Take a look at Finland, a small Nordic country with a population of 5.3 million, a member of the European Union only since 1 January 1995.
Most Finns are tickled by the fact that enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn (centre party, European liberals) has been mentioned in international media as one of the candidates to become the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and that media speculation about the president of the European Council has included former prime minister Paavo Lipponen, former president Martti Ahtisaari and current president Tarja Halonen.
The social democrats, the main opposition party, criticises the government for not doing enough to trumpet the virtues of the potential presidents (all social democrats; S&D at EP level).
The centre and centre-right government tries to play down expectations. Even if the individual candidates have real merits, Finland is but one small part of the European Union, and there are fewer offices than candidates...
In the unlikely event that a Finn would be (s)elected to one of the EU’s top jobs, most people in Finland would take some pride in their country being able to offer able candidates for international posts and for their contribution to the common good.
I imagine that the situation is fairly similar in most countries. There is a natural patriotism at work, not only in sports, but in other areas as well. The political class is conscious of both status and influence gained through international posts. Popular feeling and rational conduct converge, giving cause to national pride.
The United Kingdom has the third largest population among the EU member states (60 million), and it joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973.
Still last week, former prime minister Tony Blair, the Labour government’s candidate for the presidency of the European Council, was widely seen as a favourite, until his candidacy hit a wall. If the high representative is to be picked among European socialists and social democrats, these have rolled out the red carpet for UK foreign secretary David Miliband (but the signals from Downing Street 10 are highly contradictory, with regard to this potentially more important job).
Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, in the shape of shadow foreign secretary William Hague, has proclaimed to the EU member states that the (s)election of the Briton Blair would be a hostile act towards the conservatives (Britain). (Miliband was not in the headlines as a candidate at the time, but I have seen no supportive statements from the conservatives later.)
Practically nobody is accusing the Tories of betraying the interests of the country. On the contrary, with voting intentions at 42 per cent, the Conservative Party has a 17 point lead over Labour.
There is little popular support for a British candidate, either. According to a fresh opinion poll, 53 per cent of respondents are against the nomination of Blair and 48 per cent oppose the (s)election of Miliband (The Telegraph, 31 October 2009).
Pride and Prejudice?
I have repeatedly said that I understand those who oppose Tony Blair as a failed European, with a legacy of “red lines” and opt-outs. Neither did I appreciate the effort to subvert the Lisbon Treaty, by turning the chairman-president of the European Council into the illusion of a traffic-stopping “President of Europe”, despite the obvious lack of executive powers to fill such a role.
But, in questions of national importance and interest such as these, I am mystified by the lack of understanding across party lines from the probable next government party, and I am confounded by the lack of “natural patriotism” among Britons for British candidates and influence in European affairs.
Cheerfully abandoning your national interests and feelings must spring from deep motives, hard to fathom for an outsider.
Can anyone explain the wellsprings of pride and prejudice?