Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

EUROPE – WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

June 24, 2016

Living in Europe for 35 years, I greatly appreciated the people and their various ways of life. I was happy to return to live in England, since I imagined that within the European Union we could be one. So now that Britons have dropped a nuclear bomb on the relationship with Europe, I am devastated.

That we should have a constitutional crisis, utter confusion, no government and no plan for the future was eminently foreseeable. Yet a majority of voters, including friends of mine, embarked on this apparently reckless course. Why did the Remain camp fail to convince?

Voters knew David Cameron was no friend of Europe, so he had no credibility in declaring he would campaign “heart and soul” to stay in. No more persuasive were statesmen who urged Britain to stay inside the Union to play a leading role in reforming it. If Britain could not fix the defects before, why hang around? As for experts’ prophecies of economic disaster, voters clearly thought economic forecasting had too bad a track record.

A Leave friend wrote on Facebook “Now we will be back in the driving seat again!!!” Indeed so, and the responsibility rests primarily with Leavers to draw up strategies, act and take care of the people of Britain. Just now, they have no Prime Minister, no government and no plan. We Remainers however must realise that the European Union cannot continue as the framework for relating to the continent. Leavers and Remainers have a joint responsibility to end the chaos and devise new ways of functioning with our neighbours.

As for European leaders, they should take this bombshell as a warning. It is not enough to dwell on the Union’s success in ending post-war animosities and providing a democratic framework for liberated Eastern Europe. The people of Hungary and Poland have elected governments that patently care little for this.

It is not a time for European leaders to close ranks to hold the Union together at all costs. Britons are not the only people who are dissatisfied. Who today expresses enthusiasm for the Union? Jean-Claude Juncker, Head of the European Commission, has failed to rise to his task. Angela Merkel performs a useful role as a “nice German” at the heart of Europe but will not act decisively as a leader.

However Europe must have smart people able to solve issues such as the bias of the euro system in favour of Germany. Germans’ insistence that other countries should merely act economically as they do is unrealistic. If limited liability laws enable individuals to go bankrupt, renege on debts and eventually return to economic activity, why can this not be done also for Greece?

The European Union has to resolve the chaotic inflows of migrants, the number one issue in the British campaign. There is talk of “defending frontiers”, but the free passage provided by Schengen has been built into infrastructures of airport and road systems, and can scarcely be dismantled. Britain, for all the boasts of the Leavers about regaining sovereignty, has only a handful of coastal patrol craft, and Italy or Greece have even less chance of sealing off their huge coastlines. However Spain does. It pays money to Morocco and Mauritania in return for measures to head off migrants. Such measures do not choke off channels altogether, but manage the flows better.

Financial stability and migration are among the big issues of our time. They need imaginative ideas and cooperation, far more than exasperated reactions to bothersome bureaucrats.

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Working on my new book … The Fight For Freedom

May 9, 2014

Not much time for blogging, as I am writing, writing, writing. Here’s the book I am working on:

19.3.2014 cover FFF - iPad cover (3)

Ukraine: cut off and thirsting for contact with the world

February 23, 2014

I first published this blog after a visit to Ukraine in April 2010

The roads are broken up with potholes, the pavements are full of ice, slush and mud, the buildings are Soviet and not much works. The students I am teaching can’t speak much English or any other foreign language. The Schengen visa system makes travel to western Europe difficult, and few can afford it.

I am in the Ukraine. It means “borderlands,” and that’s what it is. One of my students asks me anxiously: “Do you think we are European?” I say: “Of course you are.” She is relieved. She was not sure she qualified, but she definitely does want to be one of us.

Excluded as Ukrainians largely are from contact with the West, they have an uphill task joining the modern world. The Institute for Human Development “Ukraine” in Kirovograd, a sprawling provincial city, is doing its best by inviting foreign teachers, but its internet service usually goes off in mid-afternoon because the service provider rations its kilobytes.

Nobody speaks nostalgically of the old days, but there is little sense that the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union in 1990 was a turning point. Life did not change much. Now the oppressors are corrupt politicians, officials and businessmen. Individuals are unsure that they are empowered. Pessimism is the norm.

In the gloom of the fag end of an Eastern winter however shines the eternal Slav spirit – warm, hospitable and emotional. My journalism students snatch the western newspapers I have brought from my hand (the Swisscontact aid organisation has sent me). I give lessons in journalism, but what they really want to hear is how it is where I come from. They beam with pleasure that somebody has taken the trouble to come to them.

My hosts immerse me in culture. I eat bortsch and blinis with cottage cheese. Two of my students take me to a sauna, I buy a fur coat and I end up at the local beauty contest. I learn how to toast vodka: the first of the 39 traditional Ukrainian toasts is for good, the second for friends, the third for women, and after that nobody can remember any more.

After a couple of weeks, I am feeling quite at home.

“Preserving the Liberties of EUROPE” – that’s what the Duke of Marlborough did

November 3, 2012

File:Blenheim Column of Victory.JPG

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The inscription on the triumphal column to the Duke of Marlborough, one of Britain’s greatest national heroes, says a purpose of his successful campaigns in the first decade of the 18th century was “preserving the Liberties of Europe.”

He was mainly intent on eliminating the threat of French hegemony in Europe. To do so, he engaged with like-minded continental allies. The inscription talks of “the Principal States of Europe being united in one common Cause” – the cause Marlborough pursued on behalf of Britain. His string of victories earned “The Admiration of other Nations.”

Today talk is of “repatriating powers from Europe” and perhaps even leaving the European Union altogether. The Government and a large part of the media pour scorn on all that is European and play up British particularity.

History should teach us this is dangerous and against our interests – quite apart from any obligation we may feel to behave responsibly and decently towards our neighbours.

After Marlborough engaged with Europe by forming alliances, Wellington did likewise to defeat Napoleon, as did British generals in World War I and Churchill in World War II

Each time, it was obvious the British had to. It is foolish to believe this is no longer the case. The rest of Europe wants Britain as a balance, and the experience of two World Wars should teach us that turning our back on these “faraway people about whom we know so little” is disastrous, not least for us.

In an era of spreading knowledge, Britons should look beyond their coasts and see what lies to the East, to the South and to the West. It is Europe. We sit on the same continental shelf and are part of it. Act European. Marlborough did.

A FOOT IN BOTH CAMPS: a sellout at the Geneva Writers Group

October 23, 2012

My new book, A FOOT IN BOTH CAMPS: A GERMAN PAST FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE, sold out at a presentation to the Geneva Writers Group over the weekend – 31 sold in 20 minutes.

Readers’ comments:

Your mother seems a remarkable woman. It’s good to see a British book about Germany that takes a positive view! – Professor Sir Richard Evans FBA, University of Cambridge.

… and …

Not just good but brilliant.

One of the best books about Germany.

Eloquent, thought-provoking and remarkably reflective.

Unputdownable.

This book is unique … easy-to-read.

Highly recommended.

Illustrates history in a very readable way.

A FOOT IN BOTH CAMPS, published by LBLA Digital,  is available through bookstores, Amazon, Kindle and the Apple I-Bookstore.

German domination of Europe? No chance. They’ll pay up.

July 21, 2012

As a swathe of Eurozone countries teeter on the verge of financial collapse, Germany with its healthily growing economy gains power and influence in Europe. Its unrivalled strength is already well established.

Little more than half a century ago, Germany also dominated Europe. Germans occupied much of the continent, killed and pillaged with abandon, conducted racial genocide and enforced their will over enslaved peoples with arrogant cruelty.

Are we on the verge of something similar? No we are not, and the reason is that war guilt continues to deter Germans from exploiting their growing power. In the 1930s, they rallied to a hysterical firebrand addicted to violence and killing on a massive scale. Today they elect an Angela Merkel who is dumpy, down-to-earth and understated. She could hardly be more different.

Germans have totally admitted their war guilt. No ifs and buts – they comprehensively assume responsibility. Through their financial generosity to the Soviet Union, Poland and other countries who suffered worst from their wartime savagery, they recognised their obligation to atone.

After World War II, Germans were largely excluded from political or military leadership in Europe. All that was tolerated was that they work hard to rebuild their economy. Which they did with great success, creating a well-functioning free market, a reputation for quality and a social contract for industrial peace.

In the 1970s and 1980s, West Germany was assisting people oppressed by post-war Communism. Now they are helping bail out nations which of their own free will have spent beyond their means. Will Germany continue its generosity to people who have brought their ills upon their own heads?

Most probably yes. Germans still shy away from military involvements and show no inclination to exercise political leadership in Europe. For them, insertion into a European Union with no real leaders suits their low-key ambitions. They are ready to pay the price for its imperfections and concentrate on thriftily building their wealth.

Germans will do as much as they can to influence others towards greater fiscal propriety until disaster looms. Then they will pay up.

The rest of us can be happy that Germans still feel their guilty obligations. It is right that they do, and helpful to us all.

For more about Germany and Britain since 1912, see A FOOT IN BOTH CAMPS: A GERMAN PAST FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE by Marcus Ferrar, published July 2012 https://www.facebook.com/marcus.ferrar#!/afootInbothcamps

Greece: cradle of democracy and philosophy – and now also destroyer of Europe?

May 16, 2012

Greeks were the first to organise themselves politically to represent the common interest. Philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle showed the power of reason, which never lost its influence despite religions which insisted knowledge came only from divine revelation.  Greeks have thus inspired us over the ages.

Will they now write a third chapter in their history by destroying the vision of a Europe which no longer tears itself apart – as it did at huge cost in human lives in the last century?

Since joining the European Union, Greece acquired a reputation as the member which consistently flouted its rules. Its citizens lived far beyond their means and today show no signs of acknowledging responsibility.

Predictions are that the new elections will favour parties who care nothing for Europe and nothing for the financial ruin they will bring by reneging on the country’s debts. In doing so, they may bring down the euro and perhaps even the European Union.

Europe’s younger generations take the benefits of the European Union largely for granted – that is, freedom of movement and employment, relaxed personal relations, democracy, rule of law, common standards, no passport queues at airports, and, yes, a common currency which facilitates price comparisons and is immensely convenient.

Greeks now risk writing themselves into history as the destroyers of this harmony. They will be remembered long for their selfishness and fecklessness if they choose that path. It is hard to believe Europe’s young people will let them get away with it. But if they succeed, how many will still remember Greeks as pioneers of democracy and philosophy?

 

The euro? Greece may be on the way out but Turkey has already embraced it

May 16, 2012

If you are one of the millions who visit Istanbul nowadays, you can pay for most things with the euro. Greeks may be about to vote in a government which will take their country out of the common European currency. But Turkey, which does not even belong to the European Union, is already unofficially using it.

Even in the teeming tunnels of the Grand Bazaar, dating back to the 18th century, cash machines offer the euro and dollars besides the Turkish lira. Try getting a euro out of a cash machine in Britain. No chance.

Turkish cars carry number plates with the blue flash on the side used by member countries of the European Union. The plates carry the letters TK, as if it were a member country. Only the yellow stars of the European Union are missing.

The concept of a united Europe may seem tattered to some. But to outsiders such as the Turks, it is still an alluring prospect.

Panicked about the euro? Not the Europeans I talk to.

January 8, 2012

British newspapers and politicians have been predicting the imminent demise of the euro for months, but I don’t sense panic among the people who use it in their daily lives.

Travelling on the continent over the past month, I asked a German businessman, a Spanish tourist resort manager, some Italian cultural officials and a group of Slovenian professionals whether they feared the currency they used could collapse. All replied firmly they expected no such thing. They found the question surprising.

Of course it is hard really to believe the promises printed on the banknotes of any currency. However the currency remains viable if people at least behave as if the promises were trustworthy. For that reason, I believe the euro is in no real danger.

Ukraine: cut off and thirsting for contact with the world

April 15, 2010

The roads are broken up with potholes, the pavements are full of ice, slush and mud, the buildings are Soviet and not much works. The students I am teaching can’t speak much English or any other foreign language. The Schengen visa system makes travel to western Europe difficult, and few can afford it.

I am in the Ukraine. It means “borderlands,” and that’s what it is. One of my students asks me anxiously: “Do you think we are European?” I say: “Of course you are.” She is relieved. She was not sure she qualified, but she definitely does want to be one of us.

Excluded as Ukrainians largely are from contact with the West, they have an uphill task joining the modern world. The Institute for Human Development “Ukraine” in Kirovograd, a sprawling provincial city, is doing its best by inviting foreign teachers, but its internet service usually goes off in mid-afternoon because the service provider rations its kilobytes.

Nobody speaks nostalgically of the old days, but there is little sense that the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union in 1990 was a turning point. Life did not change much. Now the oppressors are corrupt politicians, officials and businessmen. Individuals are unsure that they are empowered. Pessimism is the norm.

In the gloom of the fag end of an Eastern winter however shines the eternal Slav spirit – warm, hospitable and emotional. My journalism students snatch the western newspapers I have brought from my hand (the Swisscontact aid organisation has sent me). I give lessons in journalism, but what they really want to hear is how it is where I come from. They beam with pleasure that somebody has taken the trouble to come to them.

My hosts immerse me in culture. I eat bortsch and blinis with cottage cheese. Two of my students take me to a sauna, I buy a fur coat and I end up at the local beauty contest. I learn how to toast vodka: the first of the 39 traditional Ukrainian toasts is for good, the second for friends, the third for women, and after that nobody can remember any more.

After a couple of weeks, I am feeling quite at home.


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