Economic crisis │ European anger at Britain

2 March 2009

Europeans are getting increasingly angry at Britain (and Britons) for causing the current economic crisis together with America and Americans. This is not a well-researched piece of analysis but based on impressions gleaned from talking to people, reading the papers and watching television, mostly in France, Belgium and Germany.

While there are many reasons why Continental Europeans feel aggrieved and angry at the British, two perceptions stand out: Europeans have been ‘preached on’ and Britain has not been a good team player. Mr Brown, unfortunately, personifies these two trends that seem to irk the mythical ‘average Continental European’ more than the equally mythical ‘average Briton’ thinks.

Back in autumn last year when all hell broke loose in the US and the UK, the predominant feeling in Europe was Schadenfreude: finally the Americans and the British had their come-uppance! For years, les Anglo-Saxons have been pointing out the failures of the European social market economy, and dangers of a ‘big’ state. Europe was a dinosaur destined to extinction. European growth was sluggish compared to the US or the UK, and many Europeans bore the lecture with gritted teeth. But look now! It’s their casino capitalism that’s causing misery. Ha!

Towards the end of last year, when realization dawned on most people that the problems were not going to be solved quickly, the Europeans woke up to the fact that this is a huge problem that’s going to hit them hard too. Of course, they were not absolutely innocent, but many thought that they were conned into doing things by the Americans and Britons that brought about this disaster. It makes you feel better if you can blame someone else for your misfortune. Not much different from Mr Brown, who still persists in blaming the world economic conditions (i.e. America) for the difficulties faced by Britain.

To make matters worse for the British, the political narrative changed in the US with the inauguration of President Obama. It removed that hate-figre of anglo-saxonisme: Mr Bush. Europeans feel sorry for Mr Obama, and look on with utter incomprehension the intransigent and bone-headed ideological position of some Republicans. The American and British states have nationalized more of their banks than most Europeans: who is the socialist now? Anyway, this was not President Obama’s fault. After all, he was not in government when the economy started to collapse. He seems nice too: he does not talk down to you and he seems willing to listen to you. Mr Brown, on the other hand, was and is in government and he likes to lecture.

Many Europeans feel that Mr Brown treats Europe as most Britons treat the Eurovision Song Contest: a bit of a joke. Perhaps even worse, he treats it with disdain. It’s bad manners. British Euroscepticism is overrated as much as Continental European pro-European sentiment is overestimated, however, many Europeans feel that Britain has been arrogant. Britain makes snide remarks from the side, and refuses to be a committed member of the team, despite signing up to it. Mr Brown not turning on time to sign the Lisbon treaty in December 2007 characterized his juvenile sulkiness and arrogance. Britain has quite a lot of good will in former Eastern bloc countries, but that seems to be eroding over the past few years. And, in the end, Germany has more economic clout than Britain.

The current anger felt by Continental Europeans towards Britain is all the more dangerous because of resentment that has built up over a long period of time. Britain may need Europe more than the other way around, but if this perception of arrogant Britain continues, there may be little sympathy if things go really pear-shaped in the UK, but further annoyance and anger at Britain for dragging Europe into more mess. However, the most likely result is ridicule: Britain will again be the sick man of Europe. We shall see.