Greek remedy ahead of Brexit vote

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Three little words are playing an outsized role in the future of Europe.

An opt-out from “ever-closer union” – which has featured in every EU treaty since 1957 – is one of David Cameron’s four main demands for change in the UK’s participation in the European Union. For Cameron and many of his countrymen, the phrase conjures up a nightmare image of a European super state. Failure to achieve a British exemption could lead to a Brexit after Cameron’s in-out referendum – which would then prompt pro-European Scots to leave the United Kingdom.

Though Greeks have brought problems to the EU recently, one of them could have fixed this one if he were around today: Zeno of Elea.

The philosopher’s paradoxes centre on the idea that, to get from A to B, you must travel first half the distance, then a quarter, then an eighth… So, however many steps you take, you will never complete the whole distance.

This is a bit of fun when it’s used to “prove” that you can never really move: normal movements are not divided up into ever-tinier steps.

But consider EU integration. Following the big leaps – the single market, Schengen, the euro – future moves towards closer union are likely to be more granular. They’ll still each require plenty of work, however, given the larger number of member states today.

So future integration might be like advancing another half pace towards a United States of Europe, followed then by a quarter, and an eighth… Since the EU is currently many paces away from such a federation, we can have ever-closer union but still get nowhere near an EU super state.

So what’s the problem?

It could be the British education system. Zeno’s paradoxes are best understood by the study of limits and infinite series in maths.

But British teenagers have long been pushed to abandon either humanities or maths early on, so the country’s politicians have mostly given up maths at a very basic level. Could another year or two of sums have helped calm down the Europhopes?



Illustration from: Grandjean, Martin (2014) Henri Bergson et les paradoxes de Zénon : Achille battu par la tortue ?