Tanit Koch on mirth and mourning in Germany as Britain voted out
PUBLISHED: 16:48 18 July 2016 | UPDATED: 13:15 21 July 2016
The OUTsch!-headline for “the day after” was a late editorial decision. For hours we had tried different versions of United KingDUMM for Saturday’s BILD front page. It was favoured by many, because of the pun: dumm is German for stupid.
There was some truth in it: the Brexiteers shocked by the sudden revelation that voting out could actually lead to getting out. Young Britons who only weeks before hadn’t even bothered to register to vote now suddenly feeling bereft. The sheer magnitude of carelessness and recklessness. And above all the revolting ease with which Nigel Farage confessed to the Leave campaign’s £350m-worth of electoral fraud – only hours after the referendum result.
Despite all this we didn’t feel comfortable with Kingdumm. Don’t get me wrong: insulting a whole country isn’t completely alien to BILD (Greece will voluntarily testify to that). But Great Britain isn’t Greece. It did not swindle itself into the Euro zone. Its government isn’t expecting to have German taxpayers to bail them out forever. On the contrary: Britain’s EU history is – or should I say used to be? – one of acting in its best self-interest without forcing others to pick up the pieces.
So when the brilliant Jan Gerke from our team of art directors came up with OUTsch! late that Friday afternoon in the newsroom I immediately loved it. It captured my mood precisely. The mourning, the dismay many Germans felt. The sense of loss. It became a powerful front page. I only wish we had never had to run it. But we did.
What we didn’t publish was a short video clip we had prepared the day before: a couple of colleagues from BILD sitting in a news meeting and acknowledging that the 1966 Wembley goal was indeed over the line. BILD had promised to make this huge sacrifice if the referendum result was Remain. This is how far we would have gone, how much Britain within the EU means to us. What remained instead was – cold comfort – Geoff Hurst’s phantom (!) goal. Accom-panied by a very acute sense of phantom pain. We still feel Britain belongs to the European Union, but at the same time we know it is gone.
Gone for good? Not a day has gone by without somebody here asking me whether I see any chance for this historic hit-and-run-accident to somehow be undone. My answer: Very little hope. But after all that happened during the last three weeks – who would rule out yet another weird twist no-one considered remotely possible before?
Most of us stare in bewilderment at Great Britain. The journalist in me revels in what seems to be the Complete Works of William Shakespeare now on stage in Westminster. As a German citizen I’m grateful for a boring display of politicians, by comparison, in the Reichstag. Some are still in denial. Others shrug Brexit off, arguing it’ll be worse for the Brits than for us. And hadn’t they always been cherry picking anyway? But before the referendum hardly anyone here had believed that Britain leaving the EU was a tangible option. Not for that grand nation of economic wisdom. Maybe this explains why David Cameron had such a hard time fighting for EU reforms earlier this year. I remember speaking to a prominent French politician who snubbed his proposals with the disparaging remark “all ze British ever care about is ze city, ze city, ze city”. Well, apparently not. They seemed to care more about migration.
So the other EU members and the Commission should think hard about why it is that Britain – which isn’t even affected by the two biggest challenges in EU history, the Euro and the refugee crisis – opted for Out. And what must be done to keep others from following suit in the midst of maybe unfair but certainly widespread and dangerous disgruntlement about elites, the establishment and European integration.
Creating “unity, not uniformity” in the EU, as former chancellor Helmut Kohl called for last week, should be the task ahead. It will be infinitely more difficult to achieve without Britain. Which makes me wonder why certain Eurocrats prefer to gloat. Hadn’t the word Schadenfreude long been created, this would be the moment. It disgusts me to read about Englishmen verbally and physically abusing Polish immigrants. It is equally harrowing to watch the vindictive behaviour of some Brusselites who go about kicking out Britain in a hey, presto! manner.
If François Hollande wants to rush things then it is to quickly scare off Frexiteers by demonstrating the nasty effects Brexit has for Britain. Parts of navel-gazing Brussels, however, still believe the EU is the most popular girl in school. It isn’t any more. Neither in a European nor global perspective. The United Kingdom, always with that slightly broader vision of the world, has known and shown this for some time. It is why Britain, to the chagrin of some, was such a vital player inside the European Union. And should be. Or, to quote a high ranking German politician: “The EU with Bulgaria and Romania but without Britain? The mere thought of it... That’s not what we committed ourselves to.”