As per a universally un-read 541 page withdrawal agreement ratified earlier this week by the EU, the UK will formally end its membership in the European Union.
Despite Boris Johnson’s proclamation that a deal had been reached it is clear to everyone responsible for coordinating or executing this decoupling that this “deal” is nothing more than an agreement that there will be many deals to come. The door is more-or-less open for any concession to be made by any party at almost any time before a final deadline slated for the end of 2020. Next to nothing will change until we have agreed on how it will change. What a Deal!
European leaders have expressed doubt regarding the feasibility of the short time frame, with EU leaders suggesting more time is needed, while the UK leadership opting to hard code the end date. It should make for some absolutely mind-numbing journalism come year’s end.
At this point it seems that even media outlets have grown bored of our ultra slow-motion Brexit melodrama that reached its denouement with the UK election of December 12th. Bojo roundly won, much to the chagrin of basically anyone whose read a wikipedia page on 20th century history and doesn’t have their personal wealth tied to the artificially bullish global financial markets. Now we’re left with the gritty details of what must be negotiated, or what lawyers refer to as the very-billable part of the cycle.
The UK mission to the EU has been seeking to hire like mad, asking applicants to identify in a short essay what they believe are the biggest issues facing the future of the UK-EU relationship. Sure, it looks like the type of crowd sourcing a recently graduated Bain or McKinsey consultant would suggest but maybe screaming encryptions into the infinite darkness of our collective unknown future will yield tangible insights, you know something actionable.
Critically, should you wish to work on either side of the debate table don’t say words like “longue durée”, “Kondratiev cycle”, or “World System”. The ultimate and immutable presupposition is of course that we are cruising along at the end of history, something akin to the sweet still waters at the end of Prince Caspian’s journey in that Narnia book. I had a pithy rejoinder but I can’t quite put my finger on it, something about a falcon and a falconer. I’m sure it’ll come to me later.
The EU’s smug pre “deal” posturing is turning into a trademark northern European scowl at the realization that we now need to get 27 countries to agree on something. At times like these I like to take a deep breath and reflect on the fact that the EU’s greatest achievement has been uniting 28 countries that had the habit of engaging in bloody generational imperialistic combat with their neighbors for the last 2000 years. All it took was the privatization of all our critical municipal services, and now you can get Gouda in any supermarket in Europe, though I’ve heard from senior sources that Tesco and Sainsbury have a way better selection.
A Parisian cab driver drinking an espresso out of paper cup told me the best take I’ve heard on the EU. Basically, it’s an island of misfit toys, a place where politicians who have no domestic viability can go and listen to the pitches of lobbyists away from the prying eyes of a public that’s happy to think of Europe as a facilitator of city trips and Erasmus parties. I’d like to point out that this is:
– Firstly, only kind of a Thomas Friedman joke.
– Secondly, an entirely true conversation.
Upon closer inspection our cabby friend is not entirely correct. as an example, Karel De Gucht was investigated after his wife sold half a million euros worth of Fortis shares just days day before the stock collapsed in 2008 rendering him unelectable in Belgium, and yes he was promptly made a European commissioner the following year, and sure he became the chief negotiator for the failed TTIP agreement, and yes he was humiliated on German television for not having even read the report the EU had published on the economic impacts of the TTIP agreement, but I forget what my original point was. Oh yeah, that’s right, look if it’s really a home for the politically homeless why isn’t Bernard Wesphael in the EU parliament? I rest my case.
Meanwhile on the isles; Scotland, Norn Iron and Wales are decrying a constitutional crisis because England, a country that once brutally colonized them, took their natural resources, eliminated their languages and killed all their ruling clans, has made a decision that explicitly goes against their democratically expressed wishes. No one panic, this will certainly all just ebb away if and or when our dear leaders gesture to some pseudo-Keynesian infrastructure project that brings jobs back for a couple years, like a nice pipeline or LNG facility.
All joking aside, I love the EU, despite that fact that it has become a political kaleidoscope of European national politics. I’m far from a Christian Democrat but I like Merkel. My three favorite Merkel moments are “Frau Merkel Guten Tag”, and dealing with Putin’s dog despite her fear of dogs (www.youtube.com). Merkel is built Ford tough. While I find her political beliefs to be antithetical to mine it’s nice to see that the EU is being led by a competent politician.
The EU is also our best way forward, a framework that on the one hand allows us to compete on a global scale, and on the other prevents us from straying too far from regional interests. Over the din of drunk parliamentary interns at Place Lux reassuring one another with UK v EU GDP projections, a real power politics is developing in the background. In this moment I feel a lamententation for our beloved Europe (I you too England), perhaps best encapsulated by the last paragraph of the short story, The Dead by James Joyce:
“Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
By Alexandre D’hoore