Europe vs US (Belfast Telegraph)

Barry White wrote an article in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, Europe vs US: Vote at your peril, where he contrasts attitudes to social contract between the two.

This always boils down to the definition of the “special relationship” between the UK and the US. This debate goes back to at least Winston Churchill. In a video aimed at young people to vote in this year’s European Parliament election, they show Churchill praising the formation of a freely-unified Europe. It doesn’t mention that Churchill always thought that Britain could serve as the intermediary between Europe and America.

But let me tell you my biased American opinion of the “special relationship”: it means more to the UK than it does to the US. I never heard of the “special relationship” until I studied British politics, and I still only hear reference to it over here, never in the States.

Whether British Prime Ministers align themselves with American administrations from time to time is their political gamble. I agree with White that this time round, Blair is getting stung.

I don’t believe White when he says that “we’ll have to decide on which side of the Atlantic we belong”. The UK and Ireland have always belonged on the European side.

As for social contracts, yes, citizens of European countries expect their governments to provide more communal services. Whereas in the US, my first lesson in understanding its politics is, “Everything is devolved to the lowest possible denominator.” For example, education is managed by individual cities and townships, with much of the money raised by property rates (and the rest from state income taxes): there is no national education policy. Ditto health. Ditto transport. Individual state governors yield far greater practical power than the US President.

But as for Will Hutton’s shock-inspiring comparative statistics, I’m not particularly convinced that American-wide policies for education or health would work.

Like every comparison, it’s relative. Some American states provide a truly better quality of life than others. When individuals and families don’t like it, many of them move. And that is the truly distinguishing feature of American society: its mobility. Yes, it presents stresses of its own. But as a nation of immigrants, perhaps we’re more receptive to this demand.

In this light, I was impressed by a tv news story about skilled Eastern Europeans who are packing up to take up jobs in the UK where there are shortages, e.g. social work, and who see better prospects for success. Think about it: many East Europeans learn English as their foreign language. It will be the better educated and more motivated of them who will come to the UK and add value to its economy and society. Funny, this attraction has always been a strength of the US: empowerment, mobility, motivation, diversity.

So, it’s not as though there’s a choice to make anyway. Desires for an ever-growing economy, and acceptance of diversity, will keep the UK and Ireland attractive within Europe, European constitution or not. The notion of choosing between two realms of power is a bit of a red herring

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