The one heralds from the EU’s south-eastern periphery and resembles a young, affable history teacher. He harks from the extreme left and represents a country that was once an influential empire famed for its wisdom and the birth of democracy. Since he came to power it has a reputation for profligacy and debt. The other heralds from the EU’s western periphery and has been likened to a reptilian house-mistress of mathematics. Her natural habitat, where she feels most secure, is the extreme right. She harks from a country once famed for its common good sense. Since she came to power her country has developed a reputation for delusional grandeur.
Tsipras and May may not resemble each other visually, politically or even culturally. They come from the opposite extremes both figuratively and literally and they would probably loath each other on a personal level – yet they have more in common then either would care to admit. They both labour under the impression that they can single-handedly take on the centre ground of the EU and mould it not just to their political preference but their national advantage as well. The fact they both owe their position to a sympathetic national left-wing/right-wing media, a wave of populist misunderstanding and a heavy dose of emotional fervour probably explains why they are quite convinced the rest of the EU will crumble and fall the moment they enter into negotiations with the centre ground.
Both Tsipras and May have fallen for the age-old condition of being surrounded by political flatters who oil their entrenched position with hum-bug and false assurances. When being elected (or chosen) on a tidal wave of home-grown nationalism no wonder they end up imagining they hold a hand of cards glittering with trump aces, kings, and queens when in reality they can play little more than the two of spades. One year on from taking on the EU big-guys our affable history teacher is beginning to realise he has a lousy hand. After a pleasant summer of economic good news May is still convinced that she can make Brexit a success – as if uttering the mere words often enough will transform an act of extreme stupidity and self-harm into a canny victory.
Tsipras, a larger than life personality with TV-star appeal, failed to leave much of an impression on his EU creditors. The majority in the centre decided that profligacy, combined with writing off bad-debt is not a future model to aspire to. May, cool as a cucumber, will soon learn that offering errant states sweet-heart deals, favourable conditions and lots of yummy benefits without paying into the pot is not a future model the centre ground wishes to aspire to either.
The two core planks which prop the EU up are inviolable and non-negotiable. The first are the core EU values of democracy, rule of law and non-discrimination. The second is the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. Give an inch on either and the structure will begin to crack leading to a potential collapse. The central structure of the EU is sound and functional. Why bother changing the architecture when it is already doing a fine job? If the outer edges decide to break free so be it – those left holding the centre together will simply strengthen their foundations and build up better defences.
The EU core is strong and more determined than ever to continue the benefits of harmony, as opposed to fragmentation, prosperity rather than stagnation. The British electorate, subject to an unrelenting narrative of euro failure and EU corruption are convinced the EU project is doomed. Those living on continental Europe see a different reality. The euro works for them. The EU works for them. They do not fear the EU and they have good reason not to. The EU is not fearsome. It is neither an autocracy nor a kleptocracy but built on the values of democracy. It is useful and serves a function that Europe needs.
The periphery on this occasion – be it from the EU’s south-eastern border or the EU’s western frontier on the other hand is weak. Feeble little hammers trying to smash and break a centre that is not yet ready to be fragmented into useless crumbs but which has every intention to grow and engage in exciting, new initiatives and projects that are capable of strengthening not weakening Europe. Both Tsipras and May are letting their electorates down – but when has that ever bothered a leader who rose to great heights on emotional lies as opposed to reason and common good sense?