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The Ryder Cup: a celebration of European unity or an EU ‘hijacking’?

Friday, 1 October 2010
Friday marked the opening day of the 2010 edition of the hotly-contested Ryder Cup, and it was undoubtedly the British wet weather that emerged victorious. Contested every two years, the venue for the three-day tournament alternates between golf courses in the United States and Europe and boasts two teams of the most talented players in the world.

However you feel about the game of golf, this particular competition is remarkable because there is no prize money – the players all play for pride, not for cash or ranking points – and it is the only sporting event in which Europe is represented by a single team.

Lee Westwood of Europe looks on during the Morning Fourball Matches during the 2010 Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor Resort on October 1, 2010 in Newport, Wales. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)Representing Europe this year, the team comprises of players from the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Spain and Germany. Can you imagine such a team competing in other sports? If Europe had a football team it would surely be the best in the world, although how would you decide on who to select? It is perhaps fortunate then that a Europe football team is extremely unlikely to ever materialise.

But in golf a Europe team has competed the Ryder Cup since the first tournament in 1927 and it was this representation that delights the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso who bizarrely issued a statement on his website describing its “special significance” for him. “Here sportsmanship is more important than sport. Here the fans on the fairway are the real mark of success,” he added.

From one outspoken political figure to another: UKIP's Nigel Farage, a keen golfer, tonight appeared on Channel4 News and declared that the competition was being "hijacked" by the European Union.

It is very noticeable even to the casual spectator how the many fans that line the fairways appear to keenly and voluntarily dress themselves up in merchandise bearing the 12 gold star emblem and wave EU flags, big and small.

Of course, it is this that Mr Farage has most issue with: "Whenever I watch the television all I see is that wretched EU flag. What on earth has this got to do with the European Union? What on earth has it got to do with Mr Barroso, the President of the European Commission, claiming ownership of the Ryder Cup as an EU event? It isn't. Leave us alone.

I love the Ryder Cup, I've followed it all my life and of course I'll be supporting the continent of Europe but I have to confess I'll be doing so through gritted teeth,” he said.

It is remarkable however how long-standing feelings towards the EU change with such an event. A casual flick through any British newspapers’ sports coverage this weekend is likely to include some phrase on the lines of “we're all European this weekend".

Even at the Daily Telegraphthe broadsheet home of Eurosceptic coverage – published this article on Thursday 30th which reads:

"Viva, España! Forza, Italia! Vorwärts, Deutschland! It is time for the nations of Europe to make common cause against common foe – the golfers of the United States of America. This weekend, Celtic Manor plays host to the biennial Ryder Cup, the one event that forces even the staunchest Eurosceptics to forsake their American cousins for their Continental neighbours.

It would be churlish to point out that this is a largely British effort – a Welsh locale, a Scottish captain and a spine of players from England and Northern Ireland. Instead, we urge readers to wave their blue and gold flags with pride."

Whether this sentiment is motivated by anti-Americanism or pro-Europeanism, you have to admit that the Ryder Cup is quite an event if it gets people voluntarily wearing the EU flag, since many more people across the continent feel a greater connection to their national colours.

Yet although none of the opening round of matches were completed due to the heavy rainfall, let’s hope that its Europe captain Colin Montgomerie who leads his men to the victory on Sunday concluding a competitive contest.

Cable warns European Parliament of potential public budget backlash

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary of Britain’s coalition government has issued a stern warning to MEPs in Brussels today that the EU will face a "big backlash" if its own budget is not subject to the same public spending disciplines that are currently being imposed at national levels.

Speaking at a meeting held in the European Parliament yesterday, Mr Cable, proudly sporting his Liberal Democrat lapel badge, said "at a time when national governments, including mine, are having to make very painful cuts in public spending, no one can understand why the European budget is not being subject to the same discipline."

"There is a backlash on the way, not only in the UK," he said. "Can I plead with you to tackle this issue seriously? Any sense that the European Parliament and Commission are not acutely sensitive to this issue will be very damaging."

At 67, Vince Cable is a highly respected economist with a background in industry and academia, and became the first cabinet minister of the new coalition government to address MEPs since it took office over the summer. In his keynote speech, he laid out in stark terms the challenge facing the UK economy alluding to its large budget deficit, its deflating property bubble and its "overweight banking sector" and promoted free trade as the route back to growth and prosperity.

Referring to former PM Gordon Brown’s economic preaching about Britain’s enviable economic model over the past decade, Mr Cable admitted that with now the "worst deficit in the G20 and beyond, one of the worst property bubbles, the most overweight banking sector, [and] one of the worst recessions … rest assured you won’t be getting any lectures from the UK today."

He told those in attendance that he was "an old-fashioned, unreconstructed, believer in free trade," and that he is looking forward to the Single Market Act due to be published by EU Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier next week. Mr Cable, left, said he hopes the document will include a section dedicated to helping small businesses overcome barriers to trade and reinvigorate Europe’s single market. He also expressed hope that the EU would push on with the Doha agenda of world trade talks.

"Trade is not a zero-sum game where one country gains at the expense of another," he said, "it benefits all countries because specialisation reduces costs and broadens access to a wider variety of products. Technology and good practice is disseminated. Competition stimulates and rejuvenates economies. A relapse into policies of nationalism and protectionism – whether in relation to goods or services or investment - would be a massive, and costly, mistake."

He made a point of commenting on Britain’s working relationship with the EU under the new coalition commenting that the government has "engaged positively with Europe in a way that may have caused some pleasant surprise".

He said its willingness to work with Europe was "not just the influence of the Lib Dems" and that "our Conservative colleagues, from the Prime Minister down, are realistic and engaged also. We recognize that our economic fate is inextricably linked with the rest of Europe," he said.

It was a good speech and well received by those in attendance - even if he did shamelessly manage to drop in a small plug for his recent bestselling book, ‘The Storm’…

Click here to read the speech.

Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.