I confess to being confused. There is a lobby to hold a Second Referendum on Brexit but I question whether, in just giving us the terms of the UK-EU negotiations, we would have sufficient information to make up our minds? Don’t we also want the EU to reform? Do we really just want to go back to where we were, with our tail between our legs? Even the most staunch Remainers I speak to agree that there are major issues within Europe that need addressing. The argument is that it is more effective to do this by influencing from the inside but past evidence doesn’t back this up as our own attempts to influence Brussels have not been that successful. And I don’t see much listening going on when other EU members have gripes either. So what’s to be done?
The media debate seems to cover only our own appallingly incompetent negotiations with the EU and how it impacts the UK. But what about what else is going on in Europe and how that might play out over the next decade? I don’t read much in our press regarding what the EU’s strategy is to hold the members together in this radically changed world. I only hear the same old narrative about the four principles, with no flexibility, it seems, to those countries who are struggling to manage to live within them.
Don’t get me wrong. I want a close relationship with Europe but perhaps, having run a small business rather than having been part of a large organisation, I prefer to have the freedom to be flexible and act fast when necessary. Within the EU currently, negotiations are cumbersome and long-winded. As I said before, I voted Remain – but only just. I think, like many others, including those I speak to who voted Leave (who, contrary to the narrative, are usually thoroughly intelligent global thinkers who are far from racist, and often immigrants themselves), there is a sentimental connection to the people who live in those countries and an enjoyment of the exchange of cultural history. But the reality is that our history is so different, in that the majority of those countries who are now members were all either occupied by invading armies or governed by a Communist or Fascist dictatorship. Living under an authoritarian regime shapes a very different mindset and lifestyle where people are careful what they say and often source goods or services on street corners or in corridors. Trust and transparency takes time to build up.
We are currently having our house in Kew refurbished by builders who come from Eastern Europe and they still report that there is enormous corruption in Bulgaria, Romania and other countries where the former Communist regime politicians have found their way back into government and milk the proceeds. We heard this story in many of the countries we visited along the Danube two years’ ago. What is the EU’s strategy to tackle this corruption?