Juncker’s idea of European federalism is a pipe dream increasingly distant from the reality of the average British or European citizen.
Juncker through the looking-glass
There are many words beginning with the letter “F” that are not suitable for the ears of small children. The word “federalism,” alluded to, but not pronounced, by Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, certainly falls into this category. I feel great passion for the European Union, but the annual State of the Union address, delivered by the “Sun King” of the EU, was just enough to make me think hey just a minute, Sunshine, this is not what I want.
“Europe would be easier to understand if one captain was steering the ship.” – Jean-Claude Juncker
I wonder who the ship’s captain would be–as if I didn’t already know. “Monsieur Malice” is climbing into the mirror and discovering a whimsical and warped Euroland. Unfortunately, we may all end up following in his footsteps.
Jean-Claude Juncker has made two serious mistakes. Firstly, he sees a deformed vision of Europe. His Euroland is an alternative world, void of logic and Euclidean geometry, where the only “F” word unsuitable for children is federalism. Secondly, he should have used “were” instead of “was”. It’s an imaginary situation that he describes, and it requires the use of a past subjunctive.
“I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream—I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of mediaevalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal—to something finer, richer, than the Hellenic ideal, it may be.” – Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
With two past subjunctives, such an address would have sounded much more poetic and inspiring. It would not have changed the fact that “President” Juncker resembles more Agamemnon, stuck in the Aegean due to lack of wind, than an intrepid explorer about to change the world. I’ve mentioned ships before, and the dangers of ignoring those who appear to just be gazing into the stars, but who are, in fact, the true captains.
Judging by heated “debates” that I have had with staunch supporters of European federalism, I really don’t know which is worse: being a Brexiteer or a EU federalist. Both seem to live in Eutopia, both suffer from erroneous visions but don’t want to visit the eye-specialist, and both have had enough of listening to so-called “experts” who predict doom and gloom for both sets of ideals. In any case, who listens to experts in this day and age when you can just Google “economic consequences of Brexit” and “hidden agenda behind European federalism?” The Cassandra’s of this world have gone digital.
I do admit that I am no better, as my own European ideals are probably just as crazy as anybody else’s. However, I do find myself trapped, not in Euroland, but in No-man’s land. My entrapment results from not being able to come to terms with accepting Brexit, or embracing European federalism.
“Juncker is a romantic, I am pragmatic.” – Marc Rutte
I was probably both, until the Brexit negotiations got under way, and the fate of millions of unsuspecting citizens could not be solved. Maybe one day, there will be a federal Europe, but only after the present-day EU has sorted itself out. You can only run once you have learned to walk. It’s not that I’m against European federalism per se, but I find it quite bewildering that countries such as Greece and Sweden – such diametric opposites – would have to completely harmonize the whole of their societies, including work conditions, social care, education, taxation, and paper delivery-rounds by 14-year-olds, to have the faintest chance of forming an enduring federation. I very much doubt whether the Greek “entrepreneur”, whose swimming pool and helicopter launching pad are clearly visible from the sky, but receives social benefits from the Greek government, would accept the idea of federalism. Unless, of course, Swedish society adapts itself to the Greek model. In this case, we might very well see Swedish chalets equipped with beautiful olive wood coffee tables, and Greek apartments fitted with the very latest integrated kitchen from IKEA.
All is well in the Garden of England
In the last round of negotiations, David Davis, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, was optimistic over the potential progress of the, up to now, sluggish talks:
“In the coming days we will demonstrate our thinking even further, with five new papers – all part of our work to drive the talks forward, and make sure we can show beyond doubt that we have made sufficient progress on withdrawal issues by October so that we can move on to discuss our future relationship.”
I do hope that the UK used double-sided paper, because 5 papers seem to be a bit on the thin side for taking back 80,000 pages of EU regulations. According to the FT, the UK is nowhere near ready and will have to keep a large number of European agencies after 2019, as well as 19,000 EU rules. It’s a bit of a botch-up job, if you ask me, with officials quoted as saying, “We simply don’t have the expertise in some areas and wouldn’t have the time to start-up new agencies from scratch.”
For Liam Fox, however, Brexit is elementary, and securing a free trade deal with the EU will be “one of the easiest in human history”. I would rather describe Brexit as a lemon tree, whose fruit pack some serious sour power, and should not be bitten into.
Of course, the UK can always go back in time to the swinging 70’s, where the only “F word” was “Flower Power”, and not “Federalism”. Some of you may remember the Austin Allegro, whose psychedelic steering wheel hadn’t decided if it was going to be circular or rectangular, and ended up being neither. No more silly EU regulations – the UK can dream of making UK cars designed to run on UK roads. Yes, this really is “back in Britain”. Time to open the bicycle shed and get out the secretly hidden psychedelic Austin, and paint the town red. British red and not EU blue.
But the British drive on the wrong side of the road anyway, so EU regulations are probably not that important. Why not just enjoy life…outside the EU.
For those who voted remain as I did – had I been given a ballot paper and the address of the voting booth in Amsterdam – the feeling that Britain is too small to be great again, will not subside. But does size really matter when you’re having fun?
Brexiteers want their country back. They have had enough of immigration, especially when it concerns foreigners. Home-grown products should be picked by home-grown men and women. What a joy it would be, to pick pineapples in North Cumbria, oranges on Tyneside, and to wander through the rice fields of Lancashire. The sky’s the limit, if the UK doesn’t respect EU policies on the environment, after Brexit.
Blue is the colour…almost
Not everything is blue in the rest of the EU. Unemployment is still high in France, Spain and Italy. The Germans and Italians have their own tailor-made migration crises, and Germany is probably trembling at the prospect of having to take over a large part of the UK’s budget contribution after Brexit. Ireland couldn’t care less as long as Google stays, and Sweden has too many beautiful pine trees to properly see what is going on beyond its borders in the rest of Europe. As for the former Eastern block countries and Greece, they remain Eastern block countries and Greece, respectively. Not forgetting, of course, the Dutch, who cannot even form their own national government, yet alone a European one. The only country that remains relatively unscathed is Luxembourg, probably because it comprises more anonymous bank accounts than inhabitants. No wonder Jean-Claude Juncker is so optimistic, being a former Prime Minister of the Grand-Duché.
Juncker insists that the EU not only can continue after Brexit, but must stride for more integration, and will probably benefit from the UK’s departure. I dare to disagree. The UK’s place was, and still can be, within the EU, where instead of playing the temperamental schoolboy always looking at the playground through the classroom window, could have instigated profound changes in the way that the EU is run. Like it or not, Monsieur Juncker, the EU does need the UK to be within it and not on the outside.
After having been so cynical, what is my ideal, I hear you ask?
I’m not at all superstitious about numbers, but it does seem that the number “52” is going to haunt me all my life. In the 70’s, the 52 bus route was, without doubt, the worst bus service in the whole of London. I once had to walk all the way from my school in South Kensington to Ladbroke Grove, in order to catch another bus-line home. Years later, in June 2016, that wretched number 52 appeared once more in my life, on the wrong side of a referendum result.
The EU should be like that double-decker I never saw, a two-tier monster taking millions of citizens to a common destination. The EU must split because it’s quite obvious that its members run at different speeds. Smokers and non-smokers travelled in the same bus, but on different decks. In the same way, member states capable of integration, and – more importantly – willing to undergo the process, could form a “EU core”, with various levels of “peripheral” members forming a close alliance, with a variable level of integration. I did warn you that my European ideal was crazy.
I apologise for being cynical, but that’s what must be expected when you wake up from a dream that had potential, but was cut short by a noisy alarm clock. You suddenly wake up with muddled thoughts, and an unfinished dream. The real problems begin once you leave the comfort of your own bed, step into the pouring rain, and wait for a bus that never comes.
George is a British/French national. He has a passion for oral microbiology (obtained a PhD in Lyon, France) and a passion for philosophy and politics.