Are you celebrating Europe Day? No, me neither. I don’t know anybody who did, except for the poor sods in government buildings around Westminster. It does seem odd, a fortnight after the splendid sight of Union flags ringing Parliament Square to commemorate the Royal Wedding, to see the same flagpoles flying the flags of the EU’s member states. And there is a difference – people obviously wanted to see the Union flags flying during the Royal Wedding, but who wanted the flags flying for Europe Day?
Europe Day must be the most top-down celebration day we have. Unlike the Royal Wedding, St George’s Day or even St Patrick’s Day, all of which are bottom-up celebrations that people would celebrate with or without any state endorsement, Europe Day is something that we’ve been told to commemorate. (Some will argue that the Royal Wedding is a state-sanctioned holiday, but it’s different to Europe Day in that people would have celebrated it even if there had been no state fanfare. It was spontaneous and bottom-up.)
I have no real objection to Europe Day, if people want to celebrate it. And, if enough people want to see something celebrated, I don’t mind if the government recognises that and flies the flag to mark the occasion. But my suspicion is that, in the case of Europe Day, few people would celebrate it if. Instead, I think it’s another brick in the wall of the EU’s efforts to manufacture a “European” identity. Other examples are the European “national anthem” (how can a non-nation have a “national” anthem?) and the European flag that must be flown outside government buildings in EU member states.
Supporters of the EU often claim that it’s a “post-national” body. Why, then, does the EU bother with the symbols of nationhood – flags, coins, anthems and holidays? This seems less like a “post-national” body than one trying to invent a new nation for itself. And this is a problem: like other “spontaneous orders”, nationality is hard to engineer from the top down without negative unforeseen consequences. See the failure of the Yugoslavian project for an example of this, as well as many post-colonial African states, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo whose problems are, in large part, consequences of successive government attempts to engineer ethnic identities there.
Thankfully, the EU’s failures in this regard will be more benign, but it should be clear that it is a bad idea for states to try to make a nation out of nothing. I’m not worried about bogeymen from Brussels hiding under my bed, but top-down planning of society is just as hubristic and short-sighted as top-down planning of the economy.