Faith And Begorrah: Don’t Let Us Down, Paddy!

I am, if you hadn’t noticed, a Dutchman. One’s nationality (one of the least avoidable accidents of birth, certainly one that no amount of embryo screening can protect you from) seems, for many people, to be a source of immense satisfaction and pride. I have never seen it that way. Having been born in Amsterdam in October 1940 does not make me co-responsible for the masterworks of Rembrandt, the invention of the microscope or Holland’s great 3-0 win over Italy at Euro 2008. I am an ordinary man of no particular achievement and the fact that I’m a member of the same people that produced the inventor of the CD, the first westerner to beat the Japanese at judo and the idiot who developed the Senseo coffee pad machine is pure accident. I accept neither praise nor blame.

But I’m not only Dutch, I’m also a European. I never realized I was; in my youth Europe was a large territory, divided up into many individual states that resembled each other in absolutely nothing. The Dutch were good at keeping the water out, the Germans drank beer and ate sausages, the Italians picked pockets, the French were good at sex and force-feeding geese, the Scandies rolled about naked in the snow and so the list of nationality-based prejudices went on. The great joy was that, from Holland, you only had to travel a little way in any direction to cross a border and find yourself in a completely different culture, with different money, a different language, different cuisine, different everything. Europe, blissfully, was a patchwork quilt made out of many old skirts, or (as the much-missed Anna Russell might have suggested) a skirt made out of many old patchwork quilts.

Those halcyon days of ‘vive la difference’, of innocent but deeply felt xenophobia are now behind us. Ever since France and Germany decided that they didn’t trust themselves never to wage war on their neighbours -and each other- again, this continent has been steered towards ever deeper union. Economic union was the goal in the beginning and I admit there was something to be said for that. As Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber pointed out as early as 1967, the Americans were getting far too big for their boots. Burgeoning US economic power, he warned, was goin to swamp us all, unless we joined forces and stood up to them at our supermarket checkouts. As a result European economic union was conceived, and not a moment too soon. Since the words ‘economic union’ suggested a future of flourishing trade and neat profit, even the terminally standoffish British decided to join, followed by a raft of much poorer (but not exactly stupid) countries around the Mediterranean.

Now, with economic union ticking over nicely, the unelected dinosaurs in Brussels have decided that the next step must be political union. Not only that, but this ever closer union must expand, expand, expand. Already the notion that such totally different countries as Denmark and Romania could successfully become regions within one superstate is ludicrous. What if nations like Azerbaijian and Kazakhstan start knocking on the door? So an all-powerful central authority, unelected and largely faceless, is to hold the thing together. To make this possible, the European Constitution was drafted, taking far-reaching powers from the national parliaments of Europe. Not surprisingly, it was rejected, first by the French, then by the Dutch. Several other countries, like Germany, weren’t allowed a referendum, although the public mood there was also strongly against. The Dutch and French No vote effectively scuppered the Constitution…but no fear: it is back under the name Lisbon Treaty. Sounds less threatening, doesn’t it? Forget it, it’s the same document, with a few meaningless alterations.

Today it’s up to the Irish, as the last and only country to get this chance, to throw this abomination where it belongs: in the bin. So this is my heartfelt plea: come on you Great Gaels of Ireland, whose wars were always merry and whose songs were always sad, save us from Lisbon! You’re Europe’s only hope. Mess it up now and whatever future we might have had as a prosperous, happy and free band of friendly nations will gurgle down the plughole. Vote NO and I promise you, tonight I’ll get wrecked on Guinness and Tullamore Dew. And when tomorrow comes, I bet you I won’t even have a hangover.

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