In a very short while the UK will be holding a referendum on the country's continued membership of the EU. At the moment, judged on the polls (which are of course often inaccurate, as with the last general election), things seem to be heading the way of a vote to leave.
I think it would be a great shame were this to happen. As a young scientist, I benefitted tremendously from the freedom of movement allowed within the EU. I'm not talking about my time within the European Space Agency, which is a non-EU organisation, although that experience certainly helped frame my views on European cooperation and integration. But having left ESA in 1994, I was immediately able to take up a two year postdoctoral position at a Dutch university, and I did so with the minimum of hassle and paperwork. Once again I was immersed in a pan-European working environment which I found stimulating and encouraging.
After my postdoctoral position expired in 1996, I found myself unemployed. There were a handful of possible job opportunities back in the UK, but I had grown fond of the Netherlands, and my partner at the time, who later became my wife, had a full-time job. She too had benefitted from freedom of movement within the EU. Disinclined to leave Holland, therefore, I signed on for unemployment benefit from the Dutch state, while continuing to look for work opportunities within the area where we lived. I applied for one job in Delft, working on satellite monitoring of the Earth's atmosphere, but was not made an offer.
Luck eventually intervened, in that I saw an advert in Nature for a newly founded business in Haarlem, which would revolve around developing scientific software for astronomical applications. It seemed right up my street, almost literally so, in that Haarlem was only a short train ride from where we lived near Leiden. I applied for the job and was suitably astonished to learn that the driving force behind the business was an old colleague of mine - and a Welshman, like me, who had settled in the Netherlands. We met for an interview, which went well. While there was a strong prospect of working for the company in the future, though, there was still going to be a few more months of unemployment. I therefore continued to sign on, while going through the motions of looking for work. It was an odd, unsettling time, but - in hindsight - a blessing, because it enabled me to dust off the abandoned manuscript of Revelation Space and finally give it the polish it needed prior to submission. That was early 1997, and the book sold two years later. Those months of unemployment were therefore literally life-changing, and I owe them to the Dutch state and EU regulations on worker's rights.
Many of the arguments for and against membership of the EU seem to revolve around economics, which seems to me to be an extremely narrow metric. Even if we are better off out of the EU, which we probably won't be, so what? This is already a wealthy country, and leaving the EU won't mend the widening inequality between the very rich and almost everyone else. More than that, though, look at what would be lost. Friendship, commonality, freedom of movement, a sense that national boundaries are (and should be) evaporating. When many countries (including the Netherlands) moved to the Euro, it was a joy not to have to pack Guilders, Belgian francs, Deutschmarks, for a simple drive to visit to family in Germany a few hours away. The eradication of visible borders did not lead to a smearing out of regional cultures, but instead it made it much more easy to sample those cultures and gain a deeper sense of European history. I never stopped feeling that living in the EU was a thing to be proud of, and more than ever I am content to think of myself as European before British. I therefore hope that the Remain vote will win the day.
Hear, hear! One note: "Many of the arguments for and against membership of the EU seem to revolve around economics, which seems to me to be an extremely narrow metric." I would argue that you are actually making part of a strong /economic/ case for EU membership. EU membership does not only benefit those trying to sell their wares overseas, but also those seeing opportunities to work and live abroad. We would all be poorer following a Leave vote.ReplyDelete
I have to disagree. Your potted serendipitous history is a) obviously producing an emotional view of what should be an objective decision making process and b) for no particular reason less likely to have occurred in exactly the same way should there be brexit.ReplyDelete
I don't see why the desire to regain sovereignty has to be painted as synonymous with as a total dismissal of the rest of the world. There are many balanced people who are desperate to remove the increasingly bureaucratic and unelected supranational infrastructure before it is too late, who otherwise wish to be a part of a large, democratic community. The incumbents would snuff this out. We need to be prepared to disengage in order to strike a note for true democratic freedom for nation states who are nonetheless able to retain their own unique national identities. Junctker et al are no better than Sepp Blatter.
It looks increasingly as if Leave is going win the day. I shudder at what is likely to happen as a result. This is what happens when you appease a wing of your party with a referendum and then, because the issues are complex, people vote with their feelings rather than their heads.ReplyDelete
I agree. And the Leave brigade are fully tapping into peoples fears and prejudices to capitalise on that.Delete
We'd definitely hate to see you leave. I have lived in three European countries, speak five European languages and do love the idea of the united Europe. Europe would be much poorer without you.ReplyDelete
Given the levels of trade, cooperation and research exchange between European countries and, say, the US, I fail to see the argument.ReplyDelete
Staying in the EU just because it means less paperwork when applying for jobs in different countries is indeed a poor reason. Same goes for money exchange. A part of being in another country is using said country's economy, and the Euro is no advantage:
As for friendship, commonality etc. (to the degree that we actually have it and not on a forced and unrealistic basis) those things were and are better served between independent European nations that they ever were under the EU.
And as for economics, only the ultra-rich have an actual interest, because with ´the neo-liberal EU they have an easier time taking from the poor and dividing amongst the rich.
In short: Common European citizens who dislike being used as doormats would definitely hate to see you stay. We are rooting for Brexit and hoping to follow you out soon.
For any small business, dealing with EU rules instead of 27 different set of rules may be the thing that keeps them from having to go insolvent.Delete
I voted NO in the Norwegian referendum in 1994, and based on what we knew back then I don't regret that.
Today though, I'd definitely want to be in the EU.
-The EU may be the only institution that can protect us from multinational corporations dictating the rules.
"The EU may be the only institution that can protect us from multinational corporations dictating the rules."Delete
Wrong. The EU supports multinational corporations in dictating the rules.
"For any small business, dealing with EU rules instead of 27 different set of rules may be the thing that keeps them from having to go insolvent."
Also wrong. Smaller businesses and entrepreneurs need protection against multinational corporations dictating the rules, and hence protection from the EU.
I write this just before I head to the annual Swedish SF/Fantasy con. SF at least crosses European borders easily.ReplyDelete
My story is similar to yours Al, I came to Europe (Sweden) to do science, but ended up staying rather longer than you. Actually, the last President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences was British woman from the North of England, who at the time of her election wasn’t even a Swedish citizen! With Brexit on the horizon, a couple of years ago we took joint Swedish/British citizenship to give our kids better security in the land they call home.
I completely agree with you about the benefits of the EU experience, as a scientist and as a human being. In fact, apparently, there are 1.2 million Brits living in Europe as I write. With Brexit we all become illegal immigrants (;-)). Well, those of us who have managed to have dual citizenship will be OK. However, I also learn that the UK is a major importer of Swedish products (and I am not just thinking of Ikea) so there is some anxiety here about how this will pan out. I do think the economies of all European countries (including the UK) will be hit by Brexit. Whatever picture the Brexit campaigners paint of the UK free of the EU, the transition process will be what will impact all our economies, including I believe the UK. It’s like a divorce with all the attendant trauma, heartache and financial penalties.
The final picture that comes to mind is the UK heading towards an iceberg in a ship that it believes is unsinkable. And you know where that story ends…
As I see it it is the EU that thinks it is the unsinkable ship. And we all know where that story ends…Delete
... and a divorce may be painful, but that only stresses that choosing it is because it is the only right thing to do.ReplyDelete
Historically, England has always been the enemy of Europe. So the Brexit not surprising.ReplyDelete
"Historically, England has always been the enemy of Europe. So the Brexit not surprising."ReplyDelete
This is utter nonsense. Judging from you name you are probably French, so it must be the bitterness over Agincourt speaking. That, plus envy.
Anonymous - do me a favour and post somewhere else.ReplyDelete
Alastair, you're one if my favorite authors. But when you make a political post and have a comments section expect to hear from people who disagree with you. In this case maybe one of the majority of your countrymen who disagree with you. You're within your rights to ask anonymous to leave your site I suppose. Maybe next time include some disclaimer that the comments section is a safe space where no dissenting views are allowed? Just so it's clear?Delete
Justin - it should be obvious by now that I rarely censor or steer the conversation on my blog. I asked Anonymous to stop posting not because of their views, but because of the asinine tone of that last comment - especially offensive to me, as well, because my wife is French.Delete
My mistake. I appreciate the reply and clarification. I'm glad that you don't censor comments.Delete
I'm sure a lot of people are now waiting for you to respond now that brexit got through. Will this pull Britain down the gurgler?ReplyDelete
Alastair, I love your books, but now nothing of your private life.ReplyDelete
I had no idea your wife is/was French, and you took my remark completely wrong. It was asinine, yes - but only towards a fanatical and hateful remark.
I am not apologizing, because I truly haven't attacked neither your wife nor the French in general.
I certainly have a mixed heritage myself, and yes including French, because, you know, people moved and intermarried long before the EU. I am all for Europe, for cooperation and coexistence, and an international mindset.
I am against the EU because the EU is just the rich oppressing the poor. The EU has nothing whatsoever to do with being for or against Europe or European culture(s).
You might want to stop a moment and consider the wisdom of taking political discussions personally, as well as critizising the democratic outcome of an election.
I love your books, but I disagree strongly with your political posting.
I was rooting for the UK to leave but when I read here how hard you took it I didn't want to say anything right away. I didn't want to rub salt in your wounds.ReplyDelete
Anyway I hope you feel a little better now as much as you can.
Blessing on you sir.
premonition maybe ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvYuoWyk8iUReplyDelete
I'm angry over the Leave vote winning on such a small margin, and after a sustained campaign of xenophobia and blatant lies spread and encouraged by a band of cowardly and unscrupulous politicians. That said, vox populi, vox Dei. I'll be interested to see how the British political class and citizens now handle the followed. Looking at their track record from the last few weeks, I'm not particularly impressed and encouraged. I think the whole referendum, and the Conservatives' previous pandering to UKIP voters that gave this whole idea ammo, is a huge embarassment to the UK and will be seen as such even decades in the future.ReplyDelete
On a more positive note, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the UK stays together, gradually sees reason and does some domestic reforms that will benefit everyone in the long run. And I'll never stop supporting laudable examples of British culture, including your works. You're still one of the best living SF writers from the UK in my book, British, Welsh or any other category. Keeping my fingers crossed that we'll all weather these post-Brexit hullabaloos with dignity and live to see better days. I don't think we've seen or heard the last on the UK and European integration/cooperation.
Erm, sorry, I meant "the following months and years", not "the followed".Delete
I hope some of the underlying sentiments that drove Brexit don't succeed in driving a similarly unfortunate outcome in the US elections this November. I suppose the world has always been full of people who "think" with their emotions in ways that undermine clearer reasoning, but it's a trend that seems to be on the increase lately. In an unrelated note, I just re-read "Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days" (the first time was ten years ago) and again enjoyed the novellas very much.ReplyDelete