Peter Wilsher ponders on the difficulties of thinking "European" when there is apparently so little unity, of any kind, in existence.
How shall we market Europe? How should THEY market Europe? Is Europe indeed marketable as a concept, a brand name, a rallying cry? Can one imagine any circumstances in which it might be possible to launch the continent-wide equivalent of a Buy British campaign? The answer, for the foreseeable future, is almost certainly No, Non, Nein, and no doubt, in the fullness of time, Nyet. But although, for many purposes, this sense of separate identity is not only understandable but indeed highly desirable, it is going to make it extremely difficult to get the best out of that ambitious enterprise which goes under the code-name "1992".
The other day, as a small example, I met a young trainee manager working for one of the few substantial Northern Ireland engineering firms. He was doing fine acquiring all of the necessary disciplines in finance, sales planning, product development and personnel relations. But a few weeks earlier he had tentatively approached his departmental head to point out that the qualification which had got him his original interview was a first class degree in French and Spanish, and that perhaps these abilities might be harnessed to the service of the business. The response was one of total bemusement, with the director concerned unable to conceive of any circumstances in which linguistic talent might have any bearing on sales prospects or the acquiring of contracts. It hardly seemed to augur well for the firm's chances when it goes head-to-head with the likes of ASEA Brown Boveri or GEC Alsthom.
Such obtuseness would have been common enough a few years ago. But it is more than slightly worrying to find it still rampant in a largish UK company. Can all of those bracing "think European" messages have fallen on completely stony ground, and were Lord Young, Alan Sugar and Sir John Harvey-Jones just wasting their breath and the taxpayers' money?
Part of the problem, of course, is the vagueness, for most people, of the framework within which such thinking is supposed to take place. What is this "Europe" we are talking about? Where exactly do you establish its boundaries when most of the well known definitions turn out to be legally and politically meaningless? How do you capture its essence when there is so little ethnic, linguistic or any other kind of unity? Who exactly put it all together? Did Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, the mediaeval popes, Martin Luther, Napoleon or Hitler have any idea what they were doing when they made their own particular contributions to the architecture?