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National identity and European currency

07 August 2015


From Mr A. M. Hughes

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 24 July) wonders whether the self-interest of member states of the European Union is too great for them to form the politically united entity that the euro requires.

I think it probably is. In the years before the First World War, there were organisations urging disarmament and an end to war. Prominent among them was the Second International, with member parties across Europe and in India, Argentina, and the United States. By the eve of the war, it included the British Labour Party and the German Social Democratic Party as members. It was confident it could work effectively for peace.

In 1912, at the outbreak of the first Balkan War, it held an emergency congress in Basle. Speaker after speaker denounced war and asserted the power of the working classes. Three months later, the two largest parties in the Second International issued a joint manifesto condemning the arms race and promising to work together for peace.

Yet, in the summer of 1913, while French socialists were opposing a proposal that would make the French army bigger, the German Social Democrats in the Reichstag increased the budget for the German army. A professor of German at the Sorbonne with socialist sympathies (Charles Andler) wrote that German workers were more German than they were internationalists and that they would, if war came, support Germany.

Today, smaller nations are happy to be part of the EU, in a union alongside powerful countries of Western Europe such as France, the UK, and Germany. Perhaps this is why the Greeks so want to remain in the euro: it makes them feel part of Western Europe rather than in the Balkans with Albania and Bulgaria, or in the eastern Mediterranean with Turkey and Syria.

But, if Greek identity (or French or German identity) were threatened, not by military force but by imposed political changes, would they yield and become part of a unified Europe, where one’s primary identity was as a European, and being a Greek or a Frenchman was like being a Welshman in the UK?

I do not know any members of the SNP, but I should love to know the relationship between its desire for Scottish independence and its expressed desire to stay in the EU.

3 Moody Road
Oxford OX3 0DH

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