In every country I revisit, there always seems to be one key element I always forget. In Belgium, it is how remarkably terrible the weather is.
I arrived at Gare Du Midi under heavy clouds and a drizzle that was almost depressing enough to remind me of home. Perhaps worse, because the weather really seems to make people here more miserable.
My pal won’t be done with his work for a couple of hours, so I make the decision to retire to the nearest suitable bar and find a Belgian beer to drown the rain in.
Still trying to remember my way around this city, I push through Saint Gilles to find a suitable candidate. Through error and rough guessing, I suddenly land on an area that makes memories come rushing back.
Looking out across the city shrouded in grey cloud and damp mist, it’s impossible not to think of the European institutions, given that Brussels is the EU’s seat of power. Belgium was pretty much picked by the major powers by throwing a dart in a map. Germany looked at France, France looked at Germany, and they both settled for literally the middle ground that was fought over throughout history.
Given the size of the Belgian war memorial dedicated to the soldiers that fell in two world wars, it also hits like a rock, why Europe sought to tie itself closer together, rather than push itself apart.
With that thoroughly sobering and miserable thought, and the weather doing it’s best to worsen my mood further, the urgency of that beer begins to augment. I march back into Saint Gilles.
The six months I lived in Belgium were probably some of the most exciting of my life. Believe me, that was not because of Belgium. How I ended up a trainee at the European Parliament is still totally beyond me. Everyone else there had political affiliations, or had come from other impressive traineeships or degrees. My boss at the time who selected his short list had followed only one criteria. He wanted a native English speaker.
So low had the applications been to the traineeship from the UK, even I stood a chance. No wonder the UK has such a cringeworthy and ignorant relationship with the rest of Europe. While the majority of other nations across Europe see the value and purpose of what the EU does, the UK’s media, desperate as ever to shift newspapers, as page 3 tits and yet more exposed paedos weren’t doing the trick, ran a contrived and ill informed smear campaign against the faceless, unelected elite of Brussels who apparently spent their time and our money masterminding the correct angle at which a banana should curve.
Of course newspapers shift when they cause outrage. But there was one tiny, insignificant problem with the UK’s opinion of the EU.
It was all complete bollocks.
Let us begin by evaluating how anonymous and impenetrable the nefarious goings on of the EU are. During my time in the press office my job was to write press releases. Shocking, I know.
Sure, nothing important, I was a trainee working for a Dutch guy with an incredible career history of war correspondence and Dutch broadsheets. He handled the stuff that mattered, I picked up the scraps.
And what might you assume we did with those press releases? Every single committee meeting, of every single committee in the European Parliament, that debated and amended every single report and directive that came down from the European Commission was analysed, read over and compiled into a no-nonsense, easy to read press release, then put on the parliament’s website for everyone and anyone to read. Oh, yeah, and they were translated into every European language that each press release was relevant to, with English being the core language every press officer worked in.
Why does no one know what the EU does? Because they don’t look.
It is thoroughly indicative of the small minded stupidity exhibited by every Brexit voter. Let me give you an example.
A few months back, right wing news sources reported that the UK car company, Jaguar, decided to close its factory doors in England, and move its operations to the Ukraine, for cheaper over heads, and because of financial incentives from the EU.
As this was admittedly a terrible blow to the UK economy and job market, I decided to look into it myself.
Instead of finding news sources, I went straight to the heart of the information, tracking down the original press release from Jaguar.
It turned out, the chief reason for Jaguar’s move was financial uncertainty caused by nothing other than the UK leaving the EU. Brexit, fucking the UK economy, one company at a time.
But why read the original source material, when you can read your favourite news outlet, become easily exploited by people wanting to drive traffic to their website, and waste time directing anger in completely the wrong direction?
That, in a nutshell, is the problem with a section of the UK public. They actually believe what they are told by people who need them to read their poorly written and crass articles. Any ability to question and reason, if it ever existed in Britain, has fallen by the way side.
And, wait, it gets better. These easily led people were then actually asked their opinion on something they did not know or understand. And that is why the UK is now, in a word, fucked.
Who in their right mind would ask idiots who don’t understand or work in foreign policy to decide foreign policy? More idiots, it would seem.
It’s really just a basic recipe to social unrest and mass political disillusion. Economic recession, loss of jobs, disenfranchisement, and then, the arrival of demagogues who make promises to the easily led which they can never deliver.
Why is Jaguar moving to the Ukraine? To get the work done cheaper. That is capitalism succeeding.
Why did the poor have to bail the banks out? Because someone had to foot the bill and it’s never going to be those who can avoid it. That is capitalism failing.
At no point in any of this, is it to do with immigrants needing NHS care or setting up shops and communities in neighbourhoods most Brexit voters have never been to. They aren’t stealing our jobs, our jobs are being moved elsewhere because capitalism is about creating the largest margin of profit. Any belief that immigrants are out to get you, is a classic example of divide and conquer. Blame each other, fight amongst yourselves, we’ll just keep making money.
It was never the EU that imposed austerity on the Great British public. That was done by the UK’s own government. Loss of jobs was caused by austerity, not by immigrants. This was clearly stated by the government at the time, and yet here we are with the rise of the right, and all common sense being thrown out the window.
A final thought. There was at one point, an idea for the EU institutions to introduce a new taxation across all member states, called the FTT, the Financial Transaction Tax. In short it was the closest the real world came to the hopeful desire of us liberal snowflakes – the “Robin Hood Tax”, a tiny percentage taxation on all financial transactions performed by major financial institutions that would then be put back in to national tax revenues. Unlike promises made by Brexiteers on the side of the bus, this genuinely would create vast swathes of revenue for the UK. It seems so obvious. And yet, it is impossible to make happen. Why?
And now, the UK, whose economy is driven by the financial sector in London, is making a run straight for the door. Coincidence?
Who doesn’t enjoy a juicy conspiracy theory.
Anyway, this is what happens when I’m left with too much time on my hands. My friend Alex is finishing work, and I think getting dinner and another beer is a far more upbeat use of my time.