By Richard Laming
Fifty thousand Italians came to Manchester a few months ago for the football match between Juventus and Milan without a single incident of public disorder, not one. At a time when the English national football team fears being expelled from the European championships if there is more fighting amongst its supporters, the British media has been amazed at such good behaviour. There is something to learn from Italy, they say. There is more truth in this than they know.
In addition to behaving ourselves at football matches and making decent coffee, there is also an understanding of the modern Europe. I hope that the British can learn this, too.
The European Union is acquiring a set of political institutions with effective powers and democratic control. Europe is becoming federal. It is a slow process – grimly slow, sometimes – but the people of Europe are better off as a result and they know it.
There is no fundamental reason why Britain should not welcome it, too. After all, back in 1938, a group of British federalists created Federal Union to campaign for it. In the next two years, they were able to capture the support of a large part of the British political class but as the war went on, the attractions of federalism receded and the seductions of nationalism returned.
Federal Union has carried on working but Britain has lagged behind at almost every stage of the development of Europe since. This has been good neither for Britain nor for Europe but it should not be allowed to prevent progress. For the obligation lies on the British to understand Europe and not on Europe to understand Britain.
Every European country, and not just Britain, has a distinctive approach to Europe. It is for each country to reconcile its traditions with its needs. The fact that the Italians have learned to do so and the British have not is the fault of the latter, not the former.
So we are presented with the pathetic spectacle of Peter Hain, British government representative in the Convention, proud that the word “federal” has been removed from the draft European constitution. That constitution will be no more or less federal for the removal of the word. What will make it federal is the extent to which it equips Europe for its new role in the world and provides European citizens with the means of controlling that Europe.
Federalism is more than a word, it is an idea. And it is becoming a reality. The British government fools itself if it is happy with the mere deletion of a word.
The Constitution will move Europe substantially nearer to federalism. The British government appears not to realise this. Those who do should not be deterred. Advocates of federalism should not miss this opportunity. Federalism in Europe will not happen of its own accord, but as the result of some decisive acts by those who understand and support it.
It is in the interests of the whole of Europe – Britain included – that it should take the next steps towards federation. If the British cannot yet be part of this, that is their problem. In time they will learn. For Europe is – in politics as well as in football – where Britain belongs.
This article was first published in the newspaper “Europa”, on 6 August 2003. Richard Laming is Secretary of Federal Union, and may be contacted at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.
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