By PHILIP BUSHILL-MATTHEWS
THE 50TH anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations of the present day EU, was marked by celebrations throughout Europe under the banner “Together since 1957”.
Germany, current President of the European Council, held a number of festivities across the country, spearheaded by a party in the capital signed off with the “Berlin Declaration” commemorating Europe’s achievements. All Member States were invited to provide a typical national cake for a special European tea-party and, after much deliberation, the UK proffered Eccles cakes: whether or not the Chancellor decided to levy VAT is not recorded.
France produced a film entitled How we hated each other, about a young French and German couple who fell in love after the war – in case anybody had forgotten why the EU was conceived.
Brussels staged a rock concert, while Rome went in for jazz. Slovenia decided on sky-diving displays, with the EU symbols on all the parachutes. Britain was much more down to earth, and essentially let the birthday pass by. The 60th birthday of Sir Elton John, which took place the same day, excited much more interest.
There are many reasons for Britain’s continuing detachment from the European continent. We historically look westwards to America – and southwards and beyond to the Commonwealth – rather than across the channel. We are an island, our borders fixed by nature, and proud of the fact that we have not been invaded for nearly a 1,000 years. We also value our long tradition of parliamentary democracy under a much-loved monarch. We don’t take easily to sharing sovereignty and diluting our independence.
The challenge now is to recognise that today no single country can be truly independent, unless one talks of a country the size of China. Like it or not, we have all become much more dependent upon each other in an increasingly globalised world.
The new word is interdependence. We need to rely on each other for common behaviour on common issues: on environment, on energy security, on international crime as well as on trade.
The problem is that common behaviour requires common rules. The problem for us independent Brits is that we have no exclusive role in determining what those rules should be, and we were not helped by boycotting the original party 50 years ago. But times have moved on.
The new century needs a new EU, “fit for purpose” for the next 50 years. The good news is that the new Member States from Central and Eastern Europe look to Britain for a lead, and we are in pole position to provide it. We should actively join in singing Happy Birthday in future – and not just to Sir Elton.
Every good wish!
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