Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The national interest

A few quick thoughts late at night (and slightly drunk), so probably not thought through… The other day, Airstrip One argued that

�It is clear that the Europhiles in Britain will clothe themselves in the flag to promote their cause. However, it is a discourse of the dead since the national interest is effectively destroyed if subordinated within a greater whole. For the first time, politicians are having to engage with the �death of Britain� and applaud our future within a superstate.�

But what exactly is the national interest? Airstrip One’s interpretation seems to equate the nation with the state. Yet the state is surely primarily the governmental machine. Nations are not defined by lines on a map or government edicts – they are primarily based around a shared identity or perception of common links.

When it really comes down to it, most people couldn’t care less about abstract notions of sovereignty – they care about whether they can get food on the table, find a stable job, buy a house, afford to start up a family and live happily free from persecution in a prosperous and well-provisioned area. For the majority of the population, the nation means little except for when the football, rugby or cricket comes on the telly. On a daily basis what matters is the local town or village, their street, their immediate home.

It is also worth noting that the interests of the people and those of the state do not necessarily coincide. It may be in the interest of the state to, for example, create an immense biometric database to enable government to keep track on the people, or to remove the right to a trial to enable it to lock its citizens up at will. That is surely not in the interest of the people, even if some of them may not be aware of this. So, which of these is the “national” interest – those of the state or the people?

The thing that really matters is surely what is in the interests of the people, not the state, for it is the people who form the nation. And the primary, most important interest of the people is surely for their lives to be as pleasant, safe, free and prosperous as possible. The state can get in the way of these aspirations; it can aid them. In Nazi Germany or – especially – Soviet Russia, which was the national interest? The desires of the totalitarian leadership to assert control over the population, or the desires of the people to live uncomplicated, fear-free lives?

But then it is also worth noting that the people are not always able to see the best means to their desired ends. Were you to have asked a German in 1943 whether it was in the national interest for their country to lose the war and end up occupied by their enemies for nearly half a century, they would almost certainly – and understandably – have answered in the negative. Now the vast majority of Germans would tell you that they are eternally grateful that the expansion of the Reich ended in defeat. The German state is far less powerful than it would have been had Hitler won the war, but the German people are far better off. (Likewise, were you to have asked many Scots in the 16th century whether it was in their national interest to link up with England as the junior partner in a “United Kingdom”, they would have told you precisely where to shove it.)

If the long-term interests of the people would be best served by joining a superstate, that is in the national interest; if the people will end up less prosperous, safe, and free as part of the EU than they would if their country were to pull out, then obviously they should have nothing to do with it.

But no one knows whether the European project will end up as a superstate (no one knows even if it will be successful). Equally no one knows whether Britain would be able to make it on her own in an increasingly competitive world now she no longer has the prop of an empire and the advantage of the most productive manufacturing sector in the world. It’s all speculation.

One thing, however, which has been proved by the experiences of a broad range of people from the Jews to the Scots to the Welsh to the Basques to the Cornish, Scousers, Geordies and Cockneys, is that a sense of collective, shared, national identity (in its broadest, traditonal sense) can easily be maintained while nominally under the jurisdiction of a far wider organisation. I can be both British and English; Europhobia’s Rhona can be both British and Scottish – what makes it so unlikely that we can maintain these identites with a broader, “European” one added on top? If Europhobia’s Matt can manage to hold dual nationality without any problems of identity, why can’t we all be both British and European?

I’ll stress that I am not advocating a superstate by any means. But if maintiaining complete sovereignty means we are less able to compete internationally, and that thus our economy begins to stagnate and our quality of life deteriorates, what value does that sovereignty hold? It is an abstract notion, held at an arbitrary level – after all, what makes the state the best place for sovereignty to lie if the majority of the population have no need to come into contact with people from any other part of that state?

What matters to the people is money and comfort. If sovereignty held at a state level is the best way to supply that, fine; but if having some powers held at an inter-state level produces a better standard of living, that is where they should be.