Wednesday 1 June 2016

The price of friendship

The debate about the EU referendum appears to have had mainly one effect; to turn most people off politics. By now, I actually dread turning on the radio in the morning to listen to the Today programme, afraid that I will have to hear one more time how the economy will tank if Britain dares to go it alone, or how those pesky immigrants will invade Sutton Coldfield if we stay in the European Union.

The battle lines are well and truly drawn and both sides have settled on the most soporific arguments they could muster. I have previously written HERE about how difficult it is for anybody living in Britain to actually develop a feeling for European integration, let alone a positive sentiment towards those French drinking their lovely wine just across the channel. The main reason is that Britain is an island and, here, borders are not just a function of us being outside Schengen but a simple fact of geography. That is different for a French popping over to his neighbouring village which happens to be in Belgium, to stock up on some cheese (to continue the national stereotyping). Borders signal where our ability to move ends, and there could not be a stronger signal than a big fat cold mass of water, only to be overcome by some madcap celebrity in the pursuit of a charitable cause.

Bringing Europe closer by swimming - David Walliams in the Channel

In short, what is missing in the debate is the experience of living in Europe, as living with others that are different yet are also the same. In that vein, I would like to point to a dimension of us being in Europe that should matter to anybody thinking about where to put their cross in the referendum. I am talking about the incredible privilege to be surrounded by friends, who are willing to listen and debate with us what would and should happen in the common space we inhabit: Europe.

Many of us may take this for granted yet it is nothing but. The European Union has created and maintained the institutions which gives the British government the ability to articulate its demands, wishes and desires to its European friends. And Europe, above all, has developed an enormous stock of  mutual trust that allows us and our European neighbours to call each other friends, for good or ill. That should count as something. How unique this is in foreign relations can be seen by looking across at the recent spat between Venezuela and its neighbours. Yes, Europe costs. But it gives us so much more: friends who do not question our motifs when we raise an issue. That's something to celebrate, and to preserve.

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