The holiday season should still bring about some serious policy thinking, writes University of Oxford Chancellor Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs.
The following contribution is authored by University of Oxford Chancellor Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs.
"Europe's holiday month of August is no time for serious politics. The world and its worries are meant to close down while Europeans repose.
I usually spend the month with my family at our old converted farmhouse in southwestern France. It is the deepest countryside. As I write this under a vine in my vegetable garden, I look west across wooded hills and cannot see another building.
In our hamlet, there is one small working farm, a couple of holiday houses and the ruins of seven or eight other houses. A century ago, this would have been a community of more than 50 people. Today, there are two full-time residents, the farmer and her elderly mother. Otherwise, the inhabitants are vacation visitors.
Progress in France brought a fairly recent migration from country to town. 'How is it,' a local pig farmer asked me a few a years ago, 'that we locals all want to get out of here, and you northern European city dwellers want to buy up our old farmhouses and move in?' It is a part, I suppose, of the urban, middle-class northern European dream – the pursuit of the sun by day and silence by night.
Even in the 15 years that we have owned this former tobacco farm, further progress has left its mark. In our village, there used to be two of every shop – butcher's shop, bakery, hardware store. Now, there is only one. Supermarkets in the surrounding towns have driven the smaller shops out of business. I guess they provide more choice, and they are probably cheaper. But the commercial life has been squeezed out of local villages.
Another mark of progress is the arrival of a broadband Internet connection. So now I can use my laptop just as though I was at home in London, and the satellite dish gives us the world's television and radio stations as well. This is an advance in many respects. But I used to be able to switch off from the world when on holiday, cut off from the intrusions of technology. Today there are no excuses. I am always on duty."
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(Published in partnership with Project Syndicate.)