The British are not gifted with the same penchant for self-analysis that the Germans seem to possess. I often see German magazines with covers proclaiming a question like: " Who are we Germans ? " or " What does it mean to be German ? " or " What do the other Europeans think of the Germans ? ". I have never seen a magazine cover asking: " Who are the British ? " - at least, not on a British magazine.
This isn't because we are afraid of the answer. It's worse than that. We are afraid of the question. Introspection and self-examination are highly embarrassing to us. When Dean Acheson said, years ago, that Britain had lost an empire and not yet found a role, there was a great outcry in Britain. But it wasn't because we had lost an empire. It wasn't because we hadn't found a role. It was because Dean Acheson was making the sort of statement that makes us very very embarrassed even to think about.
If it were not for the fact that Die Woche has asked me to explain what makes the British so obstructive in Brussels, I would not be considering the question of our national character and role either. As it is, I am probably the only person in Britain at the moment who is considering the question. It is a sobering thought. But I am grateful to Die Woche for forcing me to be alone in Britain, wrestling with the nature of Britain's presence in Europe, as I think that after a period of moody pondering I may have solved the problem of why Britain is so unable to come to terms with federalism.
You didn't know that we are unable to come to terms with federalism? Oh yes, we are. We fear being part of a larger Europe community. If you ask the average Englishman why this is, he will tell you that it is because he does not want power to pass from the British parliament to the European Commission. But this is not true. He profoundly mistrusts the British parliament. He does not trust either of the main parties, and he has absolutely no respect for the Tory government in power. Nor, in fact does he have any self-respect for himself, as he now hates himself for having put the Tory government back into power. (Deep down, I think he would quite like power to pass from Westminster to Brussels, as the people at Brussels might make a better job of it than we are doing.)
No, the reason that the British are afraid of federalism is that if we were forced to be truly part of a federal Europe, we might have to lose all our national football teams except one.
At the moment we are allowed to field separate teams from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, even though none of these is an independent country. We cannot believe that we have been allowed to get away with it for so long. We have four national teams for the price of one, which increases four-fold our chances of getting into the finals of the World Cup or European Cup. The fact that none of these teams ever seems to qualify for the final stages of anything is usually ascribed to a) incompetence of foreign referees b) suicidal tendencies among the Scots c) an overlong football season at home d) the sheer idiocy of the present national manager e) the weather f) the position of the stars g) anything except our own inadequacy..
We are also uneasily aware that Germany had two different teams until re-unification and now has only one. If Germany has been reduced to one, why do we have four? And why, if Wales can have a team, why can't Brittany or Bavaria or Lombardy?
We never ask ourselves these questions. We are afraid of the answers. And the questions. But above all we are afraid that if we had to truly enter into the spirit of federalism and were forced to act as one member nation, we would have to have one football team and that team would be called ... Well, what would it be called? Britain? Great Britain? UK? British Isles...?
You see, we don't even know what we are called. German readers may not believe this, but I have never heard a British sporting crowd shouting, ‘Come on, Britain!’. It sounds wrong. It feels wrong. They couldn't do it. Sometimes British sportsmen do combine to form a British team, but only if this can be done safely so that nobody has to shout for Britain. In rugby the team is called the British Lions so everyone shouts for the Lions. There is an all-British athletics team, but athletics is such an individual sport that you can safely shout for the man and not the team...
You see what I am saying? The British already live in a federal state called Britain, which they do not believe in. They like being English, Welsh, Scottish, etc, but not British, When the British check into hotels and sign themselves into the hotel register, look at the entry they write under the heading Nationality. Sometimes 'British' but much more often 'Welsh', 'Scottish' and 'Irish' (and occasionally, believe it or not, 'Manx' or 'Cornish'). You see, you are asking the British to join a federation when they are already part of one, which they do not like. No wonder they are diffident about it, or, as it may seem to you, impossibly difficult.
Of course, I may be totally wrong about my view that the British simply won't face up to their identity crisis and refuse to talk about it. I just don't know. I can't get anyone else in Britain to talk to me about it.