Brexit through the Gift Shop | European at Heart (Pt. IV)

This is part IV of a IV part series. Click here for Part I & Part II & part III.

Britain joined the European Economic Community (as it was known in 1973) the lame horse of Europe in a race dominated by France, West Germany and Italy — countries which had to rebuild after continental Europe was ravaged by war.

Innovation and industry were given space to flourish upon the corpse of the old world; in the intervening years from the EECs inception, gross domestic product per capita rose 95% in those three countries as opposed to 50% in Britain.

When we finally decided to join the party, our own domestic production started catching up; our GDP outpaced the lot for 40 straight years and by 2013, Britain was the most affluent of them all.

Competition from the EU, regularly touted as the demise of the British business, has forced us to innovate or be left behind, increasing our own competitive edge on the global stage. The diversified portfolio we’ve adopted due to the dynamic nature of the European market has lead to more foreign direct investment, ample trade opportunities and an all round stronger British economy.

In spite of this, I’ve always felt that lauding trade figures was a tired argument for the Remain campaign; the FTSE100 doing well because of a freshly negotiated trade deal is not a compelling argument to inspire a European spirit from the less affluent parts of the country, namely those outside London.

Around 2.5m Brits are employed as a direct result of inter-European trade and almost a million more indirectly. There are also around 1.2 million Brits living in the EU. The freedom to follow innovation wherever it may be within the expanse of Europe is an incredible opportunity for all European people, including the British (the erasmus programme is a beautiful example of this, something which I hadn’t even heard of before moving to Spain) — unfortunately, I feel there are too many barriers to making such a move viable for the majority.

Closer to home, Liverpool was almost entirely rebuilt on the back of EU funding and was named a Capital of Culture in 2008 — an accolade which generated hundreds of millions in estimated revenue off of a roughly one-third increase in tourism. Examples such as this of EU support for areas outside of London weren’t prolific in the eyes of the British public leading up to Brexit; the great failure of the Remain campaign was it’s inability to draw attention to the myriad of local benefits, such as these, wrought by the EU.

Sad as it is to say, the Brexit vote, like many in modern democracy, was as much about facts as it was perceptions; the fact that the Leave vote was strongest in regions that were economically dependent on the EU lends itself to that line of reasoning.

Discussions revolving trade figures and ill informed campaigns of fear are as numerous and varied now as they were in the run up to the election. The rhetoric which followed the immediate aftermath of the vote was also saturated with these topics; I think it’s responsible for the fatigued weariness revolving Brexit the world over.

So what else is there?

Bringing It Home

In the two years since moving to Malaga I’ve visited Amsterdam, Warsaw, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Bucharest to name a few.

I’ve spent countless evenings sharing tables with Dutch, Danish, French, Germans, Romanians, Swedish, Polish, Argentine and Nigerians — more often than not, all at the same time. A decade spanning between us all, this coming together of cultures never ceased to strike me as anything less than remarkable.

I look back at my only visit to the Belgian city Antwerp, where I was put up by a local of the city; a friend which I made in Malaga.

I spent my time with her and her friends, who were mainly speaking Dutch. Despite working in Spain at the time, I was often spoiled by the fact that the common denominator linguistics-wise is still English — such that I always find a certain satisfaction listening to a group of non-native English speakers talk among themselves in their common tongue.

the atmosphere doesn’t change, regardless of where you are in the world. The language may be different, but the conversations we have are the same.

The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts; so too, I hope, can simple anecdotes such as these hold intrinsic value, indicative of the European dream they represent and opportunities the EU enables.

Texture, Not Text

Churchill has been referred to as the father of modern Europe — a slight misnomer; Churchill desired a Europe united, but with Britain acting as an entirely autonomous entity — a separate part of that whole.

As his vision encroaches on the reality of the 31, when the UK will formally leave the European Union, I can’t help but wonder if he’d still hold this view, given the shape of the world today.

Fundamentally, the world is driven by the ever changing beast of economics; it’s inescapable. The EU needs to offer it’s members an avenue to keep pace; a problem facing all large enterprises, the EU included, is how to adequately adapt to such a pace when encumbered by the weight of their own bureaucracy. Whether the EU is capable of doing that is the real question underlining it’s authority and validity.

I know my arguments revolving my love of all things European don’t particularly hold up in this context, but I’m an idealist and an unapologetic one at that.

This article was never about whether Brexit will be, economically or otherwise, bad for the UK, or championing a particular stance on the issue; it was about the vote itself, what brought us to this point in time and, hopefully, to provide an intriguing point of view in the context of my own sentiment, given who I am, where I’ve come from, what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced across Europe over the past two years.

I think I answered my own question revolving national identity — it is entirely possible to maintain a pride in ones heritage carved out by the confines of borders, irrespective of their validity; our nations play a big part in defining who we are. I’m proud of those traits which make me British and I’m proud that they can interface so adeptly with the equally insightful ideals which have shaped the individuals I’ve come respect and love across the continent and beyond. Only when nationalism is hauled from this pedestal and harnessed as a tool of oppression does it threaten to taint these ideals.

I’d argue adamantly that there are only two things in this world which separate us; education and experience. One cannot truly grasp a humanitarian empathy without submersing themselves in both.

Experience by itself is too animalistic, too raw. The world can be an incredibly dark place and education proves a focusing lens to our globalised existence; without it, experience can prove a problematic snake to charm.

Education without the subtext of experience is a cold wind; the contextualisation of reality acts as a guiding hand which if absent, hinders the ability of education to effectively impact our world for the greater good.

It is my sincere belief that a virtuous hold on these two pursuits can uplift us all to a place filtered of the issues which stricken our collective societies; we can shed the fear of the unknown which drives cultural friction — instead, we can bask in the miraculous nature of civilization and the conscious thought which drives it.

There are many, many barriers preventing the vast majority of the population pursuing these ideals.

the European Union is not one of them.

Quite the opposite.

My European experience has consciously shaped me more than any other period in my life. It’s instilled in me a compassion and set of values that I’m proud to hold and fierce to defend; I’m unsure whether I could have written an article like this two years ago.

Perhaps that’s just a natural part of growing up, the experience lent to us all by time; I’m not convinced.

Living in Europe made me question assumptions which had been ingrained in me from a lifetime of living in Britain.

And if you question your assumptions, you might find better reasons for holding them.

Or you might find that you’re wrong.

Special thanks for this article goes to Michael Manning who provided an endless source of inspiration through our many discussion revolving the aspects of the piece, as well patience with my constant nagging of him to discuss it; I could not have written it without him.



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Aston Whiteling

Aston Whiteling

I'm a perfectionist with realistic expectations, a recovering Sales Engineer turned Product Marketer, and I'm trying to be more cynical about being cynical.