Thursday, 19 August 2010

This sceptred isle or Sallust? The British are Europeans – but unaware for how long?

In an earlier post we discussed the absence of a (modern) codified Constitution and the notion of citizenship (instead, subjects of the Crown) in the United Kingdom. Many of the sources, features and procedures of the British constitutional and political system are antiquated. Who in his right mind would today resist a codified Constitution, institute a Monarchy or establish a House of Lords?

The Parliament in Westminster (House of Commons) was an important model internationally, but the first-past-the-post system does not lead to fair representation. The domestic climate in the UK regarding modern fundamental rights has been hesitant, when not outright hostile, as is current public opinion on the European Union.

Legally protected fundamental rights for citizens (or everyone within the jurisdiction) against encroachment by government are cornerstones of modern liberal political entities.

All EU member states are parties to the mother of human rights in Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; CETS No. 005 including amending protocols), which the European Union itself has pledged to accede to.

The EU also houses the next generation daughter, the more comprehensive and modern Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, legally binding since the Treaty of Lisbon came into force on 1 December 2009.

Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic have blotted their reputations by distancing themselves from the community of values formed around the EU Charter, but the Charter will still bind the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the European Union (Article 51), offering legal protection to all citizens of the EU, including the people of the laggard nations.

Looking at present and future European relations through the prism of the Battle of Britain, totally negating that Britain and the British have representation in the European Union, painting eurozone bank stress tests as pure self-deception, rejoicing at a member state (Hungary) telling the EU and the IMF to “bugger off” [until it needs massive refinancing next year], transport of joy on ConservativeHome at the absence of the EU flag when president Nicolas Sarkozy visited London (via Jason O’Mahony), a proposal to repeal the Act on Britain’s [reduced] share in financing the European Union (via Euromove) are but brief glimpses of constant sowing of discord and disinformation, intended to get the United Kingdom out of the EU or from engaging constructively even “with” (instead of in) Europe.

Much of English discourse on European integration shares the Taliban feeling that they have nothing to gain and nothing to learn from (the rest of) the civilised world. However, are these feelings of superiority well founded, when we look at the constitutional and political system, or the relationship to citizenship and fundamental rights?

Is Shakespeare’s beautiful poetry, “this sceptred isle, ... This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” (written in approximately 1595), really a healthy philosophical foundation for the fundamental rights, or the future security and prosperity of UK subjects and EU citizens in a globalising world?

For as long as it takes for British EU citizens as a whole to become willing and able to create a constructive and mutually learning relationship in the European Union, at least the rest of the 501 million inhabitants of the EU have cause to reflect on Sallust’s wise words in the Jugurthine War about the effects of discord on political constructs:

Nam concordia parvae res crescunt, discordia maxumae dilabuntur.

The British are Europeans; they are in Europe. When is awareness going to set in? Is Sallust going to age another two millennia before it happens?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Comments relevant to the topic discussed in each Grahnlaw blog post are most welcome. However, the number of spam comments has skyrocketed. This is the sad reason for comment moderation, so it may take a while before your pertinent comment appears.

It is easier to understand a language than to use it correctly. As Eurobloggers we could and should promote interaction among Europeans across borders and between linguistic communities. Grahnlaw has adopted a multilingual comment policy:

I do my best to read comments in Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish, even if the Grahnlaw blog and my possible replies are in English.

The European Commission in the UK arranges a Day of Multilingual Blogging on 26 September 2010, joined by the multilingual aggregator and individual Eurobloggers. Spread the word and start preparing for the event.