We recognize the influence that the most far-reaching EU initiative has had on British society as the concrete consequences of Brexit set in.
The politics of the half-century will be judged by historians of the future before Brexit ends on January 1, 2021. But what about historians of society and culture, those who research how we live?
Maybe not a blue flag, but a bottle of Blue Nun, a block of mozzarella, a Ryanair boarding printout or a ticket to a soccer match between Bayern Munich and Manchester City will turn out to be the most symbolic cultural items of the last 50 years.
Most Britons say their emotional connection to Europe is not solid, despite half a century of belonging to the EU club. Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London, says, “Almost 60 percent of Britons don’t identify as European at all,”
Even for Europhiles, belonging to an abstract conception or collection of institutions is a big challenge. Even among die-hard founding members, the first weeks of the March pandemic tested unity. Yet lives and lifestyles are similar across the continent than anyone in 1973 could have expected, and in ways that a survey can not quantify. Although there is no European “society” that could be disturbed by the departure of Britain, over the past five decades, there has been an informal convergence of tastes and cultural assumptions that could be called “Europeanization.”
We may be familiar with how migration, schooling, and work were transformed by the Burgundian passport.
The lack of free movement would impact students, scholars, countless professionals, and the Erasmus generation. EU people who have made a life for themselves in Britain will have to adapt to a new precariousness, especially after the opening to Eastern Europe in 2004.
But what about most British citizens who have never married a Swede, bought a holiday home in France, got an engineering job in Eindhoven, or spent a year studying in Madrid? How bumpy is their sociocultural readjustment going to be?
For better or worse, even though few saw themselves as participants in a post-national experiment, let alone voicing this as a form of identification, the dull business of trade – interconnected supply chains, the free flow of products, and universal rules for anything from energy to eggs – has often influenced their lives.
The biggest irony is that much of the Europeanization process that the hard divorce settlement of Boris Johnson seeks to end was driven not from Brussels but from London.
In 1973, Britain joined the bloc for transactional purposes only, not because it bought into the “narrative” of political integration, says Menon.
If the indicator of achievement is GDP alone, membership has paid off.
The professor of economic history at the University of Sussex, Nicholas Crafts, reports that per capita income is about 8.5 percent higher than it would have been had Britain remained out. He attributes increased competition, lower trade rates and higher productivity to this additional prosperity.
The disdain of Margaret Thatcher for the federalist dream may have laid the foundations for the cultural war that led to Brexit, but she sponsored the initiative in 1985 that would become the most far-reaching achievement of the EU since 1992: the single market. Britain unwittingly offered EU people a similar European lifestyle and maybe even a common identity by following its own values through an expansive’ common market.’
British fingerprints were all over the project, says Crafts.
This meant that, without additional paperwork, goods could be packed, labelled, shipped and sold safely across Europe. ‘We pushed hard for this,’ says Crafts. It’s really simple: the rate of trade goes up if you reduce the cost of doing business.
“Standardization has been a bonus for British industry.
Since, because that’s what the single market is, a regulatory union lowers prices even more than tariff-free trade does.
Meat, sumptuous food
Compared to 1973, how Europeans eat and drink in 2020 is perhaps the clearest example of how preferences have been changed by the single market and British perceptions have at least partly rewired. The Daily Mail recently published an illustrated guide to coping with food linked to Brexit su su