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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.

Editorial
As the peripatetic European Parliament is shadowed between its three capitals by the press, and the arguments about Europe on both sides of the Channel become more shrill, agricultural and apocalyptic, it is worth reflecting that ten years ago the debate was still about accession and people were exercised by ideas and principles. During the Referendum, too, writers, actors, sociologists, mountaineers and other 'witnesses to the future' who had clearly been there, spoke with assurance about the cultural as well as the economic and political promise of 'Europe'.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum, to mark Britain's entry, an exhibition was held as part of the 'Fanfare for Europe'. Blue-ribbon cultural produce from the member states was displayed. Culture was an effective form of rhetoric. Greater communication between member states and greater understanding were promised-as though nations can understand, as though intercourse is a collective act.

The European Parliament sheds as it goes little news-items which reflect its character, its priorities and its ungainly procedures. The following was gleaned from the March issue of Arts Alert, published by the Greater London Arts Association:


Following a report from the Committee of Youth, Culture, Education, Information and Sport, the European Parliament has called on its Commission to start collecting statistics on the employment remuneration and social security benefits enjoyed by writers and artists (referred to as 'cultural workers') in Community countries. Speaking in the debate Christopher Prout, a UK member, said that too little is known about these people and the survey would enable comparisons with the population as a whole.


Looking back at the high-minded arguments of a decade ago, hedged in as we are by the consequences of decisions taken when economic expediency was dressed up as political destiny, we may feel bitter about the way the debate was conducted at the time, how 'Europe' was sold by articulate men who must have been aware of the lacunae in their own arguments. I found recently an old issue of Encounter, itself a valuable forum from the outset for the European question and now an endangered European species. There, almost ten years ago, Leo Labedz (he then styled himself Leopold Labedz, much as Mr Benn in the same issue styled himself Anthony Wedgwood Benn) wrote 'On Losing an Empire' and Andrew Shonfield (more guardedly) 'On Finding a Role'. Both pieces appeared under a general title: 'The Path Ahead to Europe'. There is a suggestion at once of inevitability in the title and of miracle, too: walking on water.

Labedz caricatured the anti-market stance as 'the attachment to the status quo of yesterday'. Such a status quo has one advantage: it is known. Labedz was selling the status quo of tomorrow, at the same time admonishing Professor Kaldor that 'economic forecasting is something less than an exact science'. So too is political forecasting: better Kaldor's scepticism than the leap-or the push-of faith that involves a nation and all its lives.

Labedz predicted that British membership would 'contribute not only to the momentum of European unification', but would 'help to maintain the internal stability and balance of power in the Community'. Later in the piece he added: 'If Britain joins the Community she may or may not become richer, but she will be in a politically stronger position and would have a better chance of remaining independent' of possible Soviet attentions. I like the change of mood from future indicative to subjunctive: the 'will' is false, the 'would' no longer follows. If Britain did not join, Labedz threatened 'the Balkanisation of Western Europe' and 'the subsequent Finlandisation of individual West European countries'. Such hypotheses about the road not taken are retrospectively as dubious as his hypotheses about the 'path' actually taken. He left, in his advocacy, no room for the chances of history-the history of the Middle East, for example-while he answered his opponents almost exclusively with hypothetical world developments. He was too sanguine, it must seem now, about the priorities of the economic system that the extended Market would serve, a system with interests, rules, procedures and structures sometimes at variance with those of the civil states within which and between which they function.

He was also one of those who habitually underestimate the political force of intangible human allegiances, customs and traditions. The purity of a construct, the plausibility of a 'scenario', blind such engineers of the future to intransigent historical facts-facts of 'national character', perhaps-which though they cannot be quantified or statistically analysed remain intransigent because they are substantial in another sense, retaining the force of motive among subjects and citizens. It was not enough for Labedz to dismiss as 'old arguments' the 'issues' of loss of sovereignty or the diminution of national identity. Old the arguments may be-they were old in Poland, too. Age does not invalidate them, and even now, a decade later, they are the unresolved tensions, though the play of national interests within the nobly-intended European edifice obscure them.

Conservative thinkers might have been expected to recognise the force of custom, tradition and simple prejudice as political realities that could fret damagingly against the arrangements of the enlarged Community. It was primarily Labour politicians who distinguished theory from practice and decided that the good idea did not fit the given reality. Such politicians were chided as hypocrites by an overheated press. Not all of them were. . . .

The radiant irony of Leopold Labedz's Encounter piece is that many of the things he predicted would happen if Britain did not join have happened largely-it now seems-precisely because Britain did. Has the xenophilia of the early 1970s given way to a new xenophobia in the early 1980s-with cultural consequences?

At a time when the Arts Council is urging Industry to 'invest in the Arts', why have more petitioners not been directed to Brussels for support? Did the cultural 'Fanfare' die without echo? True, Mid Northumberland Arts Group (MidNAG) secured modest EEC funding for a translation prize, but the EEC has refused to fund a sequel, though the sum involved was in three little figures. What substantive evidence is there of a 'cultural commitment' in the European Parliament or its bureaucracy? We may look in vain for Novel Mountains and Verse Lakes.

In fact, we learn from Lord Weidenfeld (PNR 19, News & Notes) that there are alarmingly fewer translations of literary works from French into English and vice versa than at any time since the War; and the translation boom that preceded British accession is long over, most of the books produced at the time now out of print. Otherwise cultural exchange continues at much the same-if not at a slightly reduced-level, as compared with the years before accession. Though newspapers from member countries are generally available throughout the Community, books travel less widely. I am concerned primarily with literary culture, but it is evident that in other areas contemporary art has not been well-served by Europe.

Can one go further than that? I think so. It is not surprising that the new bureaucracies have found little time or money for 'culture'. The 'Committee of Youth, Culture, Education, Information and Sport' has a lot on its plate. Probably it is a blessing that the pooled Parliament has left the Arts to fend for themselves and has had as its most passionate cultural debate the Community Anthem.

What gives ground for concern is the fact that the years since Britain's accession have been marked by an actual diminution in cultural exchange between these islands and that mainland- a diminution out of proportion with the exigencies of economic recession and the decline in literary publishing. Did the forms of civic persuasion which went into the Referendum and which have followed accession, and the spectacle of member-states using the market for crude mercenary and uncomradely ends, have cultural repercussions, exacerbating latent hostilities which were passing out of the less compromised Britain of the 1960s? Has the experience of the Community produced in Britain results precisely contrary to those promised by the sanguine evangelists of ten years ago?

This item is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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