The European Union's attempt to jump on the Olympic bandwagon is pitiable and it should give up trying to impose a federal identity, writes Conservative MEP
As a member of the European Parliament for London, I am proud of the way my home city delivered a great Olympic games. Londoners enthusiastically welcomed the world to what is already one of the most cosmopolitan and multicultural cities, and the British fans enthusiastically cheered on athletes from across the globe. The Olympics may be about individual achievement not national prowess, but the British team's 65 medals, including 29 golds, was a remarkable achievement.
When I visited the web site www.medaltracker.eu
I was surprised not to see Great Britain at all in the medals table. In fact I could not see any of the 27 EU member states that competed in London. What I found instead was the European Union at the head of the medals table with a total of 306 medals, more than the United States, China and Russia combined. Perhaps I was not paying close enough attention, but I do not remember an EU team marching into the stadium at the opening ceremony. Nor do I remember hearing the strains of Beethoven's Ode to Joy as winning athletes mounted the podium. According to the site the EU was surprisingly the "winning team".
The sentiment is repeated by the EU institutions. The parliament's office in London triumphantly tweeted on August 13 about the EU's haul of 92 gold medals. Before the London Olympics, the EU's delegation in Washington published a newsletter with articles entitled Europe: A Sporting Powerhouse
and Europe: The Cradle of the Olympic Movement
. The newsletter reproduced the medals table from the Vancouver games, where again the EU came out on top; second-placed Germany's 30 medals were subsumed into a haul of 108 for the EU.
Why does the EU insist on departing from its original goal of establishing a community of trading nations by imposing a federal EU identity, especially in the field of sport? For the EU to jump on the Olympic bandwagon is pitiable. You do not hear the Commonwealth boasting about its tally of 179 medals. Perhaps Natasha Kuchinskaya, one of the first Soviet gymnasts to take part in the Olympics, has the answer. Here is how she described the USSR's attitude to sport: "Sport was considered the prestige of the government. If sport was strong, government was strong."
I recently voted against parliament proposals for the EU flag to be worn on the uniforms of member countries' athletes at international sporting events such as the Olympics. The proposals may have been voluntary, but I fear the kind of European integration which verges on federalism. With opinion polls in the United Kingdom showing that more people than ever favour a full-scale withdrawal from the EU, the Brussels mandarins need to be careful about what they choose to pursue in the name of 'an ever closer union'. The EU can only win support if it returns to the principles of a strong trading bloc which underpins growth and jobs. However the EU's worst instinct is to behave as a propagandist superstate. Forcing an EU identity on unwilling and unwitting citizens is unacceptable.
What the EU fails to realise is that in the UK, the home nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, do not usually come together to compete under the Union flag, let alone a European one. Great Britain competed as a unified team in Olympic football this year for the first time since 1972. Negotiations on forming the team were troubled with the football associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales at one point refusing to participate. Britain's largest, and arguably proudest county, Yorkshire, even announced on the 'Welcome to Yorkshire' website that it had, in fact, finished 12th in the medals table with seven gold medals, two silver and three bronzes won by athletes from a part of England which likes to call itself 'God's own county'.
While the Olympic charter may state that the games are competitions between athletes and not between countries, the waving of flags and proud singing of national anthems by spectators is at odds with this sentiment. I believe that when British athletes mounted the podium, they were proud of winning for their country, their home nation and even their county, but I doubt that they felt that that they had been competing in the name of the EU. As we look forward to another successful London games, this time the Paralympics, I hope that the EU will resist the temptation to try to increase its sway by reducing the achievements of member state athletes, as well as the joy of sport, into a hollow EU total.Marina Yannakoudakis is a Conservative member of the European Parliament for London