‘Understanding Brexit and where to experience it’ (February 2019) explored a number of options for appropriate places to be when the UK finally leaves the EU. It toyed with cases for London, Brussels, Reunion in the Indian Ocean, before finally gravitating towards Kiribati in the Pacific – for arguments that perhaps resonate even more now, with the raised profile of the climate crisis and the mutation of the Theresa May coup, virus and fiasco into the even more virulent dePfeffel-Johnson strain.
I finally decided, partly for pragmatic achievability reasons, that my personal symbolic respite from dePfeffel’s dystopic sociopathiologies should be to visit the six remaining EU27 Member States to which I have never previously been. To that end, after facilitating an October 10th EURegionsWeek event in Brussels (of which more below), I spent a long weekend in Lithuania, Finland and Estonia’s capital cities – Vilnius, Helsinki and Tallinn.
My intention is to undertake a stage two visit to Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia the last week in October – completing EU27 coverage. Should dePfeffel complete his narcissistic disembowelling of what will henceforth be the ‘formerly known as’ (FKa)UK, I’ll travel from Bratislava to the EUs geographical centre in Bavaria for Halloween before making the sad journey 114kms east to the new geographical centre on November 1st. I will then return to FKaUK in anticipation of a preparatory meeting for a northern-metro managerial ‘good growth’ masterclass on November 4th. Who once said, “surrealism is no longer distinguishable from everyday life?”. [Brad Holland, actually!]
The three cities were a wonderful break from the lies and subterfuge of FKaUK. Each are attractive, welcoming, pretty walkable (at least in their centres) and interesting. They tend, for me, to assert the primacy of the mid-size city in a smaller/mid-size country as archetypes for liveability and wellbeing in a post-UK scenario. Tallinn’s 400,000 in Estonia’s 1.4m; Vilnius’s 600,000 in Lithuania’s 2.8m; and even Helsinki’s core 650,000 in Finland’s 5.5m each offer a credible mid-size exemplar, combining critical mass and rich breadth of opportunity with a scale that retains intimacy and accessibility. That one can do the whole trip (except the return to FKaUK) without showing a passport is just wonderful.
This reflects back on the EURegionsWeek and my conviction that the nation state has run its course as a means for mediating global and local social, economic and environmental grand challenges.
The ease with which the evils of a Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, Duterte and their ilk can capture a state apparatus with crude, often criminal and violent, appeal to a minority of the population with acute xenophobic cognitive failure has become a defining characteristic of the second half of this decade. This blog has increasingly argued for the deconstruction of the nation state and its replacement with a network of consensus-building supra-national institutions (of which the EU is the most advanced) and vibrant cities and regions.
I would never claim Helsinki, Tallinn, Vilnius and their countries as utopias. Neither would they. Nor are they strictly regions – although even Finland has a smaller population than some capital city regions and entities like Catalonia, Lombardy, Rhone-Alpes or the Ruhr. But the point for mid-size places with a sensible identity – whether Lithuania or Lombardy; Estonia or Extremadura; Greater Helsinki or Hesse – is they offer a type of “right” scale and potentially the right culture for being the major intermediary mediator of global and local challenges. These are likely to be far more effective than large nation states with their own exceptionalism of delusional global ambitions based on race and (in our case Etonian) entitlement.
At a very modest level, our EURegionsWeek session explored and celebrated a whole array of readily-available and evidence-informed tools for prioritising regional innovation – based on techniques like entrepreneurial discovery, self-awareness and peer review; underpinned by commitment to building shared understandings and consensus. The contrast with Trump or Johnson-esque winner-takes-all binary choices, compromised by far-right money and manipulation, used to increase division and exclusion, could not be more graphic. This and war/civil-war is all the nation state and its dark financial backers have left – and that is why the 2020s must banish it from being the orthodox form of political leadership and governance for most of the world.
In all humility, of course I recognise the ability and resource to undertake a ‘Brexit hara-kiri tour’ is a massive privilege. Conclusions based on little more than a day in each city must remain tentative and speculative. But the costs were a modest three figure sum for me – to travel and stay at fairly high levels of comfort and convenience.
To put it in perspective, no credible studies claim Brexit has cost the UK less than £70bn in the last three years – before we have even left. This amounts to over £1,000 per person, £1,300 per person under 65, and almost £10,000 per secondary school student. I can assert with total conviction that, had any of those cohorts just done the visit I have made, their support for remaining a progressive, constructive member of a reforming EU would be overwhelming. And UK plc would be many, many £tens of billions better off today and immeasurably more so in the future.
And I suppose that, ultimately, is dePfeffel, May, sadly Corbyn and most FKaUK political leaders’ failure. For the interests of a small elite they popularise building hate over tolerance, division over connection, and little-Englander exceptionalism over what is remarkable and indeed quite beautiful about Europe and our many cities and regions. They prosecute their interests founded on unashamed lies, electoral and financial fraud, hate crime incitement…and even worse if necessary.
I only managed to learn and recall one word in all three languages of the countries I visited. So, let me finish what is inevitably part one of a two-header blog with a loud and heartfelt ‘Aciu’, ‘Aitah’, and ‘Kiitos’. Thank you to my temporary hosts for the weekend – for your hospitality and for a unique but unmistakeably European experience. May you survive and prosper despite the evil FKaUK, Trump, and his allies will foist on you in the short-term. And when FKaUK is only a memory, please welcome back our British cities and regions to the family which has been stolen from us.