I have a lot of time for Guy Verhofstadt, the former Prime Minister of Belgium. He is known for his straightforward approach to tricky political problems. He is the appointed lead negotiator for the EU in Brexit – separating Britain from Continental Europe – an unenviable task. He has suggested that those Britons who have been forced by the referendum to “Brexit” should be allowed, for a fee, to join the EU as individuals. And why not?
Notwithstanding the rush in Europe and America to close doors on the outside world, we live in a world community. It may take another generation to realise this. If it does that time will be littered with quarrels and anxiety. Neighbours should know and acknowledge each other, not argue and threaten. Competition is good; a fight to the death is not. As the Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister always says “We need to embrace interdependence”.
To belong to an organisation you need to sympathise with its objectives, obey the rules and pay the dues. When you live in a country you do that by your choice of homeland, your obedience to the law and your payment of taxes. How do you demonstrate that you are a world citizen? Either your country belongs to a world organisation that fulfils your international leanings or you simply don’t. Your country is a member of the United Nations. Does that satisfy your wish to be seen as a world citizen? Unfortunately not.
For all that the UN has lofty ambitions it remains a remote organisation with responsibilities beyond its financial or social capabilities. Successive Secretaries-General have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to make it the focal point of world citizenry. Because its affairs are dominated by the Security Council it is, in practice, a centre for settling potentially dangerous confrontations. Its work beyond this is admirable, vital and much admired but it is a step too far to say that it creates the forum for an individual to be a world citizen.
More modest steps, correctly starting with the business of cross-border trade, are better harbingers of practical neighbourliness and satisfactory mutual support. The European Economic Community (EEC) was just such an organisation. It became too big for its boots and called itself the European Union before the members were ready for such a move, hence the current Brexit. But many people – roughly half the British who bothered to vote – wanted to stay in the EU. A chance to belong is exactly what they are looking for.
Well, here it is. Not Federal Union to which the world will aspire someday; nor isolated groups of self-serving individuals who cannot see fairness as a world necessity in a global community. Just a modest view over the horizon to meet and know the neighbours and share with them the anxieties imposed by frightening technological advance.
I want to know you. I want to help you. I want to be part of your club in such a way that you are part of mine. Together we can make a better world.
Bit ambitious? Well, why not?