I love Europe.
In the early 1960s, when I was just 5 or 6 and England still hadn’t won the World Cup, my pioneering parents bought a travelette (a collapsible caravan contraption). The neighbours in suburban West Wickham waved us off, and we drove all the way down to the Costa Brava, spending two weeks on the beach of a blissfully unspoiled and still quintessentially Spanish fishing village.
I honed my nascent German language skills – and snogged Bridget Heap from Clarendon House – in Koblenz, on exchanges with Detlef and his family in the 1970s.
More recently, Gill and I have whizzed all over France on Eurostar.
We have a continuing addiction to all things Italian, and have just returned from skiing in bellissimo Champoluc.
I embrace everything about Europe…its people, languages, history, food, wine.
Except the bloated, bureaucratic European project that is the EU. It’s teetering on the precipice of failure, and I’m leaning heavily towards the exit door.
I’m not racist. I’m not xenophobic. And I’m not rooted in the past. But I can’t believe the status quo is sustainable.
When we signed up for the Common European Market in 1973 – ratified in a 1975 referendum – could our worst fears have anticipated the reality of 2016?
- an annual EU budget of close to €150 billion
- more than 750 Members of the European Parliament
- EU auditors reported that the bureaucrats had misspent €7 billion of the 2013 budget. The auditors have refused to sign off the accounts for 20 years in a row
- 2-speed economies of the greatly enlarged EU over protracted periods, and yet no single country being able to resort to interest rate changes to stimulate or slow down its own economy (thank goodness we stayed out of the single currency and retain the £)
- a plethora of unwanted and stifling legislation handed down from Brussels
- untrammelled immigration, from other EU countries and – through assimilation over time – well beyond Europe
I may sound like a Daily Telegraph reader, or – worse – a UKIP voter, but it feels like we have lost control, to differing degrees, of our sovereignty, our legislation and our borders.
And I don’t buy the IN camp’s scaremongering that our economy will collapse if we decide to exit. Yes, there will be obviously some significant adjustments required, and there may well be a reduction in GDP and a threat to some jobs. But that impact will hopefully be temporary, until we rediscover old allies, sign up new trade relationships with vibrant emerging markets, and embrace our renewed independence,
But we will regain control of our own British future for the long term.
I love Europe. But I love its separate, beautiful, independent cultures rather than its homogeneous, bureaucratic mass.
I’m walking inexorably towards the OUT door. Possibly regardless of any outwardly face-saving deal Mr Cameron might try to bring back ahead of the referendum, to persuade us to stay IN, as I fear it won’t represent substantive change.
And if we vote to leave, it might just signal the beginning of the end of the grand federal Europe project.