Society

British and Irish perspective on 'being European'

Article published on Feb. 21, 2012
Article published on Feb. 21, 2012
Do tensions in Europe actually exist amongst its citizens or is it only amongst politicians eager to lay the blame at someone else’s door?

European satirists have benefited immensely from the actions of ‘Merkozy’, the term coined for the leaders of Germany and France, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, who are spearheading the economic efforts to manage the euro crisis. The European media, caught up in mud slinging, have lost sight of the fact that there should be an intelligent point behind satire. Varying national outlets across Europe seem intent on perpetuating the idea that any economic plan is merely a thinly veiled, euro-federalist plot to override national sovereignty; the Irish and British press are especially notable for their scepticism towards the EU and continental European leaders.

Britain: only in Europe to complain about it

In the English-speaking part of the continent, attitudes towards our mainland neighbours are decidedly mixed. Britain has an entrenched culture of euroscepticism, perpetuated by a tabloid dominated print media. The British are keen to enjoy the benefits of EU membership, such as free movement; an estimated one million Britons reside in Spain. They are generally resistant to any measures they view as encroaching on their sovereignty. Through a considerable degree of press misinformation, that label applies to the majority of EU laws and directives. The EU, including its bureaucrats, institutions and national leaders, has become a convenient scapegoat for British politicians to blame for varying problems; many social commentators have noted that the British government seems to be attempting to convince the British public everything would be fine, economically speaking, were it not for the eurozone crisis. The British public directs its resentment towards the irresponsible Greeks and the condescending Germans; a win for the conservative-led government as the British tabloids duly regurgitate half truths to ‘prove’ the theory that Europe is at fault.

Ireland- don’t want you here but insulted if you leave

In Ireland, the media is les rabidly anti-European but as a nation there is a feeling of resentment towards our European neighbours; as if it’s somehow Europe’s fault we lost our status as the poster child for economic growth with our reckless borrowing and overspending. As a formerly colonised nation, there is a lingering degree of scepticism towards anything imposed from ‘the outside’. The EU/ IMF bailout falls into that category. Ireland was host to a considerable amount of ill-feeling towards some of its European neighbours before the financial crisis hit. A small island nation accustomed to centuries of emigration, the Irish got quite a shock when it suddenly became a destination for migrants. Inexperience of multiculturalism combined with a rapid influx of Eastern European migrants from 2004 onwards caused some social issues; casual racism was rife and although many migrants found work and integrated well, no doubt others were exploited. As the Irish economy slowed, the majority of the East European migrants returned to their home countries. Classic Irish begrudgery raised its ugly head; scornful remarks about benefiting from the good times before abandoning ship were plentiful amongst those occupying bar stools. Conversely, resentment also rose towards those migrants who remained in the country, occupying jobs which were ‘rightfully’ Irish.

Having said that

The media of course isn’t totally to blame. There are many who think the British and Irish press do not in fact fully reflect the full extent of public resistance to the European union (clearly, these are people who’ve never read The Daily Mail- see an example of their European Union coverage). ‘The British public are far more eurosceptic than the press,' says Robert Oulds, director of think tank Bruges Group. The bottom line is, in Britain and Ireland we quite like being part of Europe. We like our weekends away in Vienna or Budapest and our summer holidays in Provencal or Alicante. We like buying cheap alcohol and cigarettes in Poland and the males amongst us appreciate the influx of good looking Slavic girls to our shores. We realise our differences as European citizens are superficial at best. Although we don’t really get why you kiss each other instead of shaking hands like normal people, we like Europeans as well.

Image: main, forest in Catalonia (cc) Birdyphage/ Nicolas Loiseau/ flickr