My Take

An enlightened view of Europe, courtesy of the Airbus people

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 5:12am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 5:12am

You can't meet any group of Europeans who are more gung-ho about the European Union than employees of Airbus.

I recently met executives and engineers from the defence and aerospace giant who were visiting Hong Kong. And boy, did I utter the wrong thing when I said the EU project hasn't really worked out in light of the euro-crisis. I was supposed to give them a brief talk on Hong Kong's politics and ended up being given enlightening lectures by the Germans, French and Spaniards from the group, all of whom were deeply committed to the EU.

I blamed my ignorance on reading too much Financial Times, even though it's probably the least Eurosceptical of the British papers and the only mass-circulated European paper in Hong Kong. Still, it didn't pass muster. "You need to read continental publications," someone told me.

I admire the Airbus people's commitment and sense of pride over a historical project that began modestly to ease the domestic trade in coal and steel to become a transnational postmodern state that has made war obsolete for its member states, all of which share a bloody history over centuries.

"Conflicts in Europe now mean fights over money transfers," one of the Airbus boys told me. Conflicts in my region - such as may occur in the troubled waters in the South China Sea, as charted and illustrated in this paper yesterday - can still mean war.

Though the brand has been around much longer, Airbus in its current incarnation was created with Franco-German backing as a European champion to rival the American Boeing. So Airbus employees may not be the most representative of Europeans who went to the polls to vote for members of the European Parliament.

Right-wing nationalistic parties and politicians did well, precisely the people most hostile to a united Europe. Alarmed by the anti-EU populists, Airbus chief executive Tom Enders last week urged its 144,000 employees to vote.

Airbus executives are necessarily biased towards the EU. But however flawed, the EU is still an admirable ideal - nations don't need to be bloodthirsty towards each other but can be a real family, however quarrelsome. That's something worth preserving, not just for Europeans but the world.