I thought I’d give my 5 euros worth on Britain’s decision to pull out of the EU.
I’ve got the BBC News app on my iPad, so I was checking the news early yesterday morning (Friday 24th June 2016). The full count hadn’t been made, but it was already clear what the result would be. And the strangest thing happened.
I’m a British citizen, grew up in England, but I’ve spent the last thirty years in Switzerland and I feel at home here. I didn’t think the decision would have much importance for me, to be honest. I really thought that Britain would stay in. But when I saw the news, I had a physical reaction. The kind of reaction you get when you personally receive bad news. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.
I felt a tremor in the force.
I think it’s a mistake.
We have something called PPE here in Switzerland: ‘propriété par étages,’ which literally means ‘property by floors’. It’s a misnomer really, because people don’t necessarily own the whole floor of a building. Imagine a building with ten flats and you own one of them. PPE is a means of distributing the running and repair costs of the whole building between the different owners of the flats.
Let’s imagine you own a flat on the ground floor. The annual general meeting comes round and it’s necessary to repair the roof. You don’t feel concerned because you don’t live under the roof, so you ask, ‘Why should I pay for roof repairs?’
The EU is like a huge PPE. Every country has to pay for costs that they feel don’t necessarily apply to them, but sooner or later there will be costs that do apply to them. Complaining about this is like complaining about roof repairs on the building. Sure, when the rain starts getting in, you won’t be the first one affected, but sooner or later the deterioration of the building will trickle or crash down to you on the ground floor.
The point is that distributing the costs of the upkeep of the whole building benefits everybody in the long term. If people start saying that they don’t want to contribute to cleaning the stairs because they never use them, then the whole thing falls apart.
And this is what Britain has just decided. It doesn’t want to pay for roof repairs or cleaning the stairs. So now it will have to move out, buy another property and pay for the upkeep of the whole thing.
I can understand the attraction of going it alone. The problem with a 28 country EU is a lack of focus and identity. Where does Europe really begin and end? Does Turkey, for example, which is still trying to get in but hampered by its poor human rights record, belong in Europe?
Another Swiss example to illustrate.
Up until recently, the Canton of Vaud was composed of hundreds of communes, sometimes with only tens of inhabitants. It became financially and administratively unviable to continue like that, so in the early 2000s, communes started to band together.
Rossens VD, the village where I live has 42 inhabitants. There are many more cows than human beings. Up till 2006, the village had its own administration with a Syndic and Municipalité. In 2006, it banded together with 2 neighbouring villages, Villarzel and Sédeilles to become one commune called Villarzel. Total population, just over 400. The marriage was an organic one because there was a history of cooperation and interaction between the three villages already and the fusion has been a success.
On the other hand, another fusion project in the region called Valbroye involved the combining of fourteen different communes not all of which had an organic pre-existing connection and this has been much more delicate. In the end, only eight communes banded together.
Obviously, the more communes there are, the less organic the new commune becomes and the less likely that solutions will be a good fit for everybody.
The same thing applies to the EU. When the core EU countries banded together, the idea of a unified Europe was relatively clear. World War II was still a very recent memory and I suspect this helped everybody to focus. But when you have a Europe of 28 countries, how can it be organic and solutions satisfactory for all its members? Not possible. It all becomes an amorphous mass.
More is not necessarily better.
A club that lets everybody in isn’t a club. Or as the reverend in ‘A Passage to India’ put it, ‘We must exclude someone from our gathering or we shall be left with nothing.’
The concept of a unified Europe is no longer clear. It is threatened by the huge migrant problems facing the EU as a whole. The Euro is in trouble. And we live in narcissistic times. Community spirit seems to be largely absent. It isn’t fashionable to think in the long term. So perhaps the British decision has a certain logic in the circumstances.
One commentator suggested that it is important to maintain calm and wait until the dust has settled.
Or, we might also say, until the water from that unrepaired roof finally starts seeping through the ceiling.
Have a great weekend wherever you live.