Rom-Com 2: The Spurned Lover Strikes Back

Unlike Muscat, whose romance with the EU fizzled into an entirely ordinary marital squabble, Busuttil’s love affair threatens to end in devastating heartbreak for himself

I suppose it tells us something about the illusory nature of Love
I suppose it tells us something about the illusory nature of Love

A while back I wrote an article comparing the Labour Party’s ever-changing EU relations to a classic Hollywood romantic comedy. I’m assuming you’re familiar with the basic pattern: ‘boy meets girl; boy and girl mutually piss each other off; attraction grows out of hostility; love eventually blossoms, but external obstacles arise to keep the lovers apart...’ Etc, etc.

Looking back on that article, I realise I left out the most crucial phase of the three-act structure: the resolution. I outlined the mutual hostility which initially reigned between Alfred Sant’s MLP and the EU... how it began to evolve into a ‘forbidden attraction’ the moment the PL’s new leader Joseph Muscat realised that ‘loving the EU’ was the only way to actually ever win an election... and it ended with Labour overcoming all external obstacles (namely the PN) so that ‘True Love’ may flourish, and everyone lives happily ever after. 

Of course, the whole point was that ‘happy endings’ do not actually exist anywhere in the real world... except, perhaps, in Chinese massage parlours. So it was inevitable that this gushing, blossoming romance between Joseph Muscat’s PL and the European Union would begin to crumble, the moment the two lovers actually lived under the same roof. 

I suppose it tells us something about the illusory nature of Love. If you base that emotion only on your own political exigencies, your relationship is almost certainly doomed. Sooner or later your partner will start making demands... will start reminding you of all the pre-nuptial agreements you had entered, but are now having second thoughts about. 

In a word, he or she will start nagging you. This is what it might look like in a screenplay:

INTERIOR, BEDROOM, NIGHT.

The EU and Joseph Muscat are in bed, looking upwards at a mirrored ceiling. Muscat is smoking a post-coital cigarette. The EU is visibly upset.

EU: Honey: If you love me so much, why are you undercutting my taxation rate to fill your own coffers? Why are you resisting all my efforts at tax harmonisation? Oh sweetie, you’re breaking my heart!’

MUSCAT: [silence]

EU: And then there’s a thing about your friends... I know how much Konrad and Keith mean to you, darling, but... it’s getting in the way of our relationship. How can I tell the folks back home that...

MUSCAT [snappish] That what? And tell who? Your daddy Juncker? What are you going to tell him about my friends? That they did exactly what he legislated for them to do in his own country when he was PM...?

EU: [silence] 

MUSCAT: Besides, you’re not exactly one to complain about Konrad and Keith yourself, you know. As I recall it was YOUR parliament that approved Juncker as the Big Daddy, not mine...”

EU [sobbing] But, honey... you promised me those things before we got married! That you’d change your ways. That was the whole point: you even said so yourself, in your manifesto. That you’d become more transparent, more accountable, more meritocratic...

MUSCAT: [Laughing bitterly] Yes, but that was then. This is now. [Pause]. OK, darling: do you really want to know the truth? 

EU: [silence]

MUSCAT: Do you really want to hear it? [pause] OK, here goes: I didn’t marry you to change my ways. I only married you for your big boobies, honey. [laughs] Yes, that’s right. I want to suck as much funding and foreign investment out of them as I can... then I’ll dump you for the next busty broad who comes my way. Now go to sleep!’

EU: [bursts uncontrollably into tears].

FADE

Well, that’s the Brian de Palma version, at any rate. For as you can see, we have drifted slightly beyond the original romantic comedy paradigm... almost, but not quite, into the realm of the Gangster Movie. Either way, our film has clearly not yet reached its conclusion. We are more or less back at square one – the hostility phase – which means our script-writers have a conundrum on their hands. How are they going to tie up all the loose plot ends to come up with the ‘happy ending’ we all expect?

Hmmm. I think it’s high time for a sequel. Only now, it’s more of a psychological thriller along the lines of ‘Fatal Attraction’. It tells the story of how unrequited love can turn into a dangerous pathological obsession: but while the mood and tone may be far removed from the first movie... I think you’ll find the basic underlying motif is the same. 

It is not just Labour that has changed it attitude towards the EU since the days of ‘Partnership is the better option’. The Nationalist Party has likewise changed its tune: from the glitzy serenade of an Esther Williams musical, to the dark, ominous soundtrack of a Dario Argento horror flick. Like a Byronic spurned lover, all its former love seems to have turned to bitterness and malice.

And what prompted this remarkable change of heart? Oh, the same green-eyed monster that drove Othello to destroy the woman he loved. The same impulse that might earn you a suspended sentence from a sympathetic judge, on the grounds of ‘crime of passion’...

And of course, it’s all Juncker’s fault. Damn it, why doesn’t he just stick to the script? The EU is the PN’s lover, not Labour’s. It says so, right there on the first page. And just look at how much the Nationalists have invested in securing and building this ‘special relationship’, too: 25 years worth of propaganda, costing the taxpayer literally millions of Maltese liri... all aimed at instilling undying love for the EU among the Maltese nation as a whole (and, more pertinently, at giving the PN something to constantly bash Labour with for two whole decades). 

And how does Juncker repay them for all this? By approving Labour’s detested Marsascala power station, that’s how. And even worse, by publicly showering Muscat and his government with praise as they take over the EU presidency... in a ritual that looked and felt almost like a family wedding.

Ooh, I can hear The Godfather soundtrack already. How can this not end in tears?

But at this point I hear you ask: hang on a sec... wasn’t the Muscat-EU relationship in tatters? Didn’t we just see them at each other’s throats over the umpteenth domestic disagreement? How can they now suddenly waltz onto the screen like that, dancing like Fred and Ginger to the same beat?

Ah, but that is precisely why our sequel has had to shift genre. Romantic comedies tend to gloss over the complex realities of human emotions: they suggest that noble ideals such as ‘Love’ and ‘Romance’ really can triumph over the ennui of everyday existence. We all know that is bullshit, of course... yet we all urgently want to believe it isn’t. If people flock to those movies in such huge numbers, it is precisely because the reality they live in is so depressingly different.

Ours is a movie that illustrates the reality of the situation, not the romantic illusion. (Note: you do all realise that I’m pitching for this film to actually be made, right?) It illustrates that there is a limit to how far a political party can exploit something like the EU for its own benefit... and the price to be paid for exceeding that limit is one’s own political credibility.

Muscat’s Labour is already paying that price, and has been for quite some time now. Hardly a day goes by without a graphic reminder of how cosmetic its EU relations really are. Under Labour, Malta has defied the EU on all levels when it comes to corruption and governance: retaining disgraced officials, building up its own network of patronage, resisting fiscal reform... so any claim it might have to respect and cherish ‘European values’ is clearly out of the window. 

No, the PL is only in it for one thing (actually, two): the EU’s big boobies. But this is a plot-twist that has already been revealed.

The PN, on the other hand, is beginning to perceive the existence of political price only now. Having spent two decades patiently linking any form of anti-EU sentiment as a symptom of ‘unelectability’... bandying about the ‘Eurosceptic’ label as though it were an instant ticket to ridicule... forging an identity that was so synonymous with the EU, that anyone would think they were conjoined twins... oh dear, oh dear. Suddenly, it is accusing the EU of being complicit in corruption. Of disappointing the Maltese people (which, somehow, the PN is suddenly qualified to represent) for failing to reflect the bias currently favoured by the Nationalist Party.

There is, of course, a delicious irony in all this. Simon Busuttil is perfectly right, for reasons alluded to in the above dialogue. Of course the European Commission approved the financing of that power station, and did not criticise Muscat over the Panama Papers scandal. Juncker is painfully aware that his own chequered history on the issue of tax evasion automatically disqualifies him as a commentator. Anything he says will be interpreted in the context of the Luxleaks scandal... and more recently it has been suggested that he resisted tax evasion legislation at EU-wide level. There are even calls for his resignation as we speak.

So instead, we got the formulaic answer Busuttil should have expected: seeing as he, of all people should know how the Commission functions. ‘We do not enter the merits of national competency’ (or words to that effect).

Hence the tragic denouement... unlike Muscat, whose romance with the EU fizzled into an entirely ordinary marital squabble, Busuttil’s love affair threatens to end in devastating heartbreak for himself. His complaint can be summed up as: [sobbing] ‘ But... but... how could you??’ It was the devastated plea of a spurned lover, more than the cynical jibe of a jaded rogue. 

How will this pan out in the end? Does it mark the beginning of a complete reversal (the opposite of Labour’s), whereby an ever-more bitter PN vows to wreak an Almodovar-style ‘venganza’ on the lover who so disdainfully repulsed it? Or will Busuttil finally settle into a more pragmatic, less lofty view of the European Commission... and resign himself to the fact that it does not exist merely to supply his party with endless ammunition against Labour?

I don’t know, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to miss the ending to a film like that. Such a shame it still has to be made...

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