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Football lesson

How a reformed EU could act as 'midwife' to the emerging nations as they move towards democracy


 The problems to be solved:

(i) Major threats to world peace, such as those posed by problems in North Korea and Syria are difficult to solve because the western powers have very few personal contacts with the Korean and Syrian leaders.

(ii) To combat global warming we need international political cooperation that builds on the Paris Agreement.


A football story, Bill Courtney writes
I’m a Manchester man with a strong regional loyalty.
Back in the 1960’s, at the height of the cold war, when mutual suspicions were high, I was travelling as a student through Yugoslavia. For a few Dinar I purchased a lift in a car with a big tough and slightly sinister looking  man, who was travelling from Belgrade to Zagreb. He made it clear that he was a patriotic Yugoslav who followed the Communist party line.

Shortly after leaving Belgrade in his car, he attempted to take advantage of my isolation by demanding further payment. The situation  looked ugly, made far worse by our mutual enemy status and lack of any common language.

I was disturbed but not cowed, because the car sported a football banner.

With genuine emotion, I recited a litany of footballers names known by every Manchester school boy of my youth. “Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan, David Pegg, Mark Jones, Geoff Bent".

Then I said, " Manchester United, Red Star Belgrade, Munich.” The words chilled me.

The tough looking man stopped his car abruptly.

With wet eyes, he hugged me. He bought me a good lunch and proudly showed me photographs of his family. I bought treats for his children.

Then we drove on. - No extra payment made.

The footballers I had named were all 1958 Manchester United “Busby Babes”. They had died in an air crash at Munich Airport, after playing against Red Star Belgrade.

A nasty and possibly violent outcome involving strangers had been avoided because a thread of common humanity had been shared.

 The lesson: If we can identify a thread of shared human experience, hostile strangers can rapidly reach a consensus and become friends.

 Our proposal: The countries of the European Union offer a unique pool of shared human experiences, because of their past conflicts, diversity of languages, cultural and colonial pasts.

We should exploit this, giving European politicians a novel hosting role in bringing the world together.

Each year, political leaders and a small number of close family members from all of the United Nations countries, plus emerging nations such as Palestine, would be invited to spend a few days away from the media at a secure location somewhere in the EU. There would be no formal meeting agendas, with the emphasis being on relaxed leisure.

In this family setting political leaders would have time away from the world’s eyes to get to know each other as human beings.

If the affected states agreed, representative of nationalists groups such as the Kurds would also attend.

Two "dress rehearsal" events; one restricted to EU countries, the other to delegates from G20 countries, would provide valuable learning experiences.

If Strasbourg became the location for this annual event it could solve a delicate political problem, allowing the city to take on a new role in exchange for agreeing to all EU parliamentary sessions being transferred to Brussels.

(The climate in Strasbourg is not brilliant, but modern holiday resorts offer a wide range of indoor activities.)

The ancient Greek tradition of honouring safe passage to the Olympic Games would be imitated, allowing all political leaders to attend.

Our proposal would allow the EU to become the greatest influence in favour of world peace while simultaneously respecting the European populist desire for stronger national identities.

This is why:

(i) Many wars are the result of isolated political leaders misreading each others values. Perhaps the two Gulf Wars, the Kosovo Conflict and the present civil war in Syria could have been avoided if the political leaders of the day had been in regular social contact with their international political colleagues.

(ii) Essentiality, the EU would have a minimalist foreign policy approach, with individual member states being encouraged to exploit their cultural and historical relationships with the guest states to broker new relationships between disputing states.


Maximising the use of venue facilities and knowhow
During the rest of the year international conferences and exhibitions could be held at the same venue.

With some imaginative marketing and planning, Strasbourg would become the international partnership and deal making hub of the world.

(i)          The world’s nations would be encouraged to set up consulates in the city. This would be a powerful asset for business leaders and others forging international agreements.

(ii)         The development of family friendly leisure activities in the city would allow conference delegates to combine work with family holidays.

(iii)        The delegates children would gain a unique educational experience, mixing with children from similar family backgrounds but from other nations.

(iv)        European language translation and negotiating expertise would be on hand.



Two “What if?” case studies


Britain joined the European Community in 1973. If the EU has been hosting informal gatherings of national leaders and their families since that time, Europe would have become the focus of world diplomacy.


1        Syria

President Bashar Hafez al-Assad and his father would have been on 'friendly' terms with influential moderate politicians and their families since 1973. This would have made negotiating a Syrian peace treaty a lot easier. In fact, the civil war would probably have never happened in the first place.


2        North Korea

Three generations of North Korean leaders would have come under a moderating European influence. The families of North and South Korean leaders would have been able to meet up, away the their propaganda machines, for the last 43 years. The business opportunities offered by the Strasbourg trading hub would create further bonds of trust with the outside world.



How Britain could have leveraged its international influence since 1973

 These gatherings would aim be family fun events.

Britain would have taken a leading diplomatic role because British pop culture has been influencing the worlds youth since the 1960’s.

The sons and daughters of British political leaders would have found it easy to establish friendship links with the youthful Bashar al-Assad, Kim Jong-un and other leaders children. British rock stars giving concerts for world leaders and their families in an intimate setting would "Give peace a chance."

Kids love to rebel against their parents. So friendships between children would have been easier to establish than between adults.


Extending the concept

Once the protocols for informal gatherings of politicians and their families have been established, independent gathering could be set up on regional lines. For example, for all African nations or African nations in the Horn of Africa. (There are some very good African bands!)


The alternative to Strasbourg, a marine venue
In time, t
he EU should consider building of a top of the range cruise liner having ample accommodation to meet the needs of several thousand passengers.

Each nation would be allocated permanent consular rooms on board the liner. This would allow the ship to earn its keep by acting as a unique floating centre for international business and professional conferences.

A name for the vessel?

Pangaea. from the ancient Greek for "Entire Earth".

Pangaea is the name of a theoretical super-continent that geologists assume existed 250 million years ago, before continental drift ripped it apart to form today's continents.



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