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An Anglophone Union? Emotion and reality

March 24, 2010

Could a union of English-speaking countries really work? It’s already being called the “next big right-wing political idea”.

USA, UK, Canada and Australia and NZ

The European Union is endemically unpopular in the UK. Brits look across the world and see nations such as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as preferable bedfellows in stark contrast to the many and varied peoples of Europe, none of whom have English as a national language.

Those who are opposed to the European Union are constantly reminded of the necessity of European integration in the face of globalisation and the emergence of new powers like China, India, the BRIC countries and other burgening states hot on their heels, such as Mexico.

It is in this light that the pipsqueak nations of Europe share a common sense of density – either they hang together or hang alone in the face of the big, bad world. This sense of destiny in amplified by the fact it’s only recently that many of the small nations of Europe have gained independence following an eternity under the thumb of empires. The experience of WWII also makes so many Europeans value co-operation.

Thus, we should see the EU as an alliance of the inadequate. Europeans must speak with a common voice in the world, or else find themselves drowned out by the bigger boys in the playground.

Nevertheless, together Europe can more than just speak up for themselves, these Europeans United form the largest economic market in the world, and have a combined population of half a billion, that’s two-hundred million more than the USA!

However, the Brits have found it all a bit hard to fathom.

When the UK looks at the world it sees not just the faded pink on the map of the world they conqured, but swathes of the world that speaks its language. The British sees whole other continents they can comprehend. On a literal level the British understand Americans, Canadians, Australians and 49 other countries which have designated it as their official language.

The Anglosphere is an almost global nation.

The British imbibe American culture without even thinking about it. It’s so obvious I won’t even spell it out. The same goes for Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The psychological impact of this is that the British just don’t share the feeling of being a small, endangered nation which needs to club together with the others in proximity to it; the British just don’t have the same felt safety-in-numbers the other nations of Europe acquire from the Union.

Furthermore, the impact of literally being apart from other European nations, the literal separation by the channel, means the UK doesn’t feel the benefits of freedom of movement as obviously. Few British people see spending a day in another European country as effortless as the continentals. Furthermore, when vast tracts of the world shares your language, culture and in many cases, way of life, you don’t see the necessity of European integration. The experience of the World Wars also make the British want to keep away from Europe. Instead we set our sights further afield to the nations and peoples which fought on our side when our European allies (such as the French) were either conquered and occupied, or simply fight against us.

But the ties across the Anglosphere extend to more than just literal ones, ideologically, the UK ‘gets’ the American’s free-market ethos far more, too. Our legal systems are also more similar, with regards the Commonwealth countries. An obvious expression of this would be our shared head of state, none other than HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

I’ll regard the EU as a success when Neighbours is replaced by a Polish soap opera.

In sum, the literal separateness from Europe along with a stronger closeness to the other English-speaking countries means the EU almost violates the key concept of nationalism – that the state (political unit) and nation (grouping of people who share real or imagined common history, culture, language or ethnic origin) should be congruent.

This is not to say that the British want to become the 51st state of the USA, or become a province of either Canada or Australia, rather that the UK would (relatively speaking) be more comfortable with a union of Anglophonic countries – be it under NAFTA with the US, Canada (…and, erm, Mexico!) or through enhanced cooperation with the Commonwealth than it would sharing a political system with the many different and more foreign cultures and nations in the EU.

Some may be quick to paint this as racism or ‘exceptionalism’, but firstly the Commonwealth – and Canada and the USA, for that matter, are far more racially diverse than most European countries.

Secondly, and let’s be blunt – was it racist for South Africans to want to be governed by Africans, not Europeans? Or irrationally racist or exceptionalist for the Irish to want to unify? I don’t think it was. And given the option of swapping the EU for an ‘AU’ I believe the British people would chose an Anglophone Union.

However, we must look at the prospects for turning the emotion into reality.

The English speaking countries of the world are disperse.

An Anglophone Union would be far more than 10,000 miles from tip-to-tip

The UK’s proximity to Europe means that our economic ties to Europe are far stronger. The USA may be our top export partner accounting for 13% of trade, but the following six are European, and their combined percentage is 43%.

Furthermore the the USA’s main trading partner in Europe is Germany, not the UK.

In addition, Australia is deepening its economic and regional ties with China, the importance of this new relationship – based largely on Australia’s mineral reserves and other natural resources – is exemplified by Kevin Rudd’s fluent Mandarin.

Money as a language evidently transcends linguistics.

Australia and New Zealand are probably the best case-study if the impracticality of an Anglophone Union. Two English language countries in close proximity with economic, cultural and legal similarities which have yet to unify politically or economically. Though Australia has made various moves toward unification, New Zealand has repeatedly rebuffed them.

“We intend to keep all of our identity, and more,” Ms Clark retorted to Mr Hewson’s suggestions.

If New Zealand can’t put side their few differences, what hope is there for the rest of the English speaking world? Especially when one considers the vast gulf that exists in terms of political differences between the USA and the rest of the English commonwealth, in terms of gun controls and presidential republicanism.

In addition, New Zealand’s rebuttal of Australia shows that though – and obviously, this is only my hypothesis – the British would perhaps will an AU as an alternative to the EU, would the rest of the Anglophone world want us? Why would Australia, Canada and New Zealand want to return to political or market union with the UK if their economic interests lie elsewhere? Political union would almost be tantamount to a return to colonialism, when one considers their combined population is lower than the UK’s. The current moves towards Republicanism in these countries also shows a reluctance to continue even symbolic connections to the UK, let alone substantive connections.

We return to the status-quo. Though it may be emotionally and perhaps even nationalistically harder for the UK to accept, the EU is more logical, flaws and all.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. gunter permalink
    October 21, 2010 6:40 pm

    I think the biggest irony here is that English is actually a Germanic language , and yet the Brits see themselves as above or apart from the EU .
    Well I’m afraid the penny will eventually drop and Britons will slowly recognise that while Churchill was their saviour , Hitler was and always will be on the other side of that coin.

  2. Marc permalink
    November 16, 2010 4:58 pm

    You forgot to mention that Canada has 6 million anti-English malcontents in Quebec, (I am a French Canadian from Quebec but do not consider myself one of them). Quebec would want to be part of this political union but we would whine and complain the whole time.

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