The Ryder Cup and Euro-nationalism

During the last Olympics, the then president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, pointed out to journalists that if the European Union had competed as a bloc it would have come top of the medal table. Prodi’s political message was obvious. If European countries stand alone they will always be also-rans in the race for global power. But together, Europe could win. Prodi went on to suggest that European countries should carry the EU flag – as well as their own – during the Olympics’ opening ceremony. Like many European federalists, he was distressed by the way in which international sporting competitions tend to drive a wedge between European countries, instead of uniting them. Watching the Olympics on television in France in 2004, I could certainly see what he meant. Like many Brits, I was keen on watching the rowing, where the British were winning lots of medals. But it seemed as if the only thing the French wanted to show was the fencing, where France reigned supreme. (The tradition of d’Artagnan is obviously still alive and well.) In both Britain and France, the Olympic coverage was frankly nationalistic. The idea that the British would celebrate a French medal as ardently as one of their own, or vica versa, because both countries are members of the EU, would have seemed ridiculous. No wonder that Prodi was concerned. But today has seen the start of an event in which Europe really does compete as a team. And better still, from a Euro-nationalist point of view, they are competing against the arch rival: the United States. The Ryder Cup golf tournament could almost have been designed by the European Commission. After all, it touches some parts of the Union that other sorts of propaganda simply cannot reach. Europe’s Ryder Cup team is drawn from Britain, Sweden, Ireland and Spain – the first two countries, notably eurosceptic. What is more, a “golf club member” in Britain is usually assumed to be conservative, middle-class and rather scornful of foreigners – a hardcore eurosceptic, in other words. And yet at Ryder Cup time, British golf fans drape themselves in the EU flag and can be seen traipsing around the golf course, chanting “Europe, Europe”. What is more, there is always a chance that some incident on the golf course will engender ill-feeling against the Yanks – causing the EU golf-watching public to feel even more European. The classic incident of this sort was when the Americans invaded the 17th green in 1999 after a successful putt by one of their team. This was apparently an unforgivable breach of golfing etiquette. Even arch-eurosceptic newspapers in Britain were full of denunciations of the uncouth Yanks, and sympathetic portraits of the “gentlemanly” Spanish player, José-Maria Olazabal, who was deemed to have been put off his stroke. So what is the European Commission doing to take advantage of this ideal propaganda opportunity? I contacted Rolf Annerberg, who is head of staff for Margot Wallstr m, the Commissioner charged with improving the EU’s image, and asked him if there was anything special planned. Apparently not. Maybe they think the golf will speak for itself; or maybe they are just plain unimaginative?