions. One step beyond and we have the European Union. To mention the EU is a way of raising passions in numerous ways rather than simply pro and contra arguments. Then we have the very topical hot cookie which is the Euro. That is where passions sometimes become rabid rather than passionate.
A great deal of EU and € passions have been the creation of the media, particularly newspapers. Indeed, much of that media is giving such misleading information at present that some of the opinion formed by readers of certain newspapers is almost the diametric opposite to the facts. This contributes to the passions rising and toward the rabidity of some points of view. The irony is that had Gordon Brown in his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer given the green light for the UK’s participation in the single currency the UK media would for the most part be leading opinion in another direction with almost infallible certainty. Whilst it is fair to imagine that there would still be people wishing back to the days of £sd, much as there are pro Fr, DM, Fl, etc folk throughout Europe, British politicians would indubitably have been at the centre of the present efforts to keep the € afloat.
That there is no press as confidently predicting what has become known as the Grexit, which is the Greek withdrawal from the € and possibly even from the EU, as the British press appears a very British thing. Even here in France Le Figaro, which is a newspaper that can be very critical of everything and anything it happens to disapprove of, is not that negative.
Now what is the evidence for this Grexit? Well, it is quite true that recent attempts to elect a government have fallen on stony ground and may again in a couple of weeks and the Greek electorate appear to be swinging between right and left wings almost one day to another. However, recent opinion polls show that just over 80% of Greeks wish their country to remain in the €. I read several newspapers of various political alignments, from several countries and of UK papers only The Guardian has mentioned that whereas several French and German newspapers drew attention to the outcome of those polls.
Let us also think about the recent G8 meeting in Chicago. Barack Obama and Françoise Hollande called for a stimulus package that would support Greece. Angela Merkel was resistant, but in the end realised she was rather isolated, climbed down a peg or two and thus the entire G8 leadership pledged if would make every effort to keep Greece in the Eurozone. Indeed, David Cameron is said to have aligned himself with Obama in arguing for the European Central Bank to adopt a looser monetary policy since that would allow quantitative easing similar to that set out by the Bank of England and US Federal Reserve and thus encourage the EU and International Monetary Fund to come off the austerity track that was essentially the child of Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi, the latter two both being now consigned to recent political history and neither Hollande nor Mario Monti in Italy following their predecessor’s lines, thus leaving somewhat Merkel isolated.
So, what is my point? Well, there appears to be near jubilation amongst some sectors of the ‘British’ population that the € and potentially the entire EU may all go up in a puff of smoke in the near future. The paradox in that view is that those people are overlooking the effect on the Sterling economy that will be anything but positive. For instance, if Greece or any other country does what Argentina did not so long ago, they can wave goodbye to all of the money owing to the UK and if as the ‘kill EU quickly’ pundits are predicting should Italy, Portugal and Spain go the same way then that deficit will grow enormously. In football terms that would be the UK being defeated by a number of own goals. The media simply omit to tell people that and are rather low key about the fact that David Cameron seems to be contributing energetically to the effort to keep the Eurozone up and running. The difference is that he is precisely informed about the fiscal consequences that certain newspapers prefer not to tell their readers about.
So passions are running high and fast in both directions and prophets of doom are having a wonderful time with their soothsaying of the collapse they are convinced is about to come. Indeed, since the beginning of 2012 the survival of both € and EU have been no more than a couple of days. Strange to say, but nearly half a year has gone and those journalistic oracles seem to have failed to get it quite right. Yet some of us do not wish to see the € disappear. We sincerely hope that Greece is helped out of the malaise and the couple of countries on the waiting list to join the EU and € respectively will wait a little longer but ultimately join. I just find it so ironic that had Brown made the decision that would have persuaded Tony Blair to say “We’re in too…”, that whoever was heading the UK government right now, which may have been Cameron for all we know, that he or she would have been fighting tooth and nail to preserve the Eurozone and would, as one expects of the UK, have been there at the epicentre of it all with Merkel and whoever else.
Now, of course I know full well what is going to happen here. The people who believe they see things clearly in black and white, but in fact I believe are looking through a grey murk, will tell me I am talking out of where the sun does not shine because they read it in X. Others will be more thoughtful and those of us who prefer to be Europeans or internationalists (my personal preference) will reply with well informed, well presented and less angry and usually reasonably if not entirely optimist points of view. I hope very much that SFN members who are not ‘British’ will also contribute because their points of view really do matter a lot, especially in the light of some of the quite outraged British ranting there may be (although I hope not) whatever some people might think. No matter what, I am quite certain that some of us have some interesting reading to look forward to.