By birth, by family and by instinct, Sir James was European, and on top of this he sat in the European parliament. For myself, I had lived for years in various parts of Europe. Here, I suppose, is the rub: most of the enthusiastic members of the lobby for a federal Europe have experience of that continent only through delightful holidays in the Tuscan hills. Living in Europe is a very different matter from either holidaying there or, for that matter, doing business there.
To suggest that there is one homogeneous Europe would be ridiculous. Italy is as different from France as Brazil is from North America. It is the differences of Europe that Sir James and myself, along with very many others, strove to preserve – differences that should not be swept aside for commercial or administrative convenience.
There is, however, much that we can learn from Europeans, just as we have in the past. Britain is a fundamentally different place from Europe, but we have prospered not from our separation from Europe but from our proximity to it. Learning from Europeans does not mean we all become one country. The French, for instance, have worked hard to preserve their farming industry, their small shopkeepers and their language – quite apart from their culture, the integrity of which they guard with wild ferocity. We should change our attitudes and follow their lead. In Britain, we have sacrificed farmers, shopkeepers and language with gay abandon.
Politeness is another aspect of Europe that we might try to emulate. We think the French are rude because, first of all, we do not understand them. Second, we mostly visit them as tourists, eating in their cafes where the waiters can be rude. It is a rudeness that comes from years of having to put up with ill-mannered tourists. Yet, seldom does a French taxi driver fail to open the door of his taxi and wish you good morning, and seldom does he fail to wish you good day as you get out of his cab.
Europe is expanding – as its power reaches deeper into our lives, we will need to live on our wits
Italy has its own way of going about life. In Milan, 10 years ago, they arrested 1000 businessmen in a fashion that would cause horror in Britain. Only one of them, however, came to trial – the rest were released. The purge of Italian corruption became yesterday's news. Italy has over 80,000 laws, most of which are ignored by the population. Italians understand living in a way that the British never have. They understand the delights of fresh bread and vegetables. We understand only convenience food – frozen for the convenience of the retailer.
In Britain, we regard the arts as a poor second to football and other sports. In Italy and most other European countries, the arts are considered as important as food. Go to the remotest village in southern Italy and they will be able to sing an aria from a Verdi opera – only in Wales will you find such a popular interest in classical music.
We in Britain imagine that we are honest and that Europeans are innately dishonest. Yet commercial and governmental dishonesty is found everywhere. Our politicians merely appoint their chums to positions of profit; for them, this passes as honesty. Standards of honesty are, however, far more likely in the future to come from North America than Europe.
One aspect of European life that the British could well do without is its bureaucracy. A vast bureaucracy is the European way of cutting unemployment. Happily, their bureaucrats are not infected with the same enthusiasm for their task as their British counterparts. God help the Europeans if they were to pay the same attention to every minor regulation as we do. Half the restaurants in Europe would be closed by the health and safety inspectors and most of the buildings condemned.
Lord McAlpine is a writer and former treasurer of the Conservative Party.