We are all good Europeans when it suits our purpose

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I thought not. I don’t suppose the European Parliamentary elections back in June, spread over four days and billed as ‘the biggest trans-national election in history’, set your heart pounding either.

You weren’t alone. Fewer than half the eligible 375 million electors in 27 countries chose to turn out for that one. However, even if you don’t vote or, as in our case, can’t, there’s no avoiding the pull of Eurodom.

Whether we like it, choose to ignore it or detest it, Europe is on our doorstep and its influence permeates much of everything we do.

Since Edward Heath led Britain into Europe in 1973, the UK has striven to uphold its Euro credentials. Perversely, Whitehall has chosen to distance itself from its faithful off-shore dependencies, now reduced to packing Euro passports which are nothing of the kind!

Europe is a hard sell, not helped by a predominantly anti-Europe UK press, though evidence to suit their xenophobic script requires minimal raking. Some recent examples: ‘Every home to pay £257 towards next year’s EU budget after Labour signed away much of Britain’s hard-won budget rebate’; ‘Thousands of African immigrants will get a free pass to Britain thanks to barmy EU laws’.

Whether it’s ‘straight’ bananas, the loss of the pub ‘pint’, the imposition of energy-saving light bulbs or reduction in farm subsidies, Britain is regularly painted as losing out to the Eurocrats in Brussels. For those of us on the fringes, the salt is rubbed even deeper. Take for instance the little matter of phoning home when you are on Euro-soil. How seductive the UK advertising campaigns! ‘Never feel alone when you’re abroad – call home cheaper.’

Not if you’re ringing the Channel Islands, you can’t. Another little example of where we fall out of the bottom of the leaky bucket when there are any club benefits to be redeemed.

And now we find ourselves embroiled in the costly fall-out from our Zero-Ten corporate tax structure wheeze, scuppered by jealous Euro spoil-sports. False pretences? EU must be joking.

There are rules and there are understandings. Given the fragile state of fishing stocks, it is indeed scandalous to learn that upwards of 40% of British catches of cod in the North sea are dumped, dead, back into the water because of EU quotas – not even because the fish caught are undersized.

It defies the logic that if these cargoes weren’t jettisoned, the boats wouldn’t have to go out another day to fish other grounds and decimate stocks further. Yet, go to any Mediterranean fishing port, and on the quayside you’ll find trays of what the good Anglo-fishers reject, while off shore, the factory fish-hoovers suck up indiscriminate holds-full of anything that will convert into cat food, fertiliser and the rest.

There are, of course, some anomalies that are so glaring they border on the comical. The transport sector has borne the brunt of many. Despite the most detailed regulations affecting emission, height of headlights, crush zones, etc, drivers in Continental Europe, keep, more or less, to the right side of the road, while thirty years after the Treaty of Accession, its western islands cling to the left.

Meanwhile, on French by-roads, you’ll be confronted with the ‘put-putting’ of micro-cars, their drivers happily and legally circulating ‘sans permit’. So much for unified application of laws and restrictions!

But what’s actually wrong with variety? Why are we being dragooned into harmonisation across the piece? The salient fact is that the Union is after all made up of different nationalities; we speak a variety of languages and espouse singular cultures.

The headlines may concentrate on differences and disputes, but that’s not to say there isn’t a substantial meeting point. But total harmonisation is the goal of the bland, while runaway expansion verges on extinction.

When big becomes too large, it ceases to be manageable. The Community is facing the spectre of the accession of crime-ridden eastern Mediterranean states, all of which, if granted EU status, would ride into membership enjoying benefits far and away in advance of residents in the UK’s home water islands.

I guess the problem is that if we were to agree to a loose federation of like-minded European positivity, and adopted a more ‘laissez-faire’ attitude to officialdom, such as we see practised within the more canny member states, the dispossessed Brussels bureaucracy react with a back-lash of punitive systems worthy of The Inquisition – perhaps the best example of a genuinely pan-European stranglehold!

I suppose you’d have to say that the Romans were the most successful in uniting this troublesome band of tribes. Later efforts by Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolph Hitler only managed to prime the trap which sprung with devastating ferocity to destroy their dreams of imperial hegemony.

Only in the linguistic field have we recently come close to a shared experience, while, to the despair of our French neighbours, the internet has spread our own mother tongue wider than any home-based political influence since the end of the Second World War.

It remains by turns perplexing and infuriating that our own governing convention chooses to accept EU direction when it offers an excuse for imposing petty restrictions, yet pleads impotence out of non-membership when turning a blind eye to measures it chooses to ignore.

So yes, you might say we are definitely all good Europeans – when it suits our own interests.

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