Brendan O’Neill

A beginner’s guide to Euroscepticism

A beginner's guide to Euroscepticism
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As a long-time Eurosceptic, I should be happy about the Johnny-Come-Latelys now swelling the sceptic ranks. Following Euro-institutions’ wicked treatment of Greece, many European liberals have finally realised that Brussels might not be the hotbed of liberalism, internationalism and bunny rabbits they thought it was. So, bit by bit, they’re becoming the thing they once looked down upon, the thing they once forcefielded their dinner parties against: Eurosceptics.

But I’m not feeling very welcoming to these latter-day doubters, currently live-tweeting their Euro-existential angst and clogging their newspaper columns with tortured questions about whether the EU really is a ‘great achievement of enlightened internationalism’. (Answer: no, you donuts.) For two reasons.

Firstly because it’s just too late. Where the hell were you guys in 2001, when the Irish people rejected the Nice Treaty and were subjected to a tirade of abuse from EU officials before being made to vote again? Where were you in 2005, when the Dutch and French peoples were libelled by EU officials as racists and xenophobes and ‘the generally pissed off’ for having the temerity to reject the EU Constitution? Where were you in 2006 and 2007 when some of eastern Europe's elected leaders were told by Brussels to tone down their political rhetoric or face being found in contravention of EU obligations? Greece is far from the first European nation to have its democratic impulse nulled by Brussels bureaucrats.

I’ll tell you where you were back then: you were on the side of the Eurocrats sneering at the pesky masses. You treated criticism of Europe as a kind of mental malaise: Europhobia. And you let it be known that all good people, like you, back the EU, whereas only bad people — racists, nationalists, fat blokes with the St George's Cross tattooed on their arses — oppose it. You formed a chattering-class ring of steel around the EU, deflecting all critical jabs and barbs as the unhinged mutterings of the generally pissed-off. So, yeah, your Damascene conversion to the cause of Euro-questioning is a tad irritating, to be frank.

The second reason I’m not rolling out the red carpet for these people coming around to a way of thinking they once branded a phobia is because they’re doing it wrong. They aren’t genuinely opposed to the EU; they’re just really angry with Germany. In fact, much of this oh-so-late Euroscepticism, especially from the left, is really anti-German sentiment in disguise. It’s the return of the British disease: a hives-like allergy to all things German and a rash fear that this nation is once again plotting to subject all of Europe to its black, unforgiving boot.

Today’s Guardian holds the ‘seemingly indestructible’ Angela Merkel responsible for wrecking the Euro-dream. This echoes an old New Statesman feature which branded Merkel ‘the most dangerous German leader since Hitler’ (Godwin's Law alert!) and ‘the biggest threat to global order’. Eat your heart out, Isis, you have nothing on Ms Merkel. These late-to-the-party Eurosceptics love to brand Germany as ‘over-controlling’ and ‘disciplinarian’, because, well, that’s what the Krauts are like, right?

Writing in the Guardian, Yanis Varoufakis, Syriza’s erstwhile, leather-jacketed finance minister, embarrassingly squealed over by British leftists as if he were a cross between Lou Reed and Rosa Luxemburg, uses the word ‘discipline’ three times to describe wicked Germany. They dream of a more ‘disciplinarian Eurozone’, he says. Zey love zeir discipline, zese Germans.

Others have been less shy in using the Nazi slur. Owen Jones says Merkel, ‘the most monstrous western European leader’, is reminiscent of the Charlie Chaplin character in 'The Great Dictator', who is of course based on Hitler. Merkel commands ‘machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts’, says Jones. The Germans as machines — a foul British prejudice. Paul Mason branded a critic of Syriza a ‘Nazi collaborator’ — because of course Merkel’s Germany is one goose-step away from becoming a Hitlerian hellhole, so anyone who is sympathetic to it must be a Nazi.

This Germany-mauling guff is grating for two reasons. Firstly because it’s so goddamn lazy of Brits to fall back on the caricatured view of Germany as a machine-like, monstrous nation always itching to take over Europe. Seriously, guys, the war ended 70 years ago — stop refighting it. And secondly, this Germany-bashing misses the true, profound problem with the EU. Which is not that one nation wants to run the show. It’s that all nations, all political elites, including ours, and including Greece's, have pooled their sovereignty into Brussels in order to allow them to do politics in a more technocratic, far-from-the-madding-crowd fashion. Many criticisms can be made of Germany. But it isn’t looking to conquer the continent like a hybrid Chaplin-Hitler monster. It is simply part of the same process through which all Europe’s political classes, for massively undemocratic reasons, skulked off to Brussels in recent years in order to ‘do politics’ far away from us, their electorates.

This is why the new Eurosceptics annoy me. They’re late, and they're polluting what ought to be a serious critique of the rotten EU with their nasty anti-German prejudices. Go away, guys; we were better off without you.