Europe has often found the British revolting

by Lee Rotherham

Seneca’s ‘Pumpkinification’, mocking the deification of Claudius, included a line about the one province that had built a temple to the Emperor while he was still alive – Britannia. “And the Britons beyond in the unknown seas, Blue-shielded Brigantians too, all these he chained by the neck as the Roman’s slaves.” But Britons under a warrior queen had also revolted and burned that very temple, and the city of Colchester around it. Precedent might suggest European PR has its limits here.

Suspended in post-Brexit Britain, in more distant fields that process goes on. A concert involving twelve artists. A film competition. Public ‘debates’ involving EU figures who largely agree with one another. Bicycle rides or swims to visit places that have received EU grants. “European treasure hunts” of a different sort, for children aged 7 and up to track down missing stars from a flag. Welcome to the EU’s Europe Day 2021, May 9 in case you missed it, where “on redouble d’imagination pour toujours mieux parler d’Europe”.

Much of the activity since 2002 has been pushed by the EU’s in-house cheerleaders, the European Movement, with the objective of making the EU more visible, and “fostering of the concept of a European citizenship” and “common identity”, especially amongst children, students, and “opinion multipliers”.

From some of us of course, no “redoubling of effort” will happen this year. The online map showing where events are taking place no longer includes the UK, though it did continue to flag up low key events in Scotland until last year. Curiously, it appears to have quietly cooperated with some pro-EU picnics across the country, but does not say much about who has run them (the answer is the European Movement and the likes of Lord Adonis).

The reader’s natural temptation this year is correspondingly to ignore it. London’s EU Representation – sorry, Embassy – is not going to be spending taxpayer money on again lighting up the Millennium Wheel in blue and yellow, so why give it any thought ever again? 

Well, not being an EU27 member state has not stopped the EU delegation in New York lighting up the Empire State building for the thirteenth year in a row. Or throwing diplomats together with leading Indonesian chefs. Or running an entire EU cultural month in Ecuador; showing a fortnight worth of EU-subsidised films in Singapore; or setting up a ‘What does Europe mean to you?’ competition for creatives in Lebanon. The corporate Brussels propaganda hose will re-emerge in the UK at some point, and we ought to remain alert precisely to discourage it. It is a big budget, operating for a foreign interest, with an agenda to spread.

We are already seeing the outriders in the argument over the Scottish Government’s activities in Brussels, engaging with cooperative Brussels movers and shakers over an independent Scotland being allowed to join the EU. In parallel, a number of the 107 “European cultural figures” who recently signed a letter organised by Europe for Scotland include individuals currently or previously on the EU payroll.

But perhaps this year at least, the detail of Europe Day itself is just a marketing footnote. What may ultimately prove to be far more significant are the events on the side lines.

The EU has finally got its act together and set up its Conference on the Future of Europe. 9 May is the date of its first major meeting, styled with unfortunate Frankensteiness its “inaugural hybrid event”. The development is not universally acclaimed amongst the EU27. The body’s standing is deliberately equivocal, to avoid giving it an elevated legal status. There has already been a squabble over who should be its president (the solution was to make everyone who was arguing about it one), and no doubt there has been hidden skirmishing over the paltry speaking time allotted to President Macron.

But even so, the critical detail is that it is now happening. The laws of physics in Brussels mean committees debating further integration function as a perpetual motion generator. We can predict the mooted expansion of EU competencies on defence and energy security, health, and fresh powers over strategic resources and crisis management – and that’s just before they break for coffee. The comic writer Epicharmus of Sicily had the line, “Stay sober and remember to be sceptical.” Having experienced Brussels firsthand, I anticipate neither will apply to the work of this Conference.

I suggest that 9 May 2021 will turn out in long retrospect to mark the next milestone in integration, a Europe Day to be celebrated in its own right as the point when the centre of gravity began to tip further away from the member state. Meanwhile, the UK will finally be able to observe developments dispassionately, to coolly strategically reflect whether the proverbial ‘train that was leaving the station’ is in fact heading to the destination it wanted to go.

In this, I trust the Museum of Brexit will be able to play an important part, as a repository of primary source material in its archives, and as a fair and balanced record of the campaigns and arguments of all sides. It stands a better chance of doing so than its megabuck counterparts bankrolled by the EU, where Europe Day is a matter of salesmanship rather than of thought.

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