I can’t think of anything good to say about being English in Germany yesterday. You try and put a brave face on it but you soon remember why the word Schadenfreude was invented here. Of course it took about 5 seconds for somebody to come up with the witty comments along the lines of “the second Brexit in a week.” It gets funnier each time I hear it. Which has been a lot. Ha ha.
Mind you, who can blame them? The past 10 days have seen the English make themselves look like a complete bunch of idiots. First came the football hooligans, then came the politicians apparently self-destructing after the vote to leave the EU and finally came the “Three Lions” exit on Monday night. Now getting beaten at football is no disgrace – anyone can get unlucky despite fighting bravely. But the manner in which “we” were beaten yesterday was excruciating. I wonder what they do in those exclusive “training camps”? I thought they practiced football but not so sure any more.
Fortunately I was able to escape the office and had an informal meeting with one of our customers and some business acquaintances/friends in a small town near Düsseldorf. The weather was perfect and we were able to enjoy a cold Riesling in the garden before conversation turned to business and more serious matters. Everyone at the table was kind enough not to mention football and we had a sensible and balanced conversation about Brexit. The oldest guy at the table, Gerhard, put forward an interesting argument for the EU. He had just come back from Croatia and was reminded that only 25 years ago (just after I moved to Germany) a vicious war was raging down there and for quite some time “Europe” wasn’t bothered. Of course eventually the war ended with the help of NATO forces, but not until after serious damage was done. Gerhard said he knew that the EU wasn’t perfect but it is worth taking the pain if it keeps Europe peaceful. Nobody thinks conflicts are going to break out – until they do.
We then got on to the subject of who paid for what in the EU and quickly came to realise that we didn’t know what we were talking about. So I looked it up. Germany was the largest net contributor with about 13 billion, followed by Britain with about 8 and half billion, France was just behind Britain. These are the figures from the EU Commission’s website so I think we can take it for granted that they are not “tweaked” to make the UK look good. What surprised me more than anything is that Poland is the largest net benificary by a mile. Poor old Greece is only getting about 5 billion a year (and has been for the last decade) but Poland has coined in a whopping 12 billion! Of course this presents a real problem for the EU – it will be losing one of it’s largest income-generators. No wonder they are upset. What didn’t surprise me about the numbers is the explanation of how the EU Commission calculates them. It is priceless, especially this sentence: “The list has been compiled by the Commission, and it should be noted that the list of which countries are net contributors or net beneficiaries can be calculated differently with other amounts as the result”. That seems to sum up EU Bookkeeping fairly well. Here are the numbers, but if you want you can have other numbers.
So, as what should England do? A few years ago somebody revived the slogan “Keep calm and carry on.” The first time I saw it, I thought it was a great thing and a quality of which England could and should be proud. (Of course, I would soon be sick to death of seeing that slogan and a thousand permutations after it “went viral”). Understatement, the stiff upper lip, everything stops for tea. These are good things and are admired here in Germany. Unfortunately, the current image that England is projecting around the world is the exact opposite. Which brings me back to football – before the game we saw Joe Hart “psyching himself up” for the game. Fist-pumping and bashing his head while probably telling himself something like “come onnnnn… you are the greatest”. Twenty minutes later he had flopped weakly to his side and let in what we used to call a “pea-roller” for Iceland’s second goal. It’s a bit of a metaphor for modern England. I would have preferred to see somebody just quietly getting the job done. So my advice to Mr Cameron and Mr Johnson, both regular readers of this blog, is “Keep Calm and Carry On” – printed on a tea mug with a Union Jack background. There is nothing to be gained by boasting what a fantastic deal Britain is going to get. Calm down, shut up, get to Brussels, get the negotiations done and get back to work.
I would also like to extend my kindly “shut up and get back to work” advice to all the other EU Leaders, Herr Juncker and especially the leader of Scotland – Wee Jimmy Krankie*.
The local train into Cologne this morning was a good example of how diverse this country has become. Next to me a woman was talking into her phone in Polish, opposite me was a woman in a (Burberry design) hijab and behind me were a group of, I think, Indians. Quite a few of the other commuters were clearly from southern Europe. A perfectly integrated, diverse society. Oh, I forgot, we were all looking at our phones and ignoring each other.
I am now on my way back to Stuttgart on the fast ICE train. Well, not so fast because we are twenty minutes behind schedule. This means I will miss my connection in Mannheim and end up being an hour late. It is a myth that German trains all run on time. If, however, I am over an hour or more later I can apply for a refund. But the bods at Deutsche Bahn are not stupid. The form-filling nightmare you have to go through to get any money back is so irritating that you just don’t bother. Now it’s time for me to keep calm and carry on.
*non Brits will need to google that.