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Sunday, 19 November, 2000, 11:51 GMT
Is it unpatriotic to be eurosceptic?
True patriotism means fighting for a leading place in Europe according to UK foreign secretary Robin Cook.
"It is patriotism, it is national self-interest, to argue for Britain's full engagement as a leading partner in Europe," he said.
And in his annual Mansion House address, Tony Blair said it would be a "supreme act of folly" to cut Britain off from the rest of Europe.
So is being pro-Europe in the nation's self interest? And is it unpatriotic to think otherwise?
This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your e-mails are posted below.
I am very angry. How dare Blair and co call me unpatriotic. It is they who have done their best to destroy the UK and surrender a large number of British citizens to terrorists. Now they want to force me to become a European, whether I want to or not
Jonathan Baldwin, United Kingdom
I am anti EU, and I am sure that some people would call me a xenophobe. However I have a Norwegian girlfriend, and many friend who aren't English. I love Europe but I hate the EU. This unelected body wants to destroy what is good about all nations within the EU.
No, it is patriotic to be a eurosceptic. With regard to closer integration to the EU I am entirely against it.
Ever noticed how the pro lobby is mainly foreign (frequently from the poorer states like Spain)? And the remainder always seem to be people with financial stakes in Anglo-European interests- eg investment bankers and retired ex-pats?
I wonder why?
Could it be because giving up our influence in the USA is vital to the future of the Euro? Or because these are the people who will rake it in at everyone elses' expense if we join?
I'm with Groucho Marx- steer clear of any club that would have you as a member!
I find the attitude of those who always argue against closer integration with Europe rather tiresome, if only because many of them were in favour of joining the "Common Market" in the first place and actually rubbished the arguments that those against used during the 1975 referendum, but which they themselves are using now! They also don't tell us the REAL alternative; the UK as the 51st State of America.
There is nobody on the pro-Europe side who will deny that the institutions of the EU need reforming, but WE need to be there to make sure it happens! If that means the pro-campaign have to resort to the kind of language that the Eurosceptics use, then so be it.
Any party that says it will 'let the public decide on Europe' by having a referendum will get my vote at the next election. This issue is too big for self-obsessed politicians to decide on.
Michael Blatt, French-German in UK
I believe the national interests of each single European state should be addressed first before blindly following the caravan of the EU; in other words, each nation should be consulted first by referendum or national election for any issue concerning a particular country. With regard to patriotism, I think we as EU citizens should leave this term behind and consider it a word of the past.
Given the woeful performance of the Euro, we should congratulate ourselves for having been wise enough to stay out of it. The EU is fundamentally undemocratic, and its institutions are focussed on crushing national identity, which goes counter to the wishes of the British people (recent devolution initiatives show we want to strengthen national institutions). I believe our best option is an orderly withdrawal from the EU. People seem to forget that Switzerland has an extremely successful economy and isn't even a member of the EU.
Why be afraid of Europe? When something inevitably has great influence over our lives why not take an active part in its development rather than passively look on from across the "pond". If we don't like they way things are done in Brussels lets do something about it! It is rather presumptuous to think that all other Europeans are quite satisfied with the way Brussels is run and that it is a matter of us against them. I know the British don't like complaining, but if you don't speak up you can't expect to get things the way you want them.
Ben Burns, England
I get paid far less than I did in the UK but the standard of living over here is streets ahead of Britain. Our money also goes much further as the cost of just about everything is much less, sometimes almost 50% less. I often wonder if Britain ever joins the Euro what will happen. Certainly the astronomical cost of living in Britain will be fully exposed to the British public. This in my opinion is why Britain so far has refused to join the Euro and unless dramatic necessary fiscal changes take place in Britain then further integration into Europe will never happen. I say this despite what Tony and Co or any future government says they will do to join the Euro zone proper. So fear not you Eurosceptics but it's a sad story for the British public who will never benefit from a better social and fiscal structure which is the EU.
Chris Adlard, UK
Has anybody told the Swiss and the Norwegians that they don't have a future outside the EU and that they will be impoverished banana republics in a few years time? It is a lie to suggest that we don't have a viable future if we don't favour total integration into the European superstate.
Most recent wars in Europe and the former USSR have been caused by oppressive, democratically unaccountable, centralist states who made decisions without consulting the people - sounds familiar doesn't it!
I am patriotic but I still consider myself pro-Europe. I do believe that the EU needs a lot of reforms before it can work for us but we will get nowhere if we just spend our whole time complaining about the whole idea of being in the EU. We are in it, we have been for 25 years and it would be economic suicide to leave now. Let's instead have a serious debate about the reform of the EU rather than all this xenophobic nonsense.
John P, England, Europe
It is patriotic to say you are British, but European is farcical. The whole union was designed by corrupt leaders as a power base to fall into when they no longer had a seat in their own Parliament. Keep France French and Britain British. To be patriotic over Europe is a betrayal of your heritage. Guess who will be the first seeking a seat there when he gets voted out at the next election - good old King Tony.
France is fine, so are the French.
Germany is fine, so are the Germans.
Holland is fine, so are the Dutch.
And so on.
Working WITH Europe is fine.
Working UNDER Europe is totally unacceptable.
Ian Slater, UK
I think a vast majority of the anti-Europe/ patriotic people in the UK are maybe xenophobes. They talk of their pride in a great country, not wanting outside interference and protecting her but in reality the UK is adopting America junk-culture.
The standard of living in mainland Europe is much higher in every respect than in the UK and close ties with Europe may help to modernise Britain.
I hope the UK helps to build a European superstate. Than the US wouldn't be the only superpower. You guys could start policing the rest of the world for a while and we could spend less money on the military. Believe it or not, Americans don't like having to send troops everywhere. Perhaps if Europe had been stronger, the US wouldn't have had to get involved in Yugoslavia.
Mark Lisle, Germany (UK citizen)
I have absolutely no idea.
We have little in common with mainland Europe except geographical proximity. Our language, laws, weights, measures and much DNA have far more in common with the USA.
So, gracefully leave the EU and become (at least) 3 states of the USA. Ulster and Ireland will have to think on whether to follow.
I think being in the EU may well be in Britain's best interests and lead to a higher overall standard of living, better healthcare, wages, pensions and lower living costs, etc.
Sean, Belgium (but British)
Patriotism: devotion to one's own country and concern for its defence (Collins English Dictionary). Surely an integrated European defence policy will at least meet the latter part of this definition.
I think it is unpatriotic being Eurosceptic. Most of our trade is done with Europe and therefore most of our jobs rely on Europe.
We should remember that we will always be an island and have our own identity regardless of whether we're in Europe or not. What is important is our prosperity. We are in a unique position bridging the gap between the USA and Europe and we should use our Britishness to exploit it. That's about as patriotic as you can get!
Europe is for holidays, not for life.
Here in America we have lost quite a bit of our self-rule to the corporate world. Our government is bought and sold to the highest bidder.
The only way PEOPLE can hope to retain their freedoms is to refrain from further consolidations of power. Joining the E.U. will not do that.
Todd F, USA
Britain is closely aligned to mainland Europe culturally, socially and for the most part economically. We already have free trade, access to employment within the EC and many cultural links and exchanges I see no need for the creation of a federal state. The creation of such a state would lead to the death of our individual rich heritage and create something superficial. Remember the federal state of U.S.A. only came to life with the destruction of the native American culture. Is that the fate we'd like for each of the wonderful European cultures?
Philip Pearce, UK
I am proud of my country. I believe that Britain has - despite the evils done in its name - had an overall positive effect on the course of the world's history. Everything that makes this country what it is today is rooted in European history - and that includes the wars and struggles that created the British Empire and Commonwealth. To imagine that our future could lie anywhere else except with Europe first (and the rest of the world second) is simply crazy. Is it patriotic to be pro-European? Of course it is. Anything else is to deny the broad sweep of British history.
Tom C, The Netherlands (formerly UK)
I just read that there is a plan to bring the army of Euro countries under single command. Oh that is too much. You are losing your freedom to defend. What if everything goes wrong. Once lost, it takes centuries to get back. Please think again before joining.
If patriotism means putting your country's best interest first, then closer integration with Europe would be a patriotic aim. So-called patriots rave on about the sacredness of the pound, yet gladly expended those sacred symbols on imports of everything from washing-machines to cars, driving a lot of British industry to the wall. What exactly is it that little Englanders are clinging to? Is it your precious McDonalds or shopping malls? Sorry they aren't British in origin or concept. Even your precious green field spoiling superstores are a French concept. Get into Europe and enjoy it and be proud to be a part of it.
There are many very good ideas coming from Europe, such as the common market. Oh, in fact, that's the only one, and it doesn't require our being ruled by unaccountable politicians far away. Our economy is not like others in Europe, and surrendering control of our monetary policy will damage us, not help us. I am patriotic, not xenophobic or nationalistic, and those pro-Europeans who use the "little Englanders" argument have no other decent, thought-out argument to use. We are being battered into an unwanted super-state, which we don't need.
All the recent improvements in British law have had to be rammed down the Government's throat by the EC. How can we possibly lose by integrating closer to the rest of Europe? We should instead be glad that they are willing to have us!
Derek Green, UK
Go to France and watch the population doing everything for the advantage of the French. Buying mainly French cars and purging their language of Anglo-Saxon influence. Then look at their huge enthusiasm for the EU! How can anybody trust these jokers. Lets face it this is all about national self-interest and getting and milking those poor "shopkeepers" on the other side of the English Channel.
We joined the Common Market years ago but we still pay the highest prices in Europe for cars and fuel! How much further do we have to go to get the promised benefits? In the global economy we are quite capable of trading with the world including our European neighbours without becoming part of a United States of Europe. Would both major parties please stop treating us like fools, give us the facts unclouded by jingoistic rhetoric and then let us vote.
Why would cutting ourselves off from the rest of Europe be 'folly'? Becoming closer to Europe will distance people from the political system further and will enable fewer and fewer mega-companies to determine what we have in our shops and how our food is produced. We need to make our structures more 'people-scale' in order to reinvent our sense of community. Going European is going the wrong way for the wrong reasons.
The UK is a European state and our political and economic interests almost wholly coincide. Narrow minded British patriotism would destroy our prosperity and world influence.
This argument is not only confined to the U.K. Many here in the Clinton administration believe the nation states that now exist will be replaced by one central government. Left unsaid, of course, is the question who will be the governing force in this New World Order? It will be the same elitists who now control the planet but their presence will be much more visible than what we now see.
I think all the debates over Europe ultimately boil down to the question: What sort of society do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a (relatively) high tax, good public services type of society like most of mainland Europe, or a low tax, poor public services type of society like the USA. For myself, give me Europe every time.
What is patriotism? Our nation is comprised of humans from many different cultural backgrounds, none of which could claim to be the original occupants of the land! The reason I say such is that mankind has only been around for a short amount of time (in geological terms), Our country has only been occupied for a fraction of that time and the English nation for an even smaller percentage. Nationhood is an abstract used to divide up power and ownership of raw materials & wealth. In this country approximately 10% of the people own 90% of the wealth and this margin grows every year.
In my opinion the only reasons for any decision should be economic not emotional but as long as unscrupulous people with vested interests in keeping Britain isolated and tied to America keep misleading the ignorant masses of this country then I can see no hope of a rational decision.
By not joining the Euro we are not cutting ourselves off from Europe. William Hague's position on joining the Euro is sensible and in the best interests of Great Britain. Let us remember just how much Europe needs our markets and financial contribution to the EU. If the Labour party and pro-euro lobby pretend that it will be a complete disaster for us to stay out of the Euro they are simply being dishonest. Let's not give any more to Europe, particularly in terms of our political freedom and immense amounts of our own money to support the 'sick currency of the world' ie the euro. Patriotism is built on national independence, accountability and the notion that charity begins at home. The message to Blair and Cook on the Euro is simple: WE DON'T WANT IT, WE DON'T NEED IT AND WE WON'T VOTE FOR IT.
I am far less concerned by closer integration with Europe than I am with the vast amounts of national sovereignty being handed over to corporations via GATT and the WTO. Why doesn't Tony Blair think it unpatriotic to risk a trade war unless we dismantle the NHS to allow American private health providers to trade in the UK? Neither choice is one the UK should be made to make.
It is not in the interests of the United Kingdom to submerge its sovereignty into an undemocratic, corrupt European polity.
When Robin Cook talks of nobody seriously suggesting that there be a federal superstate because it would never be accepted by the electorate, did he stop to think that the only electorate which has been consulted on the euro has said no? I detect another lie of the "don't be so daft school" only to be told after the event that its too late to do anything.
Alaine Turner, England
I would always want the best for the UK but I think the British are too suspicious of Europe -treating Europe as though it was going to steal from Britain or make it worse somehow. We are not uniting with Third World countries here but nations that have, it could be argued, more to lose than we do. Is it not also the progression we should be endeavouring to make. The British people united to form a stronger and better country as the Germans, Italians etc did. Isn't Europe the next step? I hope so!
Peter C. Kohler, USA
If the only argument for being pro-Europe that our politicians can come up with is that it is the patriotic thing to do, it sounds to me as though we had better get out while we still can!
I think Eddie Izzard highlights this nicely... The UK is not in the driving seat of the European car. It's not even in the passenger seat. The UK is outside the European car asking, "Do you want your windscreen cleaning sir?"
Mr. Cook has confused means with ends. One may love one's country and think the best place for it is in the EU. It all depends upon whether you see close integration as good or bad.
Surely it is folly to stay in Europe? We have seen what the weak economies of the union have done to the strength of the euro, why should we let them drag down our economy? Why should our people support the people of other less well of countries, only for them to tie us up in red tape? The strength of the euro maybe hard for the UK at present but wait until the euro zone gets high inflation, we'll be laughing all the way to the bank.
Patriotism is the championship or love of one's country. The way the EU appears to be heading threatens much of what I cherish most about my country. To suggest that being Euro-sceptical is to be unpatriotic is typical New Labour double-speak.
They have turned the question round completely. The question should be is it patriotic to want to destroy our identity as a country by submerging it in a superstate.
Phillip Souta, UK
True patriotism is to follow ones convictions in the pursuit of the country's best interests. As much of the European debate is a matter of opinion, to use an emotive word like "patriotism" to describe those one agrees with is to deliberately cloud the discussion. It is possible to be a patriot in either camp, and it is possible to find people acting in their own self-interest in either camp as well...
Does the Prime Minister really think that we will fall for this? He cannot and will not bully or frighten intelligent patriotic Britons into supporting a policy that undermines the sovereignty of our country. He will never be able to allude to popular support when talking about full integration into Europe or the Euro. He has two choices - he can force us into it and reap the whirlwind, or change his absurd non-policy.
Of course it is, to state that it is against the UK interest to be part of Europe is rubbish, we need Europe.
I don't even want to be governed by Westminster. I want my local town or district council to govern me. I want to get away from faceless, politicians with their spin-doctors who I'll never meet and who don't care about me.
Are you telling me that by getting BIGGER we will achieve this? Rubbish! If I am unpatriotic to hold any "law" that the European "parliament" passes beyond contempt then so be it! I would rather be unpatriotic to a country that has lost its right to govern itself than cosy up to a bureaucratic, faceless, institution whose members are so taken with their status and self-importance that the only chance of me seeing one of them down the local is when they try to convince me to say "I'll have 550ml of bitter please"!
NO WAY. I love you Europeans but I love my England more!
N. Bradley, U.K
The fundamental notion of patriotism is an absurdity since the UK and its constituent countries is not "ours" in the first place. The vast majority of people may live here, but we don't own or control the vital parts that make life possible: the productive industries and resources. These crucial assets belong to a capitalist minority, and they, particularly big business, are the ones most keen on economic and monetary union, since the creation of a one huge competitive market will result in greater profits for the strongest, combined with less protection for all those carrying out the work.
Alan Wood, UK
I am concerned that Robin Cook appears to be deliberately mixing up patriotism and nationalism. Being against the EU doesn't stop me being an internationalist. In fact, being an internationalist means I cannot support the development of fortress Europe.
How can being pro-European be patriotic ? The essence of being pro-European at this time seems to involve wishing to dismantle as much of our Nation State as possible as quickly as possible. Giving away the majority of the power of the British State would hardly seem to be a patriotic act! To politicians, such as Tony Blair, being pro-European is not about being positive towards Europe, it is about the personal aggrandisement of being involved in the creation of a federal superstate.
Beng Tang, Singapore
It is obviously possible to be patriotic, and not nationalistic; tolerant and respectful for the opinions of others yet firm and fully committed to the promotion and the defence of British democratic values and cultural heritage which is essentially European in its historical origin, and diverse in its current modern multi-ethnic reality.
Nationalism creates wars; the European Union demonstrates the values of co-operation, solidarity and the integrity of the individual in a world that singularly lacks such values on a wide enough scale.
David M Stewart, UK
Tony Blair seems determined to destroy the UK and everything it represents. When will politicians realise the public perceive the EU as a gravy-train for clapped out and failed politicians. Take Neil Kinnock as a prime example. He was so good, he failed miserably in his own country, but managed to achieve high position in the EU. The whole Commission resign due to corruption etc. and then all but one are re-elected? I have nothing against the EU, but wish it had stayed as a free trade association, rather than an overlord.
Chris (ex-UK), Germany
It may be patriotic in some people's view to favour Europe, but I just wish they wouldn't castigate those of us who want nothing to do with the EU as "xenophobic" and "little Englanders", we're nothing
of the sort.
I would have thought that it was self-evident that it was in the UK's interest to face more towards Europe.
We do most of our trade with Europe, take our holidays there our entire history is intermingled with Europe. Our head of state is descended from a German and our future king is half Greek!
The euro-sceptics seem to consist of xenophobes and those who wish us to become the 51st state of America!
You miss the point when you term the issue as one of patriotism. It is about democracy. The EU is an undemocratic body, elected by nobody. The vote count in Florida may seem silly to most Europeans, but I would rather have that than random pronouncements from an unelected body far from home. The EU has served its purpose (no more wars between France and Germany). Time to bow out gracefully.
I can't see how it can be patriotic to support a business cartel.
Have we really learned nothing in the last 2000 years of so-called civilization? Patriotism is a global evil that is responsible for just about every war that ever happened. So many people blame religion for war when the vast majority are due to territorial ambition. As we head toward the "global community", we remove the shackles of patriotism and address the world as a whole, not as a group of disparate, proud and jealous nations.
Yes, in a way it is, because the alternative to being a participating
and fully engaged partner in the E.U. is to be a vassal and semi-satellite state for the U.S.
How can it be patriotic to want to sell out your country? Defending the UK's Parliament (i.e. the voice of its people), its currency and its way of life is patriotic. Robin Cook and Tony Blair are out to do the opposite in Nice next month. They are the antithesis of patriotism and should stop pretending to be otherwise.
Timothy Davis, N. Ireland
In some circumstances, being pro-Europe will be in Britain's national interest. However, in others it may not be. Each case needs to be decided on it's merits. The problem with the euro-sceptics is they seem to think being anti-Europe is always in Britain's interest, which it isn't.
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