This tweet caught my eye this morning:

My first reaction: why would the EU even care?

My second reaction: even if the EU did care, there is nothing the EU can really do about this anyway.

And also then, beyond that, even writing this, and writing it this way, is rooted in a superiority complex of the Brits (well of course the EU must care about this) and also the assumption that the EU playing hard ball over something is wrong for the EU to do. Would any Brit write similar about the USA determinedly defending its own interests? No, I doubt it, because the assumption would be that that’s just what the EU does.

Were we to then dig further still, and assume that – for some reason – the EU did want to try to win the battle of the hearts and minds of the British people, would the EU (and, I presume, we sort of mean the EU institutions here – and especially the European Commission) possibly be in a position to win that battle anyway? The answer there is clearly a no. Hell, even the Labour Party, which is supposed to be the opposition in Westminster, cannot get a look in when it comes to landing a blow in the communications battle with the Tories. To hope that the joint efforts of Ursula von der Leyen and Maroš Šefčovič could shape the headlines in the Daily Telegraph is, to put it mildly, a rather hopeful proposition.

I think there is also a further cause of the misconception here, and that dates back to the change that happened in December 2019. When Johnson and the Tories won the General Election that was it for the EU side, the point of no (short-term) return was crossed – Britain would now definitely be leaving, and with an unreliable and populist Prime Minister armed with a hefty majority, the EU retrenched to defending its side. Rejoin, or indeed even any sort of normalisation of UK-EU relations, was then and still is not even close to viable on the UK side, and will not be at least until Johnson and Frost have left the scene – and possibly not even until the Tories are no longer in power. With that in mind, the European Commission strategy has to be two-fold: to constrain the worst excesses of the UK side, and to shore up support for Ireland and try to make the UK maintain its commitment to what it agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland Protocol, and Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Now that might mean that British pro-EU people might be annoyed. Why, they might ask, is the EU not showing much flexibility regarding Northern Ireland (or indeed regarding a whole host of other issues that have cropped up throughout Brexit – from handling COVID border closures to Britain’s non-participation in Erasmus)?

The answer is that, for the moment, the European Commission correctly sees the UK as a lost case. Correctly sees a problematic state with a land border with the EU with an unreliable government that is a problem to be contained rather than solved. Correctly sees that defending the EU in the eyes of the populations of the 27 EU Member States is more important than even participating in the hot headed discussion in the British Tory-leaning press.

So sorry Anand, the EU might be terrible at comms in general. But that isn’t the problem here. The EU is behaving rationally by staying out of this. And one might hope that an academic heading a think tank might see it that way too.

9 Comments

  1. Austin Defry

    UK moving on to the next stage of politics and has returned to its entirely rational attitudes to most things EU.

    Apathy.

  2. Claudio VdA

    Sorry, I am really unable to see the point.
    Was EU patient with UK, despite UK skyzophrenia? Yes.
    Was EU negotiating until the last minute, despite UK was asking for having a cake and eat it? Yes
    Now we have an agreement, Johnson already said it was wonderful, and that’s all for me.
    If after few months he changed his mind… who cares? My dose of patience is finished.
    I care more about what people from Serbia (we bombed them, do you remember?) think about EU than people from UK.
    UK wanted to leave, dreaming the day of the freedom. Now day is arrived: enjoy your freedom and have fun with it.

  3. JohnnyBGoode

    I agree 100% with you but believe that Anand Menon didn’t deserve your time and effort to write this blog post. Time and time again he has demonstrated his British superiority complex and either unwillingness or hopelessness to put himself in the shoes of the other party, not unlike passionate Brexiteers. He has not the slightest idea or interest to understand how EU citzens see the UK and the behavior and actions of Johnson, his cabinet and party.
    I just feel sorry for people who seek advice from him.

  4. Terry Hobdell

    Excellent analysis from here in Ireland you will note a polite but slightly distant tone We are obviously highly involved but there really is no answer to a really stupid position so stay shtum

  5. O’Donnell-James

    10 out of 10!

  6. Nigel Morris

    Maybe Europe just cares.
    Maybe it cares what Brits think about it.
    Maybe it cares what third party countries who may do business with Europe think about Europe’s behavoiur and attitudes.
    Maybe Europe thinks its citizens care about how they are perceived in the rest of the world.
    Maybe these things matter to grown ups.
    Just sayin.

  7. I agree except that, as a Remainer, I’m not annoyed by the entirely rational and predictable EU stance.

  8. Excellent response! I am increasingly tired of how Anand fails to see the degree to which he swallowed exceptionalist kool-aid. At the end of the day the EU is a cluster of small countries and a few bigger ones that survives as long as the little ones can trust the bigger ones. And that is why Ireland will not be abandonned. The issues with Poland & Hungary are far more urgent than the Daily Express’ most recent unreasonable tirade which are as predictable and unavoidable as the tide.

  9. James Ifill

    I would go even further..What is clear is that Britain, having left the EU still have not mentally and emotionally emancipated itself from the EU and probably never will.
    Every context is viewed through the prism of the “war” to leave and the media is certainly not allowing the country to move on.
    What is also becoming clearer is a realisation of no tangible benefits of leaving so the country is in an even bigger war with itself. In the words my West Indian Grandmother would always say about lies and deception..”Lies are loans that sooner or later would have to be repaid.!”…The Banks are calling!!

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