Sunday 6 April 2014

The geographical realities of Europe

As the European elections are creeping ever closer, the debate about 'in or out' of Europe gathers momentum. The hapless leader of the LibDems, Nick Clegg, showed some guts to publicly slug it out with the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage. The result was pre-ordained, to say the least.

It is not just that Farage is a formidable debater, and Nick Clegg failed to update his schtick from the last time he appeared in a leaders debate ('Trust me, I am an honest politician'). More importantly, Europe is pretty low on the list of issues that concerns voters. Curiously, that works in favour of Farage, the eternal anti-European. Exactly because Europe is of little relevance to the day to day lives of ordinary people, it arouses heated debates. Nothing is more fun than to discuss something that allows people to let emotions rip without making it a substantial issue that splits families. Gay marriage is in the same category, something that will affect only a few thousand people in the UK, but evokes hot debates up and down the country. In the small matter of Europe, it may not help that its parliament is little more than a talking shop (what size for bananas?) and its bureaucrats are filling their pockets with dodgy expenses.

But what clinched it for Farage is ultimately something else. It is the lack of experiencing benefits (or anything else for that matter) through being in Europe. If you live in a border town in Belgium you will drive across a (non-existing) border and go shopping in French or German super markets. If you watch the news in Germany, you will be swamped with stories about your French or Polish neighbours. In short, on the continent, you live Europe, whilst in Britain, Europe is something far away. The prevailing sentiment that India or the US are culturally closer to Britain does not help.

Poor Clegg will have to face geographical reality, which is that Britain is an island, and so the pro-Europeans will always be disadvantaged right from the start. On top of that, and despite all the heat it generates in the media, Europe does not mean much to most ordinary people in this country, for better or worse.

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