Letters from Europe

This weekend’s Guardian has a quite wonderful feature comprised of letters to Britain from European writers about the decision to be made in the upcoming referendum. It offers a fresh and little-heard perspective on a debate that has become worn out and embittered over the past few weeks. I urge you to read it.

What you will read is that every contributor – from France to Bulgaria – has a vision of a vibrant but flawed European community that is desperate for Britain to remain part of the family. I was surprised how often the war was mentioned – in relation to the terrors and the bloodshed that the EU has helped to heal, but also in gratitude that Britain was prepared to stand firm in the face of Nazi aggression (see especially Jonas Jonasson’s contribution).

Ireland’s Anne Enright, married to a Brit, and with two daughters of complex loyalties (given that the family relocated from Britain to Ireland) gives a lovely pen portrait of the UK that resonates also with this emigrant:

“I like Britain very much. I mean, I like whatever Britain is – a shifting thing, a landscape, a language, a library full of astonishing books, a mosaic of peoples stalled in one migration or another, from the raw Saxon faces you see in East Anglia, to the sari shops of Bradford, to the eyes of my two children, who came from God knows where.

They like the trees, by the way. Also, and in this order: curry, cousins, Yorkshire pudding, “the way that everything is better funded”, the BBC, Bristol, sarcasm, the pub, AFC Wimbledon, Edgar Wright, Topshop and “how the politicians seem very polite but are really furious”. So now you know.”

And then there is Yanis Varoufakis from Greece who pleads with Britain to stay despite the EU’s poor handling of the crisis in his home country.

“Rather than escaping the EU, Brexit will keep you tied to a Europe that is nastier, sadder and increasingly dangerous to itself, to you, indeed to the rest of the planet.”

Amid all the acrimony of the present debate these missives from across Europe made me think that more than ever, it is time for Britain to roll up its sleeves and plough once again into the theatre of conflict (not so bloody this time around, thankfully); to stand beside our European friends and family in defending democracy – yes, this will require some reform of EU institutions – and to help point the way to a brighter future for the continent.

For some of my own musings on the scientific side of the EU referendum, try these two pieces in the Guardian.


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2 Responses to Letters from Europe

  1. Brian Clegg says:

    Those are really useful contributions, Stephen.

    The thing that worries me about staying in the EU is that everyone recognises it needs reform, but no one seems able to do it, with or without us. I thought it was telling in the Paxman documentary that every MP he spoke to from all sides and countries said ‘We want to end this stupid monthly procession to Strasbourg. We’ve voted to do so several times. But we can’t do anything about it because France has a veto.’ And if the parliament can’t sort out as simple a matter of that, what hope have they for the bigger problems of the EU? It would need massive structural reform to do that, and it is simply not going to happen.

    • Stephen says:

      I think the view that “no one is able to do it” is overly pessimistic. That revelation from Paxman’s documentary was telling (though overall I found his approach overly sneery and insufficiently analytic). But one might say the same about attempts in the UK to reform the House of Lords or FPTP voting. These things are difficult and take time. Past failures are not necessarily indications of future prospects. The key question is whether the reformation of the EU will take place in ways that are more in Britain’s interests with us in, arguing (no doubt vehemently) across the table, or leaving everyone else to do it without our direct input.

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