Olly Cardinali asks why is the notion of ‘Team Europe’ acceptable for Golf but divisive for Politics?
The British are used to juggling divergent concepts of nationality: I for example am England born, Wales raised and happen to have an Italian ancestry on my father’s side; I am uncomfortable labelling myself with any particular nationality, I call myself ‘British’ if I have to call myself anything. Like most Englishmen I only know the first verse of ‘God Save the Queen’. Like many Welshmen I only know the first line of ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ and when to bellow the words ‘Gwlad, Gwlad’. While I only know how to hum the catchy tune for whatever the Italian national anthem is called, and I have no idea how well most Italians are familiar with it. And like almost every reader of this blog, I also had no idea that the European – Anthem (can you call it a National Anthem?) was Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, until I heard it played at the Ryder Cup as ‘Team Europe’ takes on ‘Team USA’. Interestingly the Ryder Cup is the only sporting competition that Europe competes as a single entity; is this a sign of European unity or is it just a pragmatic approach to counter American supremacy (in golf at least)? I guess the question I am asking is… should Britons start to learn a few lines of an ‘Ode to Joy’ in order to sing along at future major sporting events?
The difference between ‘Ode to Joy’ and other national anthems, is that if you heard it played right now you would instantly recognise the symphony, as you may for many national anthems, but unlike a national anthem I would doubt that it would bring any connotation with the political (or sporting) entity ‘Ode to Joy’ represents, Europe. In fact, you will probably be more likely reminded of one of many television adverts it has been played in or in a film, including the ‘Die Hard’ franchise. ‘Ode to Joy’ is a useful symbol of the forced and pragmatic nature of notion of the European identity; building unity not through the embrace of Nationalist zeal but through an overhyped emphasis on vague familiarities in the name of mutual benefit. It was a theme chosen as Europe’s anthem to symbolise the values all Europeans share and also because most Europeans would have been familiar with the melody. The Ryder Cup is similarly a symbol of forced and pragmatic nature of notion of the European identity but just happens to be a reversal of the Europe Union’s economic journey. While the founding continental members of the European Union formed the European Common Market to have a chance of competing economically with the United States, the Great Britain and Ireland Ryder Cup team expanded to allow European players to be able to compete in team golf.
Unlike, the European Union, the British seem to be more embracing of the notion of European golf team than they are of the European politico-economic administrative entity that is the European Union. The simple answer for this may be because golfers from British and Ireland dominate the European Ryder Cup team, while the Continental and Scandinavian Europeans just added the strength in depth required to compete with the United States. It is likely that the reason that many British people are not so embracing of the European Union is because they seem to assume and resent that Continental states dominate European politics, which whether or not it is true, does imply that the United Kingdom merely add strength in depth to compete in the global market. Nevertheless it may also be because professional sport is a based on a meritocratic oligarchy of the most talented players and coaches, the public accepts that are not expected to choose who leads and plays for ‘Team Europe’ in the Ryder Cup for instance. However in European politics many of the British public seem to resent that they feel they have no say in European governance.
This is firstly because of the European Parliament’s election system; the public are expected to vote for a political party not a political personality. It is the political parties who chose the personalities to represent the British public by a list that is filtered by the mind-boggling D’Hondt electoral method. It is quite often (but obviously not always) the case that the public elects their representatives on the basis of their personality, rather than the party who supports them; Ken Livingston in London was first elected Major of London as an Independent for instance because many Londoners favoured him over the Labour Party’s preference, Frank Dobson. Secondly, democratic accountability has obviously not been a concern to the Eurocrats in Brussels, not least when they rehashed the publicly rejected European Constitution into the Lisbon Treaty and forced Ireland to swallow it even when the public initially refused to do so. Thirdly, the executive arm of the European Union is the European Commission, which is not directly democratic accountable to the European public. Politics is a different game to sport and the public will accept a meritocratic oligarchy in golf but it will not in politics, where the people should have a strong say in judging what is deemed to be merit. There are many among the British public who are either ignorant of the existence of, or resent the existence of, the European Union government and it does not help the European Union’s case that it seems content to either resent or ignore the decisions of the European public. This is not to say the public’s decision making powers are infallible. The best governments have strong democratically elected representatives who are not a slave to the public who elect them, but the public is able to feel empowered by the knowledge that it possible to remove and choose those representatives every few years. The European Union and the European Ryder Cup team are too similar in that the public feel as if they are merely spectators in both cases.
In an increasing globalised world, great unity and accord between Britain and European is inevitable and should be embraced. However, great unity and accord is undermined when it is forced upon people. I for one am pleased that globalisation and Europeanization is slowly killing that nasty modern human phenomenon that is Nationalism. To me Nationalism translates to the notion that one person, just because they are born inside or have grown up inside an arbitrary territorial boundary, feel they are better than other person that was born or grew up outside it. You may admire a particular culture or a particular language or a particular landscape but Nationalism too often unhealthily exceeds admiration and transforms into the worship of a culture, a language, a land and a people that denotes by implication that all others must be inferior. In sport Nationalism is a, mostly, healthy outlet, but in politics Nationalism has dangerous associations; if two World Wars are not enough proof of that already. I am very keen that ‘Ode to Joy’ continues to remind me of adverts and ‘Die Hard’ rather than of an imposed Nationalist European identity. I at least think that a truly democratically accountable European Union should be good for us all because of the inevitability of Europeanization. However, a European National identity would be a very dangerous concept indeed; I hope we can all skip an enthusiasm to boast ‘je suis European’, as Tony Blair did in 1995, and rather just say ‘je suis un homme du monde’ or nothing at all. I also hope that the Ryder Cup remains to be a sporting anomaly because I would rather England win the football World Cup than ‘Team Europe’… then again, suddenly the idea of ‘Team Europe’ does not sound so absurd after all!