Britain and New Europe, What Happened?
Britain and New Europe, What Happened?
Scan through today’s news and you could be forgiven for thinking that the Europe you were reading about was the continent circa 1918 or 1945. The political map of Europe is being redrawn, or at least preliminary sketches are being tabled and blue prints for new national boundaries are being discussed.
Think tanks that once chaired discussions on continental unity and the creation of a European super state, which could compete with United States and China, now dream up roadmaps to independence and comprehensive models for devolution.
Ukraine has ordered the removal of its troops from the Crimea after its’ annexation by Russia. Scotland’s independence movement grows in strength and apparently Sardinia wants to join Switzerland. Yes, I am reading this in the Guardian.
Think back to the turn of the century and Europe seemed to be getting bigger rather than diminishing to its’ constituent parts. Goings on in Europe stopped being “what was happening on the continent.” It was happening to us, we were begrudgingly curtailing our curtain twitching habits, watching on from afar, and warming to the idea of being part of a mega union of states with progressive ideals to challenge the hitherto dominance of monoculture superpowers.
Even the most blinkered eyed Euro sceptic could only shrug their shoulders when serious discussions arose at Britain joining the Eurozone. Its worthwhile remembering that Tony Blair and New Labour championed European convergence right up to the recession and that such a pro European stance was a strong calling card for the party.
The first decade of new millennia saw Britain seemingly shaking off its last vestiges of isolationism born out of post imperialist conceitedness and jingoism. Even during the unpopular war in Iraq, both home and abroad, Britain could vie to be an equal partner with the likes of France and Germany at the high table of Europe.
Now it seems that the global financial crisis has set back the grand ideals of the EU and that of a European super state. The recession of 2008 has left Europe entrenched along historic dividing lines and the halcyon days of a strong pancontinental super community seems more a setting in new wave sci-fi and pulp fiction than anything real or achievable.
While the character and reasoning behind these calls for regional autonomy and independence are diverse and founded on unique political and historical tensions, the willingness to go it alone speaks of a widespread lack of economic confidence on the continent and a desire to retreat to safer, albeit smaller ground.
In September this year the United Kingdom will also debate disintegration with the possibility of Scotland gaining independence bringing an end to a three hundred year union of nations.
How Great Britain would continue to define itself as a nation without Scotland is unclear, but the Scottish independence movement’s vision of an independent Scotland being a fully paid up member of the European Union was cast into doubt by comments made by Marion Rajoy the Spanish Prime Minister in November.
“I respect all the decisions taken by the British, but I know for sure that a region that would separate from a member state of the European Union would remain outside the European Union and that should be known by the Scots and the rest of the European citizens”
Spain views Scottish independence as setting an ominous precedent for regions within its own borders. A viable independent Scotland breaking from a historic monarchical union would create a blueprint for nationalist movements at home most notably that of Catalonia and the Basque Country. It seems mutual distrust and the defence of hard fort unity will characterise any debates for independence in the future placing further obstacles in the way of a homogenised Europe.
Recently Nigel Farage, the popular amateur populist, went head to head with the deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Cleg to debate Britain’s membership of the EU and by all accounts sounded a resounding victory. The mouthy little Englander down the pub is shaping the UK’s European destiny or at least currying the zeitgeist, while the multi lingual ex diplomat apparently has little sway on Britain’s hearts and minds.
Europe is in the pangs of a post recession panic attack and is reverting to type, old clichés have resurfaced and insecurities exposed. The caricature of an expansionist Russia, a powerhouse Germany and peripheral Great Britain seem the politics of a preceding century, yet they are increasingly the archetypes upon which we lay our foundations for interpreting our neighbours and dictating our own diplomatic course today.
If it’s all a case of history repeating itself what can we expect in the future? Will our new found regional autonomy leave us with more freedom but less power to exert our regional and national identities? Will Europe again become a patchwork of microstates, contemporary duchies and principalities akin to the continent in the middle ages? What about the UK? With Asia ever strengthening economically and Europe closing ranks, will we return to life as a small fish in an international backwater?
Text: Mark Brown