It's time for a break from Brexit, Trump and Europe's populists

Frankly Speaking

Picture of Shada Islam
Shada Islam

Managing Director at New Horizons Project

It’s been a tough few months. Everyone is exhausted, nerves are frayed, patience is running out. No one is at their best.

More hard work lies ahead, including elections to the European Parliament, decisions on the ‘future of Europe’ at the EU summit in Sibiu in Romania and managing an on-off trade war with the US. New senior EU policymakers to appoint, deadlines to meet, fights to be fought, compromises to be crafted.

Stop. It’s time for a break, time with the family, perhaps even a spiritual retreat. But turning off after weeks and weeks of being constantly tuned in can be a challenge.

Here are three (very personal) suggestions on how to use the next few days to refresh the mind and soul.

First of all, give Brexit a break. It’s pointless to try and keep up with Brexit shenanigans. Despite EU pleas that British politicians should not waste the extra time they were given last week to forge some kind of a decent Brexit deal, the British Parliament has gone on holiday and British politicians are engaged in a fierce ‘Brexit war’.

There will be even more messy, irritating days ahead. Perhaps miracles can happen and another meaningful vote will result in a deal on an orderly British withdrawal before May 22.

Or not. In which case, Britain will take part in the European Parliament elections (welcome back good friends – you know who you are), there could be a new British Prime Minister, perhaps new elections or even a second Brexit referendum.

For the moment, let’s stop the Brexit obsession

One day Britain will become a normal country again, respected and respectful, with responsible politicians who don’t think flirting with the Far Right is fun or prefer to find solace in colonial fantasies instead of facing up to life in a difficult 21st century. For the moment, let’s stop the Brexit obsession.

Second, take a tip from New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and stop giving additional publicity and visibility to those who terrorise, murder and maim – or who encourage evil with their hate-mongering and toxic pronouncements.

Ardern, widely praised for her humane and compassionate reaction to the horrific terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, has insisted that she will not give the killer the attention he craves by saying his name.

“He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless”, she has said.

The media has a part to play in preventing the wider public from hearing his extremist views, Ardern notes, adding: “Of course, people will want to know what is happening with the trial. But I would hope there are ways that it could be covered without adding to the notoriety that this individual seeks.”

European leaders and the media should do the same with the crop of extremist politicians so desperate for our time and attention.

This means being less obsessed with men like Thierry Baudet, the new Dutch Far Right populist ‘wonder boy’ – and questioning some of his crazy opinions. It also means fact-checking and questioning the pronouncements of other publicity-hungry xenophobic and racist European politicians and holding them to account.

More information on the men and women who are working for positive change would be nice. There are many at the local, national and European level who are struggling to get their voices heard.

Stop giving additional publicity and visibility to those who terrorise, murder and maim

Zuzana Čaputová, Slovakia’s first female President, is an important example of a politician who has won voters with a calm, tolerant and open message of hope. She is also a rare illustration of progressive politics over populism in a region crowded with angry macho ‘strongmen’.

Third, stop worrying about Donald Trump. The US President’s regular Twitter condemnations of the EU as foe and adversary do not mean that transatlantic relations are totally broken.

The EU-US alliance still has its value, not least because of NATO and the massive trade and investment flows between Europe and America. But there are other regions and nations which are looking to Europe for trade, security and technology.

Europe should embrace the ongoing geopolitical transformations by reaching out more energetically to new friends and partners as well as rivals and competitors.

And as they search for strategic autonomy and establish their own mature dialogue with Japan, China and India, EU policymakers should ignore squeals of protest from Trump and his friends and allies.

The next few months are going to be hectic as new ideas and initiatives – some crazy, some serious – jostle for primacy and attention. For now, take a break.

That means no arguments about Europe’s future and no Brexit angst. Avoid giving more power to Europe’s over-publicised populists by constantly saying their names. And then come back after Easter, energised, refreshed and ready to vote.

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