Hung Parliament: a foreign perspective

All right then, Britain has its first hung parliament for decades. Gordon Brown failed in his last-minute attempts to convince Britons, Dave Cameron’s party got bailed out by Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats and on May 12th all the doubts and worries of last week seemed sorted. Nick Clegg decided to compromise with the Tories, possibly sacrificing some of those values which in paper seemed so antithetical, and did so in the name of the country’s desperate need of stability at home and abroad.

And now for something completely different: there are roughly 6000 foreign students in this campus. I myself am one of the 6000 people who on May 6th did not queue outside Ramphal. So half way through BBC election night special, after a few shots of coffee and a dozen cups of tea, I asked myself a very simple question: what am I doing?

Why should I care about what happens to Britain? What benefits do I get from knowing whether or not Clegg will lose his reputation, whether or not I will see Dave Cameron’s face in Number Ten until (and beyond) my graduation day? (for the record – I shut down my computer and went to bed a few minutes after that moment of enlightenment).

Anyways, there are a number of things pointing as to why I should, to say the least, pay some attention to the whole business. First of all, I am a foreign student living in this country. Its decisions, its major changes, will affect my life as much as anyone else’s. Second, coming from a seemingly democratic country, I should also be amazed at the workings of another democracy and show some enthusiasm to its people’s decision. But these are all simple points which can be dealt with quickly. Problems arise when you widen your spectrum and start considering the political entanglements Britain is a part of.

Being European I always regarded the EU as an Eden-like place where people from Latvia to Portugal could come around, sit down and discuss how amazing the continent is and how bright the future looks for the next generations. Events in Athens now point at radically different scenarios. Not only do we seem to have lost that sense of “Europeness” which should glue us together and lead us to our common aim of fraternity – we also seem to have lost faith in our currency, our role in global politics and, ultimately, our raison d’être .

Okay, but where does Britain come into the picture? It is recent news that the UK shall not contribute to the € 750 billion bill to bail out Greece and give stability to the euro. Mr Brown, in his last days of his mandate, said he would not be willing to do so, and William Hague, UK’s future foreign minister, has already written to Mr Cameron his suggestions for UK-EU relations in the years to come. Mr Hague says he is firmly against any further step towards integration, and points that the elections results have changed the way the UK regards the EU.

What does that mean? Quite simply, deal with your problems yourself. Should Britain return to its pre-WWI policy of splendid isolation, the EU would lose one of its biggest allies. If the EU’s aim, to quote France’s former president Mr Chirac, is that of providing a counter-pole to US might, then the Union would require every single one of its member, especially one as powerful as the UK.

Politics shapes my life as well as yours. This applies to those who voted and those who did not. Even to those who queued outside Ramphal and those who got up the next morning to people crying, laughing, cheering, and saw no good reason to care.


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