Why not a ‘Commissioner for Funny Walks’ while we’re at it?

And people are surprised that others might be having second thoughts about remaining in a European Union that is taking this sort of direction?

One of the frustrating things about writing in English is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut way of expressing ‘surprise’ at the surprise expressed by others.

See what I mean? It already looks like I accidentally hit the ‘copy-and-paste’ button, and duplicated an entire phrase by mistake. But no: that feeling exists, and I often get it when other people claim to be ‘surprised’ about certain things: especially things which, on the surface, seem normal, natural and entirely predictable.

Like, for instance, when British comic actor John Cleese (of Monty Python/Fawlty Towers fame) came out in favour of Brexit a couple of years ago.

Some of the reactions I saw, mostly from people who claimed to be ‘Python fans’, came close to calling Cleese a traitor. How could their favourite comedian, who had made them all laugh so much over the years, not also share their own political opinions and convictions on absolutely everything?

And why would a satirical writer whose entire output has consistently paddled against the currents of popular opinion – at least one Monty Python movie was banned for ‘offending public sentiment’, but they were all pretty subversive in their day – not suddenly fall in line with the widespread, popular consensus of our times?

‘Python fans’, my dead parrot. I can only conclude that these people have never watched a single Monty Python sketch, or a single episode of Fawlty Towers, in their lives.

Let’s start with Basil Fawlty, shall we? What would he have had to say, I wonder, about the prospects of Great Britain pulling out of a European Union led by… ‘ze Germans’?  

Probably something like: ‘Wunderbar!’… before goosestep-marching directly out of the Union, holding one finger under his nose, and chanting ‘Zieg Heil’ every step of the way.

As for Basil Fawlty’s views on Europe’s ‘open-door policy’ – the main bone of contention in the entire Brexit question – well, just ask ‘Manuel the Spanish waiter’. Actually no, wait: the only answer you’ll ever get from him is… ‘Que?’ (What do you expect? He’s ‘from Barcelona’, remember?) So just watch the entire series instead – I’m sure you’ll find in on Youtube somewhere – and work it out for yourselves.  

Every single episode simply oozes with the typical British isolationism of today’s Brexiteer: not to mention an undisguised contempt for pretty much everything that lies on the other side of the English Channel (all the way down to Malta, by the way: we got a special mention in ‘The Hotel Inspectors’… as honorary ‘Arabs’).

And yet, when the same man who wrote all those lines (and delivered most of them himself, too) suddenly starts speaking exactly the same way in real life…. his own fans claim to surprised, disappointed and even ‘betrayed’.

I mean… it’s not like John Cleese ever led us to expect anything different, did he? Even (or should I say especially) his celebrated Monty Python scripts are replete with the same attitude. Consider the portrayal of the French in ‘The Holy Grail’; or the Jews/Palestinians in ‘Life of Brian’; or the total disdain for absurdist bureaucracy in ‘The Meaning of Life’…

Above all, consider the Flying Circus’ celebrated ‘Ministry of Funny Walks’ sketch: which takes a direct swipe at the stuffy self-importance of people who wield a lot of power, but have no real ideas or vision to back it up.

With a little anachronistic hindsight, it could almost have been a swipe at Juncker’s tendency to ‘walk funny’ whenever he suffered from… nudge, nudge, wink, wink… ‘sciatica’. I even discerned glimpses of those ‘funny walks’ in that final procession out of the UK’s own House of Commons – wigs, swords, goosestep marching, and all – as it closed for ‘prorogation’ last week.

That, in a nutshell, is the Python-esque view of all the pomp, ceremony and mindless bureaucracy we associate with the corridors of power in virtually every country… so why not extend it to also to the European Union? Especially when – let’s face it – the cap fits so well?

Just look, for instance, at the list of new Commission portfolios unveiled by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week. For starters, we will now have not one, but two ‘European Commissioners For The Economy’. But… wait for it… only one of them is ‘An Economy That Works For The People’.

I can only presume, then, that the other Economy, run by the other Commissioner, will not be ‘working for the people’… so who else will it work for? The banks? Goldman Sachs? Or maybe former Commissioners who have already walked through Europe’s revolving doors?

But that’s just the start. On closer scrutiny, it turns out that “Valdis Dombrovskis (Latvia) will coordinate the work on an Economy that Works for People and be the Commissioner for financial services, supported by the Directorate-General for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union.”

Paolo Gentilone from Italy, on the other hand, will focus on… um… whatever’s left of the Economy after you subtract ‘financial services, financial stability, and capital markets’ from the equation.

And that’s before considering how much else of the Economy Portfolio has already been subtracted, and then subdivided among other portfolios which also deal with a bunch of other, mostly unrelated things.

‘Budget and Administration’ is now in the hands of Johannes Hahn (Austria); meanwhile “Sylvie Goulard (France) becomes the next Internal Market Commissioner charged with working on industrial policy and promoting the Digital Single Market”… whilst also being “responsible for the new Directorate-General for Defence, Industry and Space.”

Let’s see now: budget, internal market, industrial policy, the digital economy… all that’s gone. (Oh, and ‘employment’, too… but I’ll come to that later.) So… what’s left for Paolo Gentilone to even do, as Commissioner for Economy, after all the major planks of his portfolio have been dished out to other Commissioners like they’re none of his business?

I have no idea, but I must say he has probably just landed himself the cushiest Commission job in EU history. He is technically Europe’s first-ever ‘Commissioner for Practically Nothing’ But even that pales to insignificance, compared to some of the other newly-created Commission roles. Like the ‘Commission For a Stronger Europe in the World’, for instance.

Erm… ‘Stronger’ in what specific sense, might I ask? Militarily? Probably not, because (as already noted, if you were paying attention) the Defence portfolio is in Goulard’s hands. Economically and/or financially? Unlikely, seeing as we already have at least five different EU Commissioners taking care of all that.

Hang on, let me guess. Physically stronger, perhaps? If so: why is the same Commission not also responsible for Health? (Or even Agriculture, to ensure that all good European citizens ‘eat their spinach’, like Popeye told them to?)

But the one that takes the biscuit has to be the ‘Commissioner for Protecting Our European Way of Life’. I mean… what the blazes are we supposed to even understand by that, anyway? What ‘way of life’ do they mean? And who is the ‘we’, implied by the word ‘our’, in that extraordinary title?

I somehow doubt my own ‘way of life’, as an EU citizen living in Malta, is in any way comparable to that of, say, Margaritis Schinas from Greece, who landed that portfolio… or Ursula von der Leyen from Germany, who invented it… or pretty much any other EU citizen in any other EU member state, for that matter. Still less do I see how Schinas intends to ‘protect’ this mysterious ‘way of life’… and, more specifically, from what.

What I do know, however, is the last people who offered me that sort of ‘protection’ were ultra-nationalist, far-right parties like Pattrijotti Maltin: who pledged to ‘fight Islamic immigration on the beaches’ (sometimes by defending the crucifix in classrooms… but mostly by eating pork sandwiches in public); and also to rid Malta of all the perversion brought about the government’s recent ‘liberal, progressive’ agenda: i.e., rolling back all the achievements of  Malta’s gay community, among other minorities, in recent years.

Ursula von der Leyen can’t possibly have any of that in mind, can she? Of course not. Why, the very idea is about as preposterous as… as…
…well, as John Cleese suddenly coming out as pro-Brexit, after a lifetime impersonating a typical Brexiteer on the screen. And sure enough, most of reactions I have seen to date were once again… ‘surprised’.

It seems to ‘surprise’ some people, that a former member of the German centre-right Christian Democratic Party would consider ‘immigration’ to be a leading threat to ‘our European way of life’…  even though that’s what all right-wing European parties clearly believe anyway.

And they are even more ‘surprised’ to discover that the astonishingly populist, neo-fascist choice of name for this new Commission role, would comprise a portfolio including… wait for it… ‘migration and security, as well as education and employment.”

Never mind that any one of those issues, in isolation, would require at least one whole Commission portfolio to itself (I have yet to hear of a single Cabinet of Ministers, anywhere in the world, that doesn’t have a dedicated Minister for Education, for instance).  No: all those issues now get lumped under ‘Protection of Our European Way of Life’… like that’s the only thing that matters.

I suppose, by that token, that ‘Security’ now means ‘protecting Europeans from marauding hordes of un-European immigrants’; ‘Employment’ means that ‘the immigrants Europe relies on for cheap labour had better not be too demanding’; and ‘Education’ is now ‘a tool to defend Europe’s conservative, rightwing, inward-looking mindset (against the above-mentioned threat posed by migration, of course)’.

And people are surprised that others might be having second thoughts about remaining in a European Union that is taking this sort of direction?

Honestly, not even Monty Python’s Flying Circus could possibly beat that for surrealism.

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