Question: What keeps you up at night?
John Bruton: I think the one thing that worries anybody who is a parent is what their children will be doing ten years from now. Will there be employment for them? Will there be employment that they will be satisfied with that their talents will be used in? And will it is very hard to keep me up at night, I sleep very soundly, I suppose that has to be the number one worry. We all have our own families and we tend to worry about them proportionately more than anybody else. As far as the wider issues are concerned, I suppose I should worry more about nuclear proliferation then I do because it does represent an genuinely existential threat if you’ve got nuclear weapons into the hand, not of more states but of non-state actors and terrorists. That represents the possibility of wiping millions of people out almost over night. And that’s the thing I feel I should worry about more than I do, but it’s so overwhelming a threat that it’s hard to even get your head around it, so it’s hard to worry about it as much as you should.
I also worry a little bit, I say this as a European, and as somebody who is deeply committed to the European Union which I regard as the greatest piece of inventive statesmanship of the 20th century which voluntarily bringing together 27 countries which were previously many of them dictatorships and many of them at war with one another in recent living memory, they are now all working harmoniously, or relatively harmoniously together as Europeans. My worry has to be that the next generation of people will simply take all of that for granted and will revert to sort of playing a game of national advantage in Europe and forgetting that we’ve got to preserve the superstructure as well. We’ve got to preserve the union as well as pursuing our own individual state’s interests. And keeping a multifarious union like the European Union together isn’t easy. And you’ve had the experience in this country that a very successful union, the first federation in the world, the first democracy in modern times, the United States of America. It still tore itself apart between 1861 and 1865 on very, very important issues. Well, that might have been avoided if people were willing to put the preservation of the union first and to make compromises earlier than they were prepared to make them. And in the case of the European Union, I see sort of nationalistic tendencies coming up and countries trying to give aid to their industry, to give their industry the advantage over the industry over another European country. I see voters trying to blame European Union for things that they know really in their hearts are either their own fault or the fault of their own government, but the European Union is a sort of a convenient whipping boy for whatever it is they are frustrated about. And I see politicians blaming the European Union for things that they’ve decided themselves as well. And that sort of behavior is corrosive in the end. And in the end, this union, which is as I say, a tremendous creative experiment, is fragile, and it won’t be necessarily be there 50 years from now if we don’t take care of it.
Recorded on October 1, 2009