Continental views of the EU

My wife and I have recently returned from a Rhine cruise and, while there, had a couple of experiences which cast an interesting light on the mind set of those in Europe, and Germany in particular, in relation to the European Union.

Firstly our tour manager, an anglicised Greek, someone who was excellent and competent in all respects, nevertheless rebelled when told that he had to give a talk about the EU, as he shared the loathing for that organisation felt by most of his fellow countrymen. He therefore arranged for a German academic to come along and deliver the lecture. This latter was a very pleasant person and he gave what for the most part was a factual talk on the actual workings of the EU, without attempting to extol its supposed virtues overmuch. There were two points however when he made statements which a Liberal Democrat would no doubt find unexceptional but which were provoking to those of us who oppose the whole concept.

As part of his introduction he spoke of the qualifications a nation required to be eligible to join and, although obviously there would be an insuperable geographical objection, he stated that the USA would anyway not be acceptable as a member, asking the audience to guess the reason. No one was able to and he then said that, because of the rules about human rights, the existence of the death penalty for murder in the USA meant that they would not qualify as they did not respect the right to life. This answer should give pause to those who may support the European project but who often call, rightly in my view, although obviously it is a matter of opinion, for the reintroduction of capital punishment in the UK, as clearly to do so would be impossible without withdrawal from the EU. However the thing that most annoyed me was that a citizen of a nation that, within living memory, was responsible for Belsen and Auschwitz, should think it appropriate to assume a superior moral position relative to the nation without which Europe would never have been freed from an evil regime.

When he reached the subject of the single currency he admitted that it had caused immense difficulties for the Southern European nations affected, such as Spain, Italy and Greece but went on to contend that this was in fact their own fault. He said that, were these countries to follow Germany's example of increasing productivity and work longer hours for less wages then all would be well. In other words he wants those such as Italians and Greeks to become just like Germans. This is not merely arrogant it is completely unattainable, given the differences in national temperament and indeed climate, as one does not wish to work like Northern Europeans at temperatures of over 100 degrees in the shade.

At the end of his talk I asked him whether, given that the British were clearly opposed to the federalist aim of a single European state, would it not be best for everybody if the other member states agreed to our withdrawal, which would free us from the constant divisions at home, while allowing the rest of the EU to proceed to full union without being constantly held back by British objections. Amazingly he totally agreed and, although his views and ours can never coincide, he was not someone one disliked.

This could not be said of the other experience as, when we were taken on a coach tour of Strasbourg, the guide, an American who had lived there for thirty seven years, treated us to what could only be described as an extended diatribe about the wonders of the EU. According to her the European Parliament building contained a model of democracy, with no mention of the fact that it was only used for a quarter of the time due to the farce of the peripatetic nature of the institution. Next we sat outside the Council of Europe while being informed that we had the latter to thank for peace in Europe, completely ignoring the fact that it was the deterrent effect of the forces of NATO which actually prevented conflict. Finally the Court of Human Rights was extolled as being responsible for the peoples of Europe enjoying the rights which of course had been given back to them by the efforts of the Anglo Americans, not those of Continental nations. We were so incensed by being subjected to this propaganda that we complained to the tour company when we returned to the ship but one thing that was obvious from this paean of praise was that the people of Strasbourg benefit greatly from the presence of these European institutions so have selfish reasons for wishing the EU to continue to exist, and indeed grow.

Despite these depressing glimpses of the unquestioning support given by many Continentals, particularly Germans, I was cheered by the fact that these people, and others we encountered, always prefaced their remarks with something on the lines of "I know you are British but . . .". The Continentals are now well aware that the British have had enough of the EU and no one on our tour sought to disabuse them of that idea.

On a related matter we encountered one interesting historical fact that contains a lesson for today's liberals when we visited Heidelberg Castle. In the seventeenth century one of the Electors anticipated war and built strong fortifications. No one attacked. His successor discounted the possibility of war, weakened the defences and, unsurprisingly, saw the castle overwhelmed. No rational person wants conflict but, if you want peace, prepare for war.