Commentary by Louis VIS
Had it not been for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil not much news would have happened. Who could complain? Yet whilst the world had turned its attention to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, a few politicians managed to make headlines and ruin the Brazilian party.
On Monday, the European Parliament published a picture on its Facebook page, which showed that the European Union would have collected a staggering 395 medals in Rio had it been a country. Quite an achievement when the United States ‘only’ collected 120 medals. As a proud European citizen, the European Parliament’s picture would have been the sort of post I, like many of my friends, would share on social media. Yet somehow this post annoyed me. A few weeks ago in Rio, an Italian swimmer stood on the podium holding an EU flag. In her press conference, she explained that you could both be a proud national of your own country and still be a proud European citizen. She is right. Having been born in Belgium to British and French parents, I am incredibly proud of my multinational heritage and identities. Yet I still strongly feel European. Identities are not mutually exclusive. One does not have to choose between feeling French or feeling European. One can be both. As Richard Corbett, a Labour MEP, explained on Twitter during the EU referendum campaign, one can simultaneously support Yorkshire in cricket, England in rugby, Team GB at the Olympics and Europe in the Ryder Cup. Thus when I saw the European Parliament’s post, I was left disappointed. Publication of the sort allow tabloid newspapers and populist politicians to claim that the EU’s only aim is to create a single European superstate. They are very mistaken but some people do believe it. To quote an Italian friend I recently saw in Brussels, ‘The EU will never become The United States of Europe, rather it will always be a Europe of United States’. Whilst EU officials and MEPs may think posts of the sort help people ‘feel’ more European, I fear that on the contrary, they only serve to anger those most opposed to the whole project. Brexit shows that it is a risk not worth taking.
Across the channel, many British newspapers and politicians highlighted the incredible achievement of its Olympic athletes. Not only did Team GB handsomely beat the number of medals it had achieved at the London 2012 Olympics (a record in itself), but it also finished second and above China in the medal table. A stunning achievement. Unfortunately, Brexit politicians quickly took advantage of the situation claiming that the team’s success at the Olympics proves that Great Britain would prosper outside the EU. Not only does this ignore the fact that Britain has not yet left the EU, and thus achieved the result as a member of the EU itself, but it also ignores the fact that sport has nothing to do with the EU. Sports and politics do not usually work together. This did not prevent the Conservative MP, Heather Wheeler, to tweet a picture of a podium showing how many medals would have been won by the former, yes former, British Empire when compared to the EU and the rest of the world. Her inappropriate and offensive tweet once again proves that Brexit politicians do not live in the same century as the rest of us. Rather than reforming the country to compete in a globalising world, Brexiteers dream on taking us back to a world long gone.