Bill Shankly, the legendary manager of Liverpool FC, once famously said, “Football is not a question of life or death. It is more important than that.”

As I sit here in my small Dutch village surrounded by a sea of depressed orange I see his point. The Dutch suffered a premature exit from the Euro 2012 championship so ably hosted by Poland and Ukraine because they were rubbish. No schadenfraude here. Now, before I venture further I must point out to those of you who mistakenly confuse ‘football’ with that armored interruption that takes place elsewhere that I am talking of the “beautiful game,” the “world game” in which for a moment an air-filled sphere of plastic becomes the stuff of dreams and nightmares. The footballing gods being the humoros bunch they are have tonight pitted the Germans against the Greeks in the quarter-final. That should prove feisty.

Thankfully for three short weeks Euro 2012 has just about eclipsed Euro trillions down the drain. Most Europeans are agog at the spectacle. Politics is not entirely absent. EU member-states have formally boycotted matches in Ukraine over what they regard as the politically-motivated sentencing of opposition leader Julia Tymoshenko.

Something else is also apparent watching the matches; the European nation-state is not only alive and well, it is kicking–literally, metaphorically and politically. The passion of the fans for their national teams might, or at least should, give pause for thought to those Euro-fanatics in Brussels and elsewhere who believe that having caused the current crisis they can now exploit it to move decisively towards the creation of a federal European super-state under the guise of political and monetary union. Believe me, that is precisely what the architects of the appallingly named ‘constructive crisis theory’ believe.

The lesson that Euro 2012 should finally bring home to the Euro-Aristocracy is one which should have been learnt in referendum after referendum; that for the massive majority of Europeans their nation-state comes first. Therefore, any European structures should support the state not seek to supplant it. This does not make those of us who place our country before ‘Europe’ anti-European, although it does make us implacable opponents of the anti-democratic impulses of those seeking to impose the Brusselsization of Europe.

“Do the Europeans Still Believe in the EU?” a fascinating recent survey of public attitudes for Notre Europe by Daniel Debomy underlines that simple but critical political truth. Belief in the EU has declined but still some fifty per cent of respondents see membership of the EU as positive. Fifty per cent of course do not, but only one in five of that group see EU membership as actively negative, although one in three do not believe their country has benefitted from EU membership. In spite of the Euro-crisis this is not the worst crisis in public perceptions which was 1997 when the Euro-Aristocracy tried to foist an unwanted European ‘constitution’ on the people–which is telling in its own right. However, the survey marks an ongoing and “significant” decrease in what it calls “Euroenthusiasm” which pre-dates the current crisis.

Interestingly the Europeans that are most negative are not only the usual suspects (the British followed by the Austrians) as the French and Germans are also becoming increasingly skeptical. Interestingly the survey suggests that the Benelux countries (and strangely Denmark) are amongst the “most accommodating” which does not match opinion polls here in the Netherlands in which there is a distinctly Euro-sceptic chill in the political air these days.

A key point the survey makes is that “Europe in the making is still of course perceived through national prisms.” In other words Europeans’ views of Europe are still shaped mainly by their concerns about national politics. It also highlights something obvious to anyone watching Euro 2012: all politics in Europe that matters remains decidedly national and any attempt to create more distance between the governing and governed will be strongly resisted by the people.

This critical question of political legitimacy really ought to be at the top of the agenda of today’s Rome meeting of the leaders of the four biggest Eurozone members, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain together with the “gang of four” charged with opening the way towards fully monetary and in time political union: Barosso, Junker, Draghi and Van Rompuy. Sadly, I suspect it will not be.

The survey finishes with a warning. “The Europe to which its citizens aspire remains a Europe inspired by the value of solidarity.” I can buy that. “But it has lost some of its visibility; it must reaffirm itself as such, without which the present ‘Eurogloom’ could transform into strong and long-lasting disillusionment.”

As for the football as a seasoned commentator and analyst I will of course maintain a professional detachment from such sporting trifles.


Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, Fellow of Respublica in London, Associate Fellow of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Atlantic Council. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the NATO Defence College in Rome. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast.