Individually, we are all weak. We gain strength by being members of groups. Some groups we join by inheritance, some are imposed on us, and some are joined by choice. We may like some groups but hate being members of others.
In each group we make contributions and also receive support from the group. The balance between contributions and support is the main influence on how much we value the group. But this balance is a perception. It cannot be calculated. Are we ‘good’ group members? Do we place a high value on the group?
Our first group is our family. We cannot choose our families; our parents, our siblings or our offspring. We cannot select our position in the family, whether we are the first born, second born or the youngest. We cannot choose our gender. Each family member will have different strengths, weaknesses, interests and phobias. By growing up in a family, we learn to accept and exploit these differences. Our next group is a gang which may include siblings, but more usually, individuals of a similar age. Gangs have leaders, inspirers, creators and pawns. Each gang member has a role within the gang. As the gang matures, the individuals who occupy each role may change, but we are, at least subconsciously, aware of our role within the gang. When we begin formal schooling, we are placed in a class, a larger group of individuals. Each class will contain fast learners, slower learners, leaders, plodders, comedians, musicians, and storytellers. As we grow into the class structure, we each find our role. When we get involved in organised sports, we may become a member of a team. Every team contains individuals who have different roles; the fast runners become the wings, the more muscular and aggressive players become the forwards, the quieter, more static team members become defenders.
From birth, we each learn how to fit in with groups. As a member of a group, we have to sacrifice some degree of individual choice, in order to survive within the group. This sacrifice is not made without problems. If you are the first born child, you are the centre of your parents’ attention for a year or so. When the second child arrives, the first born often resents the attention given to the new child. The first born feels not only starved of attention but jealous of the new born intruder, who has ‘stolen’ so much parental attention and love. The first born may attack the new sibling or treat the baby as a pet or new plastic toy.
The experience of growing up within a family strengthens each individual’s personality by teaching us to accept a new role and ‘fit in’ with the group. Infant school teachers will have noticed that children from large families are much better at fitting in with the class dynamic. They know how to sacrifice their individual choice, how to accept their role, they know how to share, accept responsibility and care for others.
Sports coaches often use the phrase, “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” This is not spelling advice. It is an instruction to each player that they must sacrifice their individuality for the benefit of the team. Teams play together, not to make individuals into ‘stars’, they play for the overall success of the team.
When we get a job, we become employees. Every business will have some form of hierarchy. Many boys’ first employment involves delivering newspapers. They do not write or edit the newspapers, they do not collect money from the people who buy the newspapers. Customers will not blame the paper boy for the headline which offends their opinions. The owner of the newspaper shop will not blame the paper boy for a customer’s failure to pay their weekly bill. This is not part of a paper boy’s role.
A newspaper boy’s role involves punctuality and reliability. A boy, who is often late or only arrives for work occasionally, gets into trouble. When a boy accepts the role of paper boy, he sacrifices the freedom to work only when he chooses. Each role involves both benefits and responsibilities. If we want to enjoy the benefits of being a group member, we each need to sacrifice a degree of individual choice.
What is the connection between all this and the European Union? Like a family, a gang, a school class or a business, the European Union includes countries with different characteristics. They have different dimensions, locations, landscapes and histories. As a members of the European Union, we share scientific research, cultural experience and concepts of human rights. Our member benefits come in the form of strength through numbers. Without paying any tariffs, we can buy goods from other members and sell goods to other members. The European Union is a very powerful economic group.
So why isn’t the European Union a happy family?
Who is unhappy?
Many governments, political parties and individual voters are unhappy as members of the European Union. They do not want to accept the EU rules. They do not feel that these rules are operating to their individual advantage. Like players in a sports team, who think they should be individual ‘stars’, they are less interested in the team’s success than their personal glory and fame.
There are tensions in all families. According to the rules of the European Union, all member nations are equal but, like the ruling pigs in Animal Farm, some groups feel that some nations should be more equal than others.
Like many member nations of the European Union, Britain is divided into many administrative counties. If you remove the letter ‘R’ from country, you get county. In many ways, the organisation of counties in Britain is very similar to the organisation of nations in the European Union. Counties differ, some are largely rural, earning their money from agriculture; some counties are predominately urban, earning their money from factories and offices. Some counties are densely populated but others are more sparsely populated. British counties differ in their wealth and their need for financial support — just like the different nations of the European Union.
In Britain, we enjoy free movement of labour between counties. Workers from Derbyshire can find work in Essex and people from Kent can exploit the lower house prices in Cumbria. These county migrants may initially feel slightly alien in their new homes, but very quickly, they are accepted and integrate with the local community.
The European Union should operate together with the same flexibility as the counties of Britain. Since Britain joined the European Union in 1963, it has repeatedly attempted to claim special status, asking for rebates on contributions or non-compliance with community laws and decisions.
The EU was started by France and Germany to avoid a repeat of the death and destruction of two world wars. Winston Churchill felt that Britain and the British Empire did not need European friends. After the European Community had started and many British colonies had become independent, there was renewed interest in Britain joining the community. The charismatic President of France, General de Gaulle, resisted British entry. He felt that Britain was too close to the United States and was not ‘truly European’. He was always suspicious of the power of the Anglo-Saxon nations and in talks about British entry to the European Community, de Gaulle always said Non!
After de Gaulle’s retirement, the new British PM, Edward Heath, began negotiations for entry. Unusually the British Government held a referendum to ask voters if they were in favour of entry. A large majority voted in favour and Britain joined the European Community in 1967. But many people in Britain felt that the nation had lost national sovereignty because new laws and trade conditions were decided by the members of the European Community and not by the politicians in Westminster. There was the feeling that rules concerning agriculture favoured the small, ‘inefficient’ French farms and damaged the larger, ‘more efficient’ British farms. There were complaints that Spanish fishermen were fishing for ‘our fish’ in the North Sea. People believed that some European regulations were illogical. Some said that European regulation only permitted the sale of only straight bananas.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many ex-communist countries have become members of the European Union. Romania does not have the same economic strength as Germany. The European Union needs to help some new members, but they have always supported the weaker members. We have lost sight of the fact the purpose of the Union was to avoid war.
We all know about selfish, whining children who will not comply with family conventions. They are fussy eaters. They want to control the TV remote and decide when they should go to bed. Members of the European Community began to feel that Britain was rather like these selfish, whining children. If we review the behaviour of British governments since 1967, we would have to agree that these members are correct.
Britain is a small, wet island in the North Sea on the edge of the European continent. We are an island nation, many people think we are not part of from continental Europe. The people who want to leave the European Union seem to imagine that Britain is still the ‘great’ nation that it was in the middle of the 19th century when Queen Victoria ruled nearly 25% of the world. The country was then immensely rich and powerful, the British navy ruled the waves. After the industrial revolution, British industries were renowned for their quality but the industrial revolution was only possible because industries were able to sell their products across the enormous British Empire.
The world has changed, the British navy has few ships. Although Britain has nuclear weapons, it cannot afford the aeroplanes, submarines or missiles to deliver them. British manufacturing industry has collapsed. Germans, Japanese and Koreans build much better motor cars than can be built in Britain. For a few years, the British economy benefitted from the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea but that resource is now running out. Britain is a small country, we NEED friends.
Nick Dawson 2016