Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Is the experiment irreversible?

Our current workload includes an examination of the future of the European Union (EU) as a political entity. In many ways, the EU is something of an experiment for Europe - an attempt to integrate the European nations peacefully and voluntarily instead of integrating Europe forcefully. Much of the discussion surrounds the degree to which Europe should be integrated (the Federalists with a tight economic and political Union, the Atlanticists with a close economic Union but a looser political Union, and the Nationalists with no Union at all).

However, underneath all of this high level debate are over 400 million people who are just getting on with their lives. They wake up, go to work, eat, sleep, and dream as people always have done. Individually, they make decisions about their lives in an attempt to improve their situations. Collectively, their decisions reveal preferences that are of interest to futurists. We can develop theories and models of how we expect people to behave, but it is their actual behaviour that validates our theories and models.

Their was an interesting report this week that told us that about 10% of the UK population currently lives overseas, either full time or part time (see News Item ). The top locations are currently Australia and Spain. Within Europe, Spain, France, and Ireland are the top destinations for expatriate Britons. We feel that this is evidence of a big trend that will have some significance in the future.

The more we find Britons retiring to sunshine destinations in France and Spain, the more we find French companies locating in the UK to enjoy a lower tax regime, the more we find Polish plumbers locating in the UK to find a better lifestyle, the more Europe will become integrated from the 'bottom up'.

We can talk about European integration at a high level, but this suggests a presumption that a 'top down' solution will be imposed upon the populations of Europe. This couldn't be further from the truth. What is actually happening is that hundreds of thousands of people are voting for integration by making it happen. Actually integrating into another European nation by living there. As this trend continues, the European experiment is more likely to become irreversible.

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