When I was 14 I went on a French exchange. The idea was to improve my language skills, as well as developing a better understanding of French people generally.
I remember we were very impressed by the fact that lots of our French contemporaries were riding around on mopeds. I also spent a pleasant afternoon in a field shooting cans with an air rifle. These were both things that they could do at 14 but in the UK we would have to wait until we were 16.
Furthermore, when we asked about the fact that when they rode their mopeds, their crash helmets hung from their handlebars, the response was a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. Further enquiry suggested that if they saw a police car they would quickly put their helmets on.
At the time I thought that the whole EEC thing seemed a bit unfair. I remembered that my Dad had said that VAT had been introduced when we joined (rather than Purchase Tax which had just been on some luxury items) and I knew that the motorbike driving test was going to become more difficult and expensive because of European requirements, but we still couldn’t ride a moped until we were 16 and we still had a limit of 70 on the motorway compared with the unlimited German autobahns.
We just seemed to get the bad bits but with no good things to compensate. Since then I’ve decided that the issue is more deep rooted, not just culturally, but in the legal system itself.
Culturally I think the British have a need for fairness, an idea of when things are ‘just not cricket’. Our legal system is based on common law, which means we live and let live until something seems so unfair that we go to court over it and thus set a legal precedent. Germanic law however tries to legislate for everything. So I think in reality, if there were a directive about ‘Quality Standards for Bananas’ (Commission Regulation No 2257/94, from what I can gather) we would probably try to comply to the letter (because we are used to laws derived from the application of common sense) whereas our European cousins would generally ignore the requirements unless an auditor was checking (in a similar way to wearing crash helmets).
In short I don’t think we are programmed in a way that means EU processes work for us. I won’t tell you what my party political leanings are, but if Cameron can re-negotiate so that we just have an agreement over trade with Europe then I’d vote to stay in. If not, then I still think we get a lot less out than we put in and I would vote to leave. My understanding being, that we can negotiate (or pay) to continue to trade in a similar way (as does Norway), but our choice of human rights laws (and bananas), would belong to our UK political and legal system.
So was the French exchange a success? Well, I learnt a lot about the French way of doing things, but I still can’t speak French.