When the final count was announced for the Brexit vote, perhaps none was more surprised than Britain itself. Except maybe Brussels.
But I was surprised too. Surprised by so much surprise. Especially after this weekend’s headline buried deep inside the paper. I guess if the news isn’t conducive to the current political agenda, it’s good to bury it. Who needs high blood pressure? Nevertheless the audacity of Jean-Claude (or is it Jean-Icarus?) Juncker so soon after Brexit is astounding. It truly is.
In case you missed it, basically the lost-touch-with-reality EU president stated that the EU would decide on Ceta, the very controversial trade agreement with Canada, without including the 27 remaining EU nations. The deal with Canada is largely considered to be the precursor to the TTIP deal with the US and Juncker’s true colors are suddenly showing. The man is threatening to simply barrel through a trade deal that will have major consequences for the environment, consumer safety and judicial processes for Europeans (and Canadians, and then Americans) without a democratic process that would allow the concerned citizens who will be most affected to weigh in. Seriously? Is there a large metal rock somewhere up in Brussels that thou hath been hiding under the past two weeks, Honorable Mr. Juncker?
But I’m not the only one indignant. Even the level-headed Germans were “riled up”. Though they aren’t worried about a very unpopular deal being made over the heads of their citizens, they are worried, according to Germany’s Economic Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, that such an “incredibly foolish” act could kill the even more unpopular agreement, TTIP with the US.
Holy smokes, Batman! Looks like we need a super hero to fly to Belgium and give these bureaucrats a good serious fire-poker pinch. They’re all living in a cave.
I’m not opposed to trade agreements, open borders or closer ties amongst nations. I’m all for it. But I am opposed to trade agreements drafted by lawyers of multinational enterprises under the guise of benefiting Jane, Dietrich and Jorge while taking away their rights and protections. Besides, I had always somehow been under the impression that public servants were put into office to serve the people. But if their mission is to serve the people, and deals like Ceta and TTIP do not serve the people, then no deal should be made. It’s not difficult. It’s not like the Austrian Math Matura. It’s easy in fact. And when bureaucrats from Brussels opt to pass dirty deals done dirt cheap nevertheless, it tends to really peeve people off. It tends to get them upset. It tends to make them lose faith about who or what they are serving. In fact, it gives the impression that the interests being served are as secretive and far removed as politicians helping multinational companies cut billions of dollars from tax bills. Deals kept under wraps until Mr. Ordinaryman with nothing to gain except renewed confidence in the fairness of the universe has the guts to reveal all in a leak – a LuxLeak, for example — and have himself rather than those scheming the system put on trial. In fact it kind makes the majority of us mere mortals have an idea of what the starving folks outside royal gates must feel like when they hear the words: “Let them eat cake” before they… Well… History, like Shakespeare and Greek mythology, has plenty of examples of what happens when a privileged few let hubris and greed get the best of them while overhearing the cries of the disenchanted people.
Days before the Brexit vote, none of my friends (some even from the UK) could fathom a future without Britain in the EU let alone the kind of person who could seriously consider Brexiting. But I could.
I am not anti-EU. I rallied behind Austria’s membership decades ago. As a college major in international relations while the EU was still in the infant stages of a EEC, I was a flag-waving EU supporter. I liked the idea of a borderless continent. I liked the idea of an ever-lasting inter-dependency that promotes peace. I liked the idea of folks from different nations getting along and cooperating to make life better for everyone. But as much as I absolutely love the idea of the EU, I hate seeing signs of cronyism. A lot has happened since my initial dreams for Europe. And I can relate to those who have become disillusioned with the brave new world a united Europe once promised.
Britain, have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? Your hair is thinning, the royal luster is fading, and to be completely honest, as a good friend, I need to tell you that you’ve shrunk. Yep. Don’t take it wrong. You still got the odd sense of humor we all love, and Shakespeare will always be yours but you’re no longer the tough guy you used to be. So when Russia or China or – yes, even my homeland — come knocking and want to talk business, it can be quite an advantage to have 27 others by your side, showing a united front.
But you were so busy whining about all the Poles moving into the neighborhood, that you became deaf, and I’m sorry to say, blind. And dumb.
After reeling from the shock and the appeals, of “Dearest Britain, say it isn’t so,” and turning-lemons-into-the-lemonade hope that perhaps Northern Ireland and Scotland will finagle a way to stay, I, like the rest of Europe, sobered up to the reality that Britain has officially filed the divorce papers. While the passionate French demand that Britain pack its black pudding, get the hell on its way and don’t let the door smack it in the derrière on the way out, the cool-headed Germans keep urging everyone to, “Stay rational, bitte sehr!”
Long-term relationships are hard. They just are. They demand compromise and sacrifice. And somewhere along the line, you have to be convinced that the relationship is bringing more benefits than harms. Otherwise, it is indeed more healthy to probably call it quits.
But I see remnants of old border booths, hear students from all over a peaceful Europe congregate together in the metro, pay for my cappuccino in Italy with the same Euros I use to buy my Schnitzel in Vienna and I feel like the benefits of a European Union still outweigh the harms.
But statements like Juncker’s make hanging on to that belief hard at times. I have to wonder if his dream of a united Europe has any resemblance to mine.
In his book, The Prophet, Kahil Gibran describes the perfect union. He writes that a perfect union has spaces in the togetherness, and the winds of the heavens dance between the parts that are joined together not with a bond but rather a moving sea. The sides of the union fill each other’s cups without drinking from the same cup. Give each other bread without eating from the same loaf. Dance together but allow dances alone, stand together, yet not too near: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, he writes, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
What kind of union is the EU striving towards? Absolute oneness or something better? I think it is the lack of clarity and communication of this very basic goal that is causing so much trouble.
Brexit in the EU, Trump in the US, Hofer in Austria, these uprisings, upsets, overturns, and shock-waves are about a generation that believes its voice has been lost. I do not support these fear-mongering movements pouring kerosene on fiery frustrations. I read Juncker’s words and the frustration burns in my veins as well. But nothing in me is convinced that razing the current structures to build a wall, a fence or border-closed sign is the answer. No, I think we should call in the exterminator, chase out the vermin and take back the dream. Throw open windows, beckon in some fresh air and make it a home where the interests of the people, and not the cronies, are served.
Since life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday, dearest EU, learn from your mistakes and conscientiously determine what the Brexit legacy will be. Will the EU merely survive this crisis or turn it into an opportunity? And I don’t mean an opportunity for the cronies.
John Oliver, Tobacco, Free Trade Agreements and the case of Australia and Uruguay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UsHHOCH4q8
John Oliver and Brexit (while there was still hope): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAgKHSNqxa8
John Oliver and Brexit (after): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh0ac5HUpDU
For your reading pleasure the 1598 pages of the “Consolidated” CETA text. http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2014/september/tradoc_152806.pdf