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Particle Physics and Pony Fiction Experimentalist

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The Friendship Problem between Britain and the European Union · 8:40pm May 26th, 2016

European politics is a subject which I have quite a lot to say about, but which I know most Fimfiction readers don’t care about quite as much about as I do. So I don’t blog too much about it, but given the importance of the coming referendum, it deserves a post.

What’s it all about? On 23 June the British electorate will be voting on whether we wish to remain a member of the European Union. The poll prediction is too close to call, and the result could all depend on the turnout and undecided voters.

My American friends are understandably more anxious about the idea of Donald Trump taking charge of the White House. But the prospect of Britain voting to leave the European political and economic union is more imminent, more likely, and potentially with longer term consequences.

I will be voting to stay. I like having the freedom to live and work across Europe, and being able to travel over to France without paying the horrendous roaming charges which I incur when using my phone in the US. But I also like the feeling of being part of a pan-European community of friends.

How did we get here? Time for a short story:

Once upon a time, long before Lauren Faust created the beautiful land of Equestria, Europeans did not know harmony. It was a strange and dark time. A time when Europe was torn apart... by hatred! [Gasp!] Yet after a long and terrible war, the tribal leaders agreed to share the beautiful land, and live in harmony ever afterwards. And together, they named their land the European Coal and Steel Community. The windigoes were banished, and Europeans rebuilt their war-torn land, and founded a union to make future war unthinkable. Which became the European Economic Community, and then the European Union. Britain was initially too cool to join, but changed tack on noticing that the economies of members were doing rather better—turns out removing the barriers to trade helps grow the economy—and was admitted in 1973. And we all lived happily as friends ever since. Well, almost. Sort of. Some of the time.

I’ve been a lifelong Europhile: My first experience of the world outside this small island was a family holiday to Denmark. To a ten-year-old fairy tale and Lego brick obsessed child, it was the best holiday ever. I became an addict and jumped at every European travel opportunity, visiting France (including the European Parliament in Strasbourg), Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands. In those days there was much more excitement about Europe. The Maastricht Treaty had been signed, Germany reunified, the channel tunnel opened. School teachers enthused about how the future was European, and we should learn at least one European language. Growing older, I travelled further afield. I have visited at least twenty member states; taken many extended stays in France, and lived for over a year in Italy. And I have welcomed many friends from continental Europe who have come to the UK.

So I like Europe, and I don’t like it when right-wing politicians want to take my continent away from me. But this is not just the view of namby-pamby toy-pony-collecting multiculturalists like me. It is the conclusion reached by many clever independent people, who have done a very rational analysis of the British self-interest.

The majority of economists are opposed to leaving, warning that the uncertainty following a vote to leave could easily plunge the economy into recession. On the left, the Labour party and the Trade Union Congress are urging us to stick with the union, as so many workers’ rights are tied up with European legislation. Freedom of movement is important for science. Britain has done very well by attracting top researchers from outside, allowing us to win a disproportional share of European Research Council funding. And world leaders from Canada to Japan have come out to back a Remain vote, including a well-argued case from our friend Barack Obama.

But there is one undeniable, serious issue with British membership of the European Union: a lot of British people just don’t like Europe.

What can we do to fix this friendship problem?

Consulting Twilight Sparkle’s Portfolio of Friendship Solutions, one approach would be to try to understand what the specific problem is, and then work it out as friends. In a way, this is what our Prime Minister David Cameron set out to do following the general election. As the anti-EU camp have difficulty articulating exactly what it is about the European Union that they don’t like. He helped them out, and decided for them that what they don’t like is having to fork out benefits and tax credits to immigrants from the EU, which goes against great British traditions of thrift, economy, and blaming benefit claimants for social and economic problems. As a great saviour of British sovereignty, he renegotiated the terms of Britain’s relationship with the EU to allow the government to hold back some benefits. Then proudly announced that the problem was fixed, and everyone could vote to stay in Europe without fear of being swamped by the gazillions of immigrants lured to the UK by our excessively generous welfare system.

But, for all the show made about it, this was not sufficient to win over the Eurosceptics. It would seem that it is not some particular issue which they dislike being decided in Brussels instead of London, they just don’t like Europe in general. This is not so easy to fix. The case from the Leave campaign is a vision that we must empower ourselves by clawing back our sovereignty from Europe and closing our borders to anyone they don’t like.

There is hope that the Remain campaign’s argument—that we’re much more empowered being part of Europe and leaving would be an act of madness which could trash the economy—will win over the undecided voters in the end. Yet even then, there will remain the question of how best to promote British-European friendship.

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Comments ( 15 )

A gut feeling is very hard to argue against. It isn't a logical position, so you can't dispute or disprove it logically. Here's hoping making the consequences clear sways enough people to the pro-Europe side.

(Boy, I hope this doesn't get me roped into a debate I am horribly unprepared for...)

The campaign would be a lot more interesting if there was more logical discussion. Of course ultimately we don't know what a post Brexit world would look like, so all we can do is do a risk / benefit analysis of the options. In theory we could debate the pros and cons of full membership verses a Norway-style relationship or something else... But that's not what's happening. It's all about wild claims and fantasy visions. I did consider writing a rational argument for EU membership, but there's so many articles on that, so I decided to write a personal perspective instead.

It seems to me, that people have a general bent towards two things: Nationalism and isolationism. And while both can be good for a nations identity in small amounts (Pride in your country's accomplishments, not going out of your way to stick your nose in at every opportunity you can), both become toxic when they get out of hand. And it is horrendously difficult to combat them.

I think Trump's successes over here are built on encouraging large scale toxic nationalism, among other things, and what I have been seeing on the news as it pertains to this EU debate, is that it is a combination of both the above leading to the anti-EU movement. It is not helped by the economic issues being felt in the EU right now, either.

I agree with you completely. I'm not from the EU, I'm in Canada, but it does seem like the arguments are largely in favour of staying.

The problem the EU has is similar (but not identical) to when six poor people and three rich people meet for lunch and vote on how to split up the check. Somebody's getting stiffed, and when you rob Peter to pay Paul, the votes tend to congregate along the robbed/robber lines. I'll stop there before I start bloviating about how generous social welfare policies cannot exist alongside vibrant and expanding capitalistic economies, and the eventual inevitable fate of Detroit, PR and California bonds if things do not change.

3974638 Hey, I'm still not going to defend Donald, even if he does win.

I look at it this way. They say that to leave europe will put the UK in a worse position, in recession etc. Last week i was stated we were in recession, and have been for teh last 8 years. out of the 40 years of the EU. So far we have spent 25% of our membership just this last time in restricted economy.

Its said we could do things to change. Would be nice, but I see technology solutions frm 30 years ago that are not used because the fractional percentage better profit costs against it.

Ever noticed how when a company posts a 5% profit warning, as in still making a profit even when everyone are spending less, the stock market punishes them by cutting 10% plus off the so called market valuation, then other effects take place?

Would be great if the housing market lost 15% of its value. Its overvalued by at least 30%, according to published figures on how much houses are worth and being sold relative to wages.

Seems that we have a major change every 30-40 years or so. 30 years before the EU, we were fighting, etc, so now is a good time for another change. no change is entropic death.

That, and in 30 years time someone will be selling $10 PAI SoC which can beat any human mentally. So what you should be asking is, when the globe is covered with a hundred billion Da vinci class AI with millisecond responses and psychological nudging and guidance and self learning, what kind of economy will you be looking at?

Given SpaceX reuseable success, I suspect there will be an awful lot of automated space based stuff. And very fast delivery of worthless supplies to disaster and restricted areas. Want to suppress the population? A million cameras will broadcast your actions. Keep going? the automated populance defences will turn on you.

I have seen literally no good reason for the Brexit. None. It all seems to boil down to a particularly stupid "You're not the boss of me!" thinking, combined with xenophobia about migrants and Polish plumbers, and a Tory frustration to being told not to act like complete shitheels towards the poor and the vulnerable, all buoyed up by massively inflated national self-image and wishful thinking that all the Things We Like would continue as is or get better, while Things We Hate get thwarted.

An interesting thing about politics is that conservative people tend to by swayed more by feelings and rely more on gut instincts to make decisions, while liberals are more swayed by logical reasoning and scientific analysis. If you want my opinion (and I guess you do because you asked), the best way to convince your more conservative friends is to shill out a sense of European patriotism and pride.

Wave the European flag. Sing the European anthem. Make them feel like they're part of the club. That sort of thing.


An interesting thing about politics is that conservative people tend to by swayed more by feelings and rely more on gut instincts to make decisions, while liberals are more swayed by logical reasoning and scientific analysis.

No. Both are really damn good at rationalizing their feelings and the more elaborate self-deceivers even manage to believe they train their emotionality to match their rationality instead of the other way around.

The sarcasm's strong with this one. :rainbowlaugh:

There are a lot of parallels between the Brexit campaign and Trump. The picture they paint of how great life will be outside the EU is a fantasy like Trump's 'Make America Great Again' creative hyperbole. Both play on fears about security and wildly exaggerate the impact of immigration. It looks like Brexit proponents like Boris Johnson (who seems to be a Trump doppelganger) are deliberately copying tactics - coming out with outrageous provocative statements. Following Obama's visit, Johnson claimed that we shouldn't listen to him as he's part Kenyan.

As I understand it, the EU doesn't set welfare levels. It just imposes the rules to prevent member states discriminating against citizens of other member states when allocating welfare.

3975753 3975829
I do know conservatives who are very logical and rational, and are almost scary in the way they take decisions based on a calculated assessment of their self-interest instead of what they think is right or wrong. But such people are not among the masses wanting to leave the EU.

To be honest, I have seen as many left-wingers who are guided by whatever emotion they are feeling at any given moment as right-wingers. Mostly I am inclined to think it's just that people, especially in large, like minded groups, find it too easy to get carried away.

I am assuming that Johnson is upset at the nature of Obama's mixed parentage - which is enormously dumb - as I can't imagine his citizenship would be of much interest to him. Then again, outrageous politicians...


I'd contend a generous social welfare policy eventually has to exist or out come the pitchforks and torches. The American economy is on the cusp of it - because we're rapidly approaching the inflection point of 'We're so good at making stuff that we just don't need full employment to have a fully engaged economy'.

We've managed to stopgap that for a while with things like increasing entertainment industry employment, a growth in bullshit jobs, and that a lot of jobs simply have considerably more on the job idle time than they used to. But the only one of those that can really scale indefinitely is 'More artists, more writers, etc' and that sphere is fairly cuttthroat already.

Plus, I mean, Sweden/Norway seem to have done a pretty good job of 'Good economy, great social policies', so there are real world examples.

As an American who cares about foreign policy, I'm deeply concerned about the possibility of Brexit. In one stroke our closest ally will become weaker and poorer, and so will our largest ally "Europe." We will have a much harder time coordinating anything with the EU without Britain to make Brussels see sense.

If you want a preview of how the EU will generously set up post-Brexit free trade deals with the UK, look at how they dealt with the Greeks in the last few years. This will give the anti-free market crowd the big chance they've been waiting for.

And don't forget the biggie: Scotland just barely turned down a referendum a year or two ago, and the SNP has been making gains since. They would demand an immediate new referendum so Scotland can leave the UK and stay in the EU, and they'd probably win it too. Would Whales follow soon after?

What would happen with Scotland is a good question, but the answer is not clear. Yes - the SNP would call another referendum, and yes - there would be a stronger case for independence. But it seems support for independence is not as high among the people of Scotland as it is with their politicians, and having Scotland an independent EU member and England out of it would most likely mean border controls and a separate currency, which would not be popular. So it could go either way. Wales is so well tied to England that this level of independence is not really an option, but most Welsh voters want to stay in the EU. Who knows what will happen?

In some ways the more worrying question is what happens with Northern Ireland? If the UK votes to leave, then the border with the republic becomes the EU border. So the obvious next step is border controls. The political settlement in Northern Ireland is not as stable as we would like, and this could be the trigger for further troubles. It wouldn't help relations with Dublin either.

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