Imagine it was 1945, weeks after the first use of atomic weapons, and a parliament had sat down to discuss a country’s national defence policy in this new world. Imagine that parliament then got embroiled in a furious row over what colour uniforms their nation’s cavalry officers should wear.
Welcome to Europe, 2010. We live in a world where economic crisis, global warming, sex and drug trafficking and terrorism is caused by global factors. Where religious fundamentalism of all hues threatens liberal “live and let live” values. Where one party state capitalism dictatorship, in the form of China, is the coming power of the new century, as it attracts other countries to its model as opposed to the “messy and inefficient” western model of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.
Meanwhile, in Europe we still clutch to red pencil lines drawn on a paper map in 1945 to protect us.
More and more, The French, British, and Germans just don’t really matter anymore, and if they’re struggling to be relevant in the world, just imagine how hard it is for Ireland. But what really brings a bright red burning hue to our cheeks is the fact that all of us as Europeans think that we do actually matter. The British think they matter in Washington, yet Iraq (and more recently, BP) has shown that they have marginal influence. The French swagger about the world pretending to still be a great power, yet when Kosovo and Bosnia needed military might, France was as useful as a man with an ice cream mickey staring into a furnace. Germany has just settled for having a nice middle class lifestyle and hoping nobody tries to break in through the bathroom window.
We haven’t walked off the pitch: the pitch has moved and we are too dumb to notice the goalposts have been carried away by a load of diligent Chinese and Brazilians. Europe is willingly becoming to the world what Leitrim is to Ireland. Nice, occasionally heard of, but not at the centre of things, and certainly not where the big decisions are made.
As the Chinese model of one party dictatorship gathers supporters across the world on a daily basis, and international air traffic transmits diseases across the planet in mere hours, we clutch to scraps of paper with words like “national sovereignty” on them and worry that someone wants to look at our budget and see how many paperclips we buy each year.
Eurosceptics and unenthused Euro-integrationists still seem to think that the big choice is between remaining self-empowered nation states, or being part of an integrated, united Europe. But it’s not. As Timothy Garton Ash said recently, this century will be “an age of giants” The choice is between Europeans pooling our power, or else teaching our kids how to show proper respect to their new Chinese masters, the men (and it will be men) who will run the 21st Century through sheer economic will, if we choose to let them. We stand ready to let the euro, one of the great achievements of European co-operation, fragment and possibly self-destruct because we are not willing to make the final step towards fiscal union that can save it, clutching still to those red pencil lines. Will a return to the Franc and the Punt really be liberation for us, or toss us out, bobbing in the waves in our respective dinghys in the path of the juggernauts?
Europe: As the rest of the world is unveiling its automated attack drones and stealth weapons and wielding its economic might, it is time we stop proudly pointing at the glistening, highly polished buttons on our horses’ saddles.