Confession of a prejudiced pro-European

Geraint Talfan Davies admits to his pro-European prejudice.

The debate on Europe has ceased to be a reasoned debate, it seems more of a visceral struggle between deep-seated attitudes – prejudices if you like. So, if you don’t like UKIP’s prejudices, especially those of some of its candidates, try mine.

First, I am deeply prejudiced in favour of peace, and in favour of any institutions that make war less likely. The EEC and the EU have been spectacularly successful in creating, not just an absence of war, but a meaningful peace, in which people have been able to grow together. The process goes on.

One day in the 1980s, on a train between Paddington and Cardiff, the broadcaster, Wynford Vaughan Thomas, told me of wonderful journeys through eastern Europe that he had undertaken as a young man in the 1930s. He then dug out a sheet of paper from his bag and, with a fountain pen, drew a remarkably accurate and rather beautiful map of Europe – from John O’Groats to Istanbul – before plotting his youthful journey.

“It’s incredible to think that half that map has been off limits to me for decades,” he said, and he was right. He had reported from bombers over Berlin. He had advanced with allied troops through Italy. He had been into Belsen. The Iron Curtain offended him. He did not live to see it fall. If he had he would have raised a glass of very fine wine.

Anyone watching events in the Ukraine today, will realise how easily countries can fall into war. Echoes of  Sarajevo in 1914. A miscalculation here, a misunderstanding there. Overt power, opaque motives. Local passions, continental consequences. A stable and peaceful Europe needs its institutions, however imperfect they may be.

Second, I am an unashamed pro-European, instinctively so. I had known it for a long time: the effect of Latin and French at school, boyhood hitch-hiking, history at college. My family and I have enjoyed and learned from the open continent. I even helped draft some sympathetic information leaflets during the 1975 referendum on Europe. But in 1997 I updated and refreshed my prejudice during six weeks away from Europe at a business school in Philadelphia.

I was in a group of forty people drawn from different industries from around the world. We were taught by some of the brightest brains around, but some of the lecturers were clearly proponents of fashionable neo-liberal theories that, a decade later, would lead to a financial catastrophe, the economic and social effects of which of our continent is still living through. They were adamant that the European social model was doomed. Only the American liberal model would work, they argued, urging us to follow the example of Asian countries, although some Asian currencies were crashing even as they spoke.

This led to fierce arguments between we Europeans and our American friends. If it was a choice between the American or European models, I knew instinctively which side I was on. I might not want to go the whole hog to a rather conformist Scandinavian solution, but I know – as most of us do – that libelling social solidarity as the next best thing to soviet communism is barking mad. It ends up with a Democratic President being demonised for trying to secure even a minimal degree of health insurance for 50 million of his people who had no safety net.

I dislike the harsh instincts that lie behind America’s ultra right wing Tea Party, and extend that dislike to those in this country who would push us in the same direction – towards ever smaller government and the diminishment of the public realm. Their victory would change the nature of my country more radically than any impact they allege from immigration.

Third, I am unshakeably prejudiced against those who propagate the big lie. This is the only description that one can attach to Mr Farage’s poster campaign: “26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?” It is a brazen and calculated deception. It is the technique perfected by Josef Goebbels. Make the lie big enough and you put it beyond the possibility of proof. Create fear and suspicion, and a lot of people will look over their shoulder

It is not difficult to do, especially when people everywhere are already unsettled by the pace of change, by technologies that make their long learnt skills redundant, or global industries that can shift production to wherever in the world they can find the cheapest labour. Simplistic explanations are always easier to sell than complex ones, and never carry a health warning.

These fundamental uncertainties are, unfortunately, endemic. That is why Mr Farage – whose name is pronounced with a surprisingly French inflection – is not alone. He has his counterparts in almost every country, not all of whom exude his own back bar bonhomie. History, as well as our daily news, tells us that thuggery of the deed, is not far behind the disguised thuggery of the word.

Lastly, I am prejudiced against shifting the blame for our own sins of omission or commission onto others. That is what people do when they claim that the EU is the problem, rather than part of the solution. The EU gets the blame for all kinds of restrictions, when for years it has been the ‘gold-plating’ of EU directives by British civil servants that has been to blame. The present UK government has been trying to prevent its own officials doing this. If the EU is the problem, why have other member states been more effective in safeguarding ownership of their own key industries than ourselves? The beam is in our own eye.

There are plenty of things in the institutions of the EU that need reform, but in order to make the EU work better, rather than to protect the UK from some non-existent existential threat. After all, our own British institutions are hardly flawless conceptions. But it’s a pity that a constructive engagement with refining our continental tier of governance, will be drowned out in the next few weeks, by Mr. Farage’s display of narcissistic insecurities.


Geraint Talfan Davies is former Chair of the IWA and is currently Chairman of the Welsh National Opera. He was Controller of BBC Wales from 1990-2000. This article first appeared in the Western Mail.

16 thoughts on “Confession of a prejudiced pro-European

  1. I’m pro-European as well – pro a Europe of self-governing nation states and that’s why I support UKIP and the rest of the secular non-racist parties operating across the EU seeking the same outcome.

    If you want peace, stop the imperialist expansionist EU meddling in Ukraine, Palestine, and sundry other places where it has fomented violence and done more harm than good. We don’t call the EU the evil empire for nothing… The internet and the adoption of English as a near universal second language has done more to keep the peace in Europe, and beyond, than the EU or the UN ever can. Peace can’t be imposed!

    Economically the EU is a failure. It has always been a failure and it will always be a failure because the ethos of the EU is prescriptive control of everything by self-appointing technocrats (with a superiority complex) and control is the enemy of efficiency, enterprise, and free thinking. It is repeating the mistakes of the USSR from where many of its supporters draw their inspiration, though Barroso is a Maoist! The EU’s few successful economies cannot be bled dry to prop-up the EUro for much longer or the whole of the EUroZone will go into deflation – 8 EUroZone states are probably already in that situation but the data is always behind the curve. If Gordon Brown is ever remembered favourably for anything it will probably be for keeping the UK out of the EUroZone!

    If you want to live in a totalitarian super-state, based on ever closer union, with sedition laws and a declining economy leading inevitably to unrest and a chaotic collapse then keep voting for the pro-EU parties – and that absolutely includes the Tories under current leadership and direction.

    If you want self determination within your own borders then vote for UKIP and hope that the new-found trans-EU co-operation of freedom loving people led by Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen will be strong enough after May 25th, at least, to slow down the EU’s descent into tyranny. Now is the time to leave the EU before it collapses under its own incompetence. Invoke Article 50 and plan an orderly BREXIT now. Wilders is constructing plans for NEXIT. No doubt Le Pen has plans for FREXIT… The Greeks are talking about GREXIT… I do believe a pattern is emerging! I find it quite encouraging…

  2. Geraint Talfan Davies appears to have forgotten the fact that if Scotland votes Democratically for Independence , The E.U. has said it is doubtful if its members will allow that country to join it because to many other areas may want to opt out of their member countries.
    He also seems to forget that the operation’s auditors will not sign off its accounts.
    Mr Davies also fails to mention the expenses claimed by M.E.Ps
    Has the writer forgotten the quotation we were all taught at our schools.
    ? “Power corrupts, Absolute power corrupts absolutely!’ If Our P.M.doesn’t succeed in his renegotiation with Europe how can anyone put an end to the E.U. excessses.
    Very happy to send a copy of this Email written in ink using my Parker 51 ink pen if as he implies,this would mean more to him.

  3. An American friend of mine had a father who was a musician. In retirement his main satisfaction in life was teaching an instrument to poor kids in the barrios of Los Angeles, on a public programme to bring culture to the under-privileged. His politics, however, were right-wing. In theory he approved of calls for small government. When California had a plebiscite on a law to prohibit state spending, he voted for it. The law passed and the public programme that gave his life it’s main satisfaction and gave hope to poor kids was cancelled. It was a spectacular case of voting against your own interests. I am reminded of this when I hear people in the UK who are not well off saying they will vote for UKIP. Social chapter, working hours directive, human rights monitoring, convergence funding….who needs ’em? Some people don’t know who their friends are.

  4. @John R Walker:

    “I’m pro-European as well – pro a Europe of self-governing nation states”

    So that includes Wales and Scotland, then? And I mean Wales and Scotland as ‘self-governing nation states’? If not, why not? Are we too inferior to be worthy of such a status?

    @Peter Hugh Charles Davies:

    “the fact that if Scotland votes Democratically for Independence , The E.U. has said it is doubtful if its members will allow that country to join it “

    The EU has said no such thing. The EU has said nothing one way or the other on the matter. If you mean the load of old mince that Barroso has come out with, then within days of both of his outbursts on the subject the Commission distanced themselves from his comments, and those who have actually had the responsibility of administering accession for a number of recent new members have stated clearly that Barroso was uttering total cods.

    As for other EU members supposedly vetoing an independent Scotland’s continued membership of the EU, I presume by that you mean Spain more than any other state. The Spanish foreign minister has explicitly stated that they would remain resolutely neutral on the matter, as well he might, given that expelling Scotland from the EU would wipe out a fair proportion of Spain’s fishing fleet.


    The UKIP project is predicated on a fantasy of permanent ongoing ‘British’ superiority to everyone else’s way of doing things (except the American Way, for some reason; the fact the the UK’s defence and military policies are largely dictated from Washington and the Pentagon doesn’t seem to exercise KIPpers at all, despite the fact that ‘we’ have no democratic input or influence on them at all) and exists in a parallel universe in which it is forever 1912 and there is honey still for tea. With the help of media which seem to be falling over themselves to present this little band of golf-club phalangists with as many media opportunities as possible (Farage is on ‘Question Time’ nearly as often as Dimbleby, it seems) giving them the ability easily to tap into the insecurities and prejudices of the Mail and Express-reading classes who haven’t quite grasped (or seem not even to want to) that it is their own country‘s ruling élites which have caused most of their problems, rather than generalised ‘nasty foreigners’. It’s easy pickings, given those same media’s screeching about “the Franco-German EuSSR Superstate!” shock-horror over the last thirty-odd years.

    People are, of course, free to vote for whomsoever they wish. However, we should always be mindful of the consequences. You may, Mr Walker, be happy enough to vote to send a coach-load of clowns to Strasbourg, but I hope you will refrain from expressions of outrage when you find the rest of Europe is laughing at you.

  5. A fine, and much needed, piece by Geraint Talfan Davies. Highly amusing to see the expected reaction by the rabid Britnats.

  6. In Europe, largely thanks to the EU, we have not had a large scale war for the last 70 years for the first time in several millennia. That’s why it is important. I underline that.
    As for rights for working people the EU has forced Westminster to implement policies that protect employee rights and set a framework for fair pay and conditions. The EU has also set a framework for minority languages and regions such as our own and Wales has benefited but certainly not taken advantage of several large scale development funds. It is largely Westminster that holds us back and to a certain extent this Labour Government, too comfortable in its position, and not the EU.

  7. While acknowledging his sincerity and good faith – it is bad form to accuse someone of ‘the big lie’ simply because one disagrees with their opinion – GTD needs to be corrected on several points.

    First and foremost, the debate is not between ‘pro-Europeans’ and ‘anti-Europeans’ but between those who support a European super-state and those who oppose it. Those who oppose it are not ‘anti-European’ but arguing in favour of the best interests of the EU’s subjects of all nations. Speaking as a fairly well-travelled admirer of French wine, Italian art, German music, and Danish existentialism, we ‘Europhobes’ yield nothing to GTD and his ‘Europhiles’ in our appreciation of the scenery and culture of the various European countries. Indeed, we want France to remain France, Italy to remain Italy, etc, as much as we want Britain to remain Britain.

    Second, neither is there a major debate between people who are ‘pro-immigration’ and ‘anti-immigration.’ Apart from a few lunatics on either extreme, most people understand that some immigration is essential but too much is bad. The debate is about finding the right level.

    Third, it is also a false dichotomy to see an ‘American liberal model’ in opposition to a ‘European social model.’ That is precisely the sort of rhetoric that has sown such confusion in the debate over American healthcare – in reality, a badly designed programme from the perspectives of both left and right. As usual, the truth is a bit more complicated than the BBC line on these things.

    Fourth, it is not the EU that has kept the peace in Europe since 1945. That was the military defeat of Germany, its division and de facto occupation by two superpowers, the Cold War, and ‘mutually assured destruction.’ The EU’s own diplomacy has been notable for its incompetence, contributing the escalation of violence in the former Yugoslavia and now in the Ukraine.

  8. “Indeed, we want France to remain France, Italy to remain Italy, etc, as much as we want Britain to remain Britain.”

    I notice you don’t mention Wales there at all. You’re a Britnat. That’s the long and short of it. Britain time has been and gone. Get over it.

  9. David, crude terms like ‘Britnat’ are overly simplistic and unhelpful. It is quite possible to be both proud to be British and proud to be Welsh – indeed the majority of Welsh people have no difficulty reconciling the two – without defining our political beliefs in terms of either petty ‘nationalism.’ The real questions in politics are about the relationship between the State and the subject. Whether the State should be a nation state, and the boundaries of that nation state, are subsidiary questions.

    So, yes, of course, let Wales be Wales – but what sort of Wales? For centuries Wales has remained Wales without being a nation state. You may very well be right that, as a result of the 1997 referendum, Wales is drifting towards becoming one, but, if so, we will miss the United Kingdom, perhaps more than we realise. It was not perfect, but it got a lot of things right, and it was better than most – certainly better than the likely alternative, given Wales’ current political class.

    Gerald, overall, a highly taxed economy is against everyone’s interests. The scraps an individual is able to grab from the table should not distract him from the fact he is reduced to grabbing scraps from someone else’s table. Incidentally, the particular financial problems of California are due in large part to a constitutional multiplicity of separate authorities: no one is clearly in charge so no one takes responsibility for the whole mess. One of the strengths of the old United Kingdom was that never used to be an issue here. That is of course changing – alas.

  10. JWR: what a remarkably naive and sanguine assessment of the UK. British nationalism is the nationalism that dare not speak its name, yet it is the nationalism that is all-pervading and banal. Though I detest organisations like the BNP, at least they are honest in their declarations. UKIP, and its fellow travellers such as the Tories and Labour, profess their ‘non-nationalist’ credentials whilst playing the Unionist card time and time again. Bigotry and xenophobia are mainstreamed in anti-EU rhetoric: that is UKIP’s real success.

  11. Robert, it is interesting to note that when nationalists of various stripes talk of nationalism of which they approve it is called ‘patriotism’ but nationalisms of which they disapprove are called ‘bigotry’ and ‘xenophobia.’

    Surely we are now more grown up than that – and which flag we salute should be less important to us than the principles for which it stands.

    One neutral observer, Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, who later led the 20 July Plot against Hitler, wrote that the principles he associated with Britain were ‘Christianity, Freedom, and the Law.’ It is true that in practice Britain has too often failed to live up to the highest ideals of those principles, but they are still good principles to have – and better than their direct opposites, which have prevailed too often in Europe and which might prevail in Wales: Bureaucracy, Statism, and Corruption.

  12. John Winterson Richards writes, “which flag we salute should be less important to us than the principles for which it stands.” So, your nationalism, judging by your comments about what you perceive to be British values, is clearly British nationalism. That’s fair but you shouldn’t then dismsiss others who do not tie themselves into Brit adoration. As for “Statism” the British State exudes this: see the BBC and how it props up the Establishment as a case in point

  13. Martin, with respect, you are making the same mistake as David earlier. You are trying to label someone who rejects all such labels. National pride – both British and Welsh – is in itself a fine thing, but making it the basis of political ideology is so last century.

    It is therefore not a case of ‘British nationalism’ being ‘better’ than ‘Welsh nationalism.’ Welsh nationalism is undesirable only because the Welsh political class is even more statist than the British political class, which is itself far too statist – there is absolutely no disagreement about your last sentence, by the way.

    If Plaid had a more libertarian agenda, seeking to set up a truly free Wales apart from the statist UK, then Welsh nationalism would be hard to resist.

  14. Come on guys. All this good Nat, bad nat, Welsh Nat, Brit Nat stuff is pretty depressing and cuts little ice with the electorate. Would anyone like to make some positive suggestions as to how we might improve our European institutions – rather than dismantle them – in a way that would make the European Union a more effective force in the world, as well as improving its accountability.

  15. When I voted Yes in the referendum in 1975 (the first exercise of my right to vote), I assumed, naively as it now turns out, that the values of the European project would come to represent the values of the UK. This was the tenor of the time that someone history was a benign liberal journey to enlightment and the European project a representation of that. That was before Thatcher of course.

    Europe remains a culturally and linguistically rich continent and it is a source of disappointment that this is viewed with suspicion rather than embraced joyously, despite Beethoven’s best efforts.

    However, it is difficult to view what is happening politically in England as anything other than an identity crisis which began in 1979 and has still to play oout. The post-war confidence of England and thus Britain (at the time) has long since evaporated and the cultural certainties have turned to insecurities. Scotland has all but left the Union. Even if the people of Scotland vote No on 18th September, further separation is on the way even if it falls short of independence. Northern Ireland’s relationship with the South is now far more important than its relationship with England. In Wales, we are currently creeping our way stealthily towards greater autonomy, based more on functioning government than any upswell of cultural resurgence or popular will to power.

    In that context, the current anti-Europeanism in English politics has the characteristics of a catharsis, repressed frustration at seeing the country which won the war losing the peace.

    Currently in Wales, what has emerged quite early on from Carwyn Jones is a foreign policy different to that of David Cameron’s namely that to leave the European Union would be disastrous for Wales at a time when Cameron is flirting with the idea because of the threat of a nascent UKIP.

    If we are to try and put forward a more pro-European position in Wales, I don’t think that an appeal to a European idealism will fit the bill, largely due to British loyalties which form an important part of the Welsh politic. But, as Gerald Holtham suggests, showing the voters the employment protection they enjoy because of European directives is more likely to strike a chord, given Wales’ troubled history of industrial disputes going back to the days of Crawshay.

    I also think this is one of the prizes that Cameron is aiming for in his renegotiation, namely opt-outs from employment legislation which protects workers’ rights. If this is correct, taking a stand on employment rights would serve to show the real differences between Wales and England over our relationship with Europe.

  16. GTD: agreed. To answer your question directly, the perfect EU would be the ‘Common Market’ we were promised when we first went in, a free trade zone. That would require no Commission, no Parliament, no Councils, no Baroness Ashton, no four different Presidencies, no three separate seats of government, and no common currency. All that is required is a Treaty Court with strong powers to come down hard on any attempts to restrict free trade as defined by negotiated treaty among sovereign states. That would make the EU a force that really unites people rather than divides them.

    Rhobat: your line “we are creeping our way stealthily towards greater autonomy, based more on functioning government than on any cultural resurgence or popular will to power” is a very perceptive one-sentence summary of where Wales now is. Obviously, we probably disagree about whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but as a description of the current situation it is perfect.

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