The Complainers Club

Cameron and Tsipras portray their countries as victims of the EU and its policies and demand redress, privileges and special conditions.

This article was first published in Spain in El País on 27 May 2015. Translation by Carla Hobbs.

The British Prime Minister David Cameron is drawing up plans to bring forward a referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. Cameron wants the British people to endorse a new relationship between the UK and the EU, a relationship that has yet to be negotiated and whose nature is completely uncertain. The United Kingdom already enjoys all kinds of exemptions in its arrangement with the EU (existing outside the single currency and the Schengen agreement on the abolition of border controls, whilst also limiting its annual contributions to the EU budget).  But this doesn’t seem to suffice and so Cameron now threatens to leave if the UK does not receive new privileges and exemptions.

Now to the southeast corner of Europe. At first glance, there is little in common between the Conservative Prime Minister educated at the elitist Eton boarding school and Alexis Tsipras, the young and charismatic student leader who ascended the ranks of the Communist Party of Greece to lead the radical left coalition that won the elections in January 2015. Yet Tsipras is on the same collision course with the EU, who he also depicts as an aggressor, responsible for all the ills suffered by the Greek people. Both portray their countries as victims of the EU and its policies and demand redress, privileges and special conditions on pain of leaving or provoking a financial catastrophe. With their exorbitant demands, both increasingly draw closer to the exit door and subject all the other EU members to constant blackmail.

But they are not the only ones that approach the EU with a mentality based on grievances and the notion that “the EU owes me”. In Poland, the ultranationalist Andrzej Duda who has just won the presidency similarly understands the European Union to be a source of political and moral corruption. He could well band together with the astonishing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who seems to harbour ambitions to replicate Putin. It will come as little surprise if France and Germany, weary of blackmail, are preparing a plan to integrate further and leave these complainers behind.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

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