I've just got back from a couple of days in Belgium. Whilst I was over there I got used to hearing the phrase "you're just a little island across the sea". This phrase wasn't used once, but several times throughout meetings over there. It surprised me. Despite being an hour's flight away (faster than if I actually went to London), it was felt that us UK lot were disconnected from Europe.
It was our understanding of policies and ways of life in European countries which really worried them. What did we know on our little island across the sea? The meetings finished in good spirits as we were able to demonstrate our understandings but it did make me think about their question.
I can understand it. We are a pain in the arse in England; we drive on wrong side of the road, our numberplate looks funny, we have a different currency which is stupid because even just getting a coffee and muffin on the plane was a problem (Brussels Airways not liking my ragged Stirling note and opting for fresh Euros only). Our houses are weird, they are dead small and, not being faced with a dramatic re-build as needed by the majority of Europe after World War 2, much of our housing stock is quite old and built to our own particular standards. Standards. We have so many fucking standards, layers of health and safety, environmental bureaucracy which adds to the specifications of our property developments which our European counterparts don't have, And yes we also buy them, we don't rent.
We're crap at languages, 75% of us can't speak one. We can't even help out by slipping into a bit of sexy French or straight line German if a colleague is a bit rough on his English. We design ads which can't be translated because we don't appreciate character length for say Czech or German. You have to plan ahead just to have a meeting. We have to book tickets, find our passports and fly to an airport before faffing around with taxi's and trains. We can't just hop on to a train in say Germany and arrive in Belgium a couple of hours later, no problems. Our trains don't even run on time and stink of piss. And our economy is booming; why can't we just fight it out together with the rest of Europe?
Because we need to be. Significant amounts of business would be lost if we left the EU. Imagine how hard it would be to go for a meeting, waiting in line at the "Outside of EU" passport control. Imports and exports would generate extra paperwork. If our European colleagues ask "what do you know, you're just a little island across the sea", what will they ask if we are no longer part of the EU? I don't think many people understand just how much of UK business, especially budgetary, is controlled centrally in Europe.
I like being part of the EU. I enjoy working with our European colleagues. I think we should collaborate with them much more. Share ideas, learn from each other, remove barriers. Never mind a referendum, we should be seeking ideas on how we can get more out of Europe.