I’m rumoured to be a bit of a lefty, so it was with great surprise that I found myself the other day agreeing with David Cameron. The essence of the tight-rope he’s trying to walk on the subject of the EU is that he wants the UK to be part of Europe, but feels that the relationship with Europe needs to change. I feel much the same, although I’m sure we differ somewhat on exactly what needs to change.

Perhaps we often overlook the benefits of Europe. I’m now happily living on the continent with a wife who’s also a continental type. Neither of us has had to apply for a visa or work permit, we’ve just stepped smoothly from one country to another and got on with our lives. Do I need the security of knowing that bananas will be the same shape here as back in Blighty? No, I don’t. However, if I were running a business it’s nice to know that I could sell my goods in numerous countries without the hassle of bureaucracy from twenty-something different jurisdictions. There are considerable up-sides to the freedom of movement and goods.

Even more importantly, I’m not on the side of those who raised cynical eyebrows at the EU’s award of the Nobel peace prize last year. Please let me know when the last time as much peace existed between the member countries as has been for the last fifty years. Part of the raison d’être of the EU was to prevent the kind of problems the led to a couple of large-scale skirmishes at the beginning of the twentieth century, and numerous tussles before then, that centuries of monarchies inter-marrying had failed to stop.

Federalism is a dirty word, well in the UK it is. Going back just a couple of hundred years (or conceivably to the time of the grand-parents of my grandparents) and Napoleon was busy re-organising Germany from hundreds of city states into a few dozen regions. Some of the tensions that were there then still remain (think Lancashire vs Yorkshire), and so a federal system where each state has a large degree of self-governance is pretty much the only workable solution. The UK has been largely a fixed entity (ignoring Ireland) for such a long time that we often think of other countries in the same way. French as a language was only used around Paris up until around the time of the revolution and words of local argots are still used (the wife’s grandparents still spoke their regional language). How does that apply to the EU? Well, if your idea of nationhood and citizenship is a little more fluid, then you become more open to the idea that decisions about your life can be made at various levels. Some at regional, national, multi-national or global level and these things are not fixed with time. In the UK so much is concentrated at national level that we fail to consider the alternative.

So, what would I change? I’m not going to comment on specific policies, I’m going to chicken out until a later post. The one thing that infuriates me more than anything about the EU is that the parliament’s accounts have failed to be successfully audited for a great many years. How can an institution that wants to be taken seriously leave itself so open to accusations of fraud and not investigate such things properly, especially at a time when finances everywhere are under so much pressure and scrutiny? Von Rumpuy et all, please sort it out!

Despite its faults, I still firmly believe the EU has to exist and has the potential to be a benefit for every citizen of Europe. In the UK, we just need a little more love in the love-hate relationship we have with our neighbours across the channel and beyond.

Advertisements