Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Being part of the European community

I am writing this while listening to the magnificent soundscape of Oedipe (referred to in an earlier post). This was the work of a polymath born in Romania, who trained in Vienna and settled in Paris. George Enescu epitomises the ease with which those with the means to do so could move around Europe before the Great War changed everything.

A link to an earlier integrated Europe is that the former Roman province of Dacia, part of modern Romania, was a favoured place to retire legionaries to, with a grant of land.  The Roman Empire and later attempts to emulate it, none totally successful, used military power to impose an authoritarian régime on the peoples of Europe. The European Union differs in that it is a voluntary coming together of nations, through democratically-elected governments, in their common interest.

The decline in the study of foreign languages, in the sales of serious newspapers and the rise of the World Wide Web, dominated as it is by US interests, may well be the reason for ignorance of the big European picture and thus the apparent reversal in support for remaining in the EU over the referendum of 1975 (down from 67% to around 47% in the latest surveys).

Like Glynis Whiting, “I feel Britain has a shared history with mainland Europe [...] Britain was not invaded [in 1939], so I suspect that has made a difference to how the British feel. Yet there is a common culture.” Ms Whiting goes back to Latin and Greek and Renaissance art. I go back to sixth-form studies of French and German literature, and to my love of music in the European symphonic tradition. In literature, there was - and is - much interchange between Britain and Continental Europe. In music, the traffic was more one-way, but one should note that Benjamin Britten for one regarded himself as an international composer, rather than just a British composer. Art, literature and music have all to some extent been inspired by war, but I would suggest that in modern times at least they have been more impeded by conflict between nations. One has only to consider the swathe that was cut through the generation of artists, musicians and writers - from all the combatant nations - by the slaughter of one hundred years ago.

Europe has also seen the initiation of key steps towards modern government. Greece and Iceland were birthplaces of different forms of democracy, England (then part of a Norman kingdom stretching well into France) produced Magna Carta, France had its revolution introducing the idea of the secular state and other European countries and principalities produced influential thinkers*. It seems appropriate that Europe should see the birth of a new type of political entity, a federation which is not a super-state.

Brexiters say that it is possible to have the cultural connection without being part of the Union. But the right to free movement, the absence of war and the commercial and professional links make it all so much easier.

After the lies of one side and the exaggerations of the other are stripped away, I am convinced of the economic advantages (especially for Wales) of staying in the EU. I am genuinely concerned that a vote to leave will lead to a gradual but inevitable loss of civil, human and workplace rights in the UK. If the EU institutions were not amenable to democratic change, I might feel differently, but they are and I am happy to be part of it all. 0.6% of my tax bill is a small price to pay.

I shall vote Remain.

* including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who were able to take advantage of British hospitality

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