I've finally decided to write something here about one of my biggest passions - the European Union.
I'm English. I live in a country which has a reputation for being a little xenophobic.
I'm not though. Quite the opposite. I love different cultures, different peoples, different ideas.
I look at this continent wide institution with a mixture of passionate pride and despair. I think the EU is possible the single greatest thing mankind has done. I know that might sound a little overblown but it's true.
I've read extensively on history - or on warfare you could say, the two are pretty much synonymous. Mankind has, throughout its entire existence, dedicated a sizeable proportion of its time, energy and population to attempting to kill each other. And it's crazy.
Now I'm not going to claim that the EU is a great hope in this sense - a way of preventing war. I don't think it is. But I think it is a glowing example of nations attempting not to just fight each other. The nations of Europe, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, Austria, Hungary (I'm going to stop here as this list could go on a bit - sorry if I've missed out your homeland), have fought seemingly countless wars against each other - often for no real point.
But in the middle of last century some of them decided there was a better way.
The result is the bureaucracy-heavy ponderous European Union. It has faults. It's members often disagree with each other and it has a bad rep. But it's still great.
I'm not like most Brits. I realise this. When I see a Polish deli open in the next town to wher eI live my first thought is not "Oh God more evidence of them coming and taking our jobs". When I go to the dentist and his name is Viktor and he comes from Gdansk I don't moan.
When I hire a builder and find he's from Romania, it doesn't upset me.
No I want to talk to them, find out about them, make them feel welcome. I'm not a xenophobe. Unlike many of my fellow Brits I love Europe. I speak two European languages (French and Italian) and visit them as often as I can as well as Belgium etc - something made incredible easy by the UK's EU membership - no pesky visas to sort out for me.
But it's not culture or the ease of taking holidays abroad that make me truly treasure the EU. The single most important thing for me about the EU is its size. Britain used to be a world power. From reading much of our print media, you might be forgiven for thinking we still are. We're not. Britain's day's of global importance are over. They're history.
There are 61 million of us in the UK. It sounds a lot until you look at China, India, Brazil, USA, etc. A country of 61 million will soon become a backwater. The USA might be the world's only superpower at the moment but that is not going to be for long. China and India both have more than a billion citizens - that's a hell of a big workforce.
These countries will soon dominate the world. The USA may well keep up with them, but Britain (and for that matter France, Germany, Italy or any of the EU nations) - not a hope. Unless that is we stick together.
When you add Britain's 61 million to the 82 million German, 64 million French, 59 million Italians, 46 Spanish etc etc (not forgetting the 490,000 Luxembourgers or the 400,000 Maltese, the EU population totals roughly half a billion citizens. Add into the fact that the EU has a considerably higher than world average GDP per head and this is a powerful bloc we are privileged to be members of. This is a globalised world. It's going to be run by a handful of great powers. Britain is not going to be one of them, but the EU can be.
It may not be perfect but at the moment it's the best we've got. So far from mocking the EU and decrying its weirder ways (and yes there are some - don't mention the parliament decamping to Strasbourg periodically at enormous expense), what we should be doing is trying to improve it.
Oh and don't get me started on the Euro - WHY ISN'T BRITAIN IN THE EURO? I don't get it. We should be trying to get into the club, not sticking with the pound and the need for expensive currency conversions. The Euro is convenient for travellers, but I believe a godsend for business - no more worries about currency fluctuations between Britain and our biggest market. That sounds like a chance to plan properly for the future without worrying about future purchase costing more, or future revenues being reduced because the rate changed.
I know you could say that rate changes can be beneficial - and it's true. In recent months the devaluing of Sterling has been advantageous for exporters - but stability sounds better to me! I mean the pound has been recovering in recent weeks standing at 1.17 Euros to the pound compared with its low of 1.024 Euros at the end of 2008. Anyone agreeing a deal in January could well have lost out when pay day hit.
Anyway I'm going to stop ranting now - and get back to what I should be doing - writing.
But one last thing before I go, and just in case you missed it - I am a Europhile.
Long live the European Union! Vive l'Union européenne! Viva l'Unione europea!