People in Europe and across the World are fascinated by BREXIT. It has turned UK politics into a watchable political telenovela. And just as with the royal weddings, the United Kingdom, a comparatively small country of only sixty million inhabitants has managed to grasp the whole world’s attention, and to overshadow important European parliamentary elections.
The EU elections are getting closer. And yet, political campaigns are having a hard time in gaining any traction, particularly with the media. And this, just when EU politics had started becoming slightly more attractive over recent years. With a system of nominating lead candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission, EU politics were finally becoming more personal, and somewhat watchable for European citizens.
There are enough pressing issues to be debated in Europe: the rise of populism, the identity crisis of the EU, migration, social justice and many more. But in these days it seems like international journalists have been either sent to the doors of the House of Commons in Westminster, or to the Pressroom of the European Council in Brussels. All eyes are on Brexit. The European election campaign is as if it wasn’t taking place.
The noes have it, the noes have it! Unlock!
For many months now, television programs across Europe have tuned in to the House of Commons to get the latest voting result on Theresa May’s deal, alternative options, excluding “no deal” and many more captivating decisions. The Speaker of the House of Commons has now attained worldwide notoriety, something that he probably never hope or wished for. Viewers are getting to know some ancient British rituals of parliamentary life: Lawmakers walking into some distinct lobbies to cast their vote, the so called Tellers announcing the voting results before the House’s Speaker comically repeats the exact same result he had just heard seconds before: “The nooooes have it, the nooooes have it. Unlock!”
Live televisions shows from outside Westminster Parliament then evaluate what the vote could have meant this time, and when viewers can look forward to another episode of this political circus. Brexit has put the UK back into the international spotlight. And, for a comparatively small country in terms of its population, the UK seems to have a tendency of attracting a lot of foreign attention. People are tuning in to the Brexit shows in the millions, just as they were for the royal weddings. Try to get someone from outside Germany turning in to a debate of the German Bundestag, ever so important it may be.
Rule Britania? Hardly.
Yet this attention the UK is getting can of course hardly be considered as particularly flattering. And there is one thing that hard line Brexiteers are undoubtedly right about: the entire Brexit process has been a national humiliation. Viewers across the World are flabbergasted by the sheer lack of competence of the country’s Prime Minister in the negotiations, the UK Parliament’s inability to agree on hardly anything, and the lack of control that the UK seems to have, when Brexit itself was supposed to be about the return of full national sovereignty. So what went so terribly wrong in the UK’s quest for independence?
Leaving debates around the motives for the leaving EU aside, it seems that the UK has taken on a particularly bizarre negotiating strategy: The country entered negotiations with a lot of expressed confidence, yet later in the process found very little appetite to go through with it. As one French Minister best put it: “I would call my cat Brexit, because it meow and meows, but when I open the door, it doesn’t want to leave.”
It somewhat feels like UK lawmakers are well aware that by implementing BREXIT they are negotiating against their own geopolitical, economic or indeed overall national interest. And yet they also know that retracting BREXIT, would be a form of betrayal of the democratic vote, and above all a very un-British U-turn. It can of course be argued, that the EU never actually negotiated in good faith, and somewhat manoeuvred the UK into the corner it currently finds itself in. Either you accept to hand over all of the control or you crash out, probably to your own economic demise. But can you blame the EU for fencing for its own interests as sharply as it did?
Schadenfreude & voyeur EU
With control over the delimitations of BREXIT in their own hands, there is a certain level of Schadenfreude (happiness over the UK’s struggles) prevalent amongst many EU citizens. People are watching with a certain bemusement how the UK first confidently engaged into negotiations, repeatedly threatening to leave without a deal, before admitting that they were too scared to do so. But the amount of attention Europeans are giving to the UK’s internal Brexit woes, whilst neglecting the debates about the EU’s own political future, can be considered as a form of political voyeurism. It’s time Europeans switched the channel and started debating about what they want to do with their leftover EU.