Europe United: A Goal Makes It, an Offside Brexit
Mankind invented games when it figured out that its life and world can be miniaturized, simplified and represented in metaphors. A game can compress physical and metaphysical (social, political, economic) space to about the size of a rectangle in the grass or a wooden board and, for the sake of education or entertainment, (re)produces a societal figment in which human relations appear to detach themselves from the mundane, though not from its laws. The stakes, rules and interactions seem somewhat less pressing within the jurisdiction of the game, though they are often accompanied by intense states of mind, similar to the real world counterparts that they emulate: here, too, cooperation and competition are rationally calculated and viscerally experienced. Football is no exception to this rule; a mix of geopolitical atavism (as an imitation of a territorial battle) and economic organization (the division of labor among positions in the playing field) beyond its absolutely bizarre biomechanics (the tool / weapon is not wielded by hand, but by foot), football became, in a short span, the most popular game in the world, generated the most profitable sports-watching industry, and did away with borders warding off armies, although it does feed fodder to pointless urban wars.
Europe these days displays a subtle, near-schizophrenic side to it. It hosts a festival that brings nations together while, in its chanceries, a divorce of epic proportions is under preparations. 65 years ago, France and Germany melted the steel of war and smoked the coals of peace, trying to turn several centuries’ worth of barbs and spats exchanged between one another into a jointly built, solid structure to withstand the test of time. The whole continent was expected to create a space for a single market and common policies, in a “game” of good intentions, but with clumsy means to achieve them. In 1973, the United Kingdom was invited to unite with the integration-oriented continent, in a bid for geographical restoration: erstwhile, Britain seemed closer to the New World (the protagonist of another “exit” some two centuries earlier, after having had enough of British imperialistic mercantilism), interested in helping its ex-metropolis emerge restored, but suitably pliant and de-imperialized, from the siege of the Nazi industry’s war machine and the biting edge of its steel. The Brits adhered to united Europe, but with a very particular view of trade and investment in mind: free trade, not centralization; a global, financially competitive euro-city, not a loss-incurring contributor to the euro-budget; the unassailability of the British Pound, and driving on the right side.
These two events, at loggerheads, speak to one another: both the UEFA Euro 2016 and Brexit feature the one and the same EU. We therefore have an EU of nation states that no kind of rebranding could derail from the mental architecture that triumphed in the 19th century; in a Utopian world, the European “demos” is related to the “New Man” conceived by Marxism-Leninism. There are signs of nationalistic stubbornness in the UK itself, where England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all bring their own “national” squads. We then have a European Union in a stressful state of alert against terrorism, in which member states see the open borders of the European community as an unintended invitation for foreign perils to come. We also have an EU of the “middle grounds” that seeks, in fact, to sweep under the carpet all sorts of shortcomings, betrayed by the public finance crisis in the Eurozone that laid itself over a fiscally heterogeneous area. Lastly, we have an EU that wants “smart, green and inclusive” growth, championing solutions of the “one-size-fits-all” kind, solutions that, in reality, fit nobody, and European citizens begin to worry that there is no European Union anymore; only the nations, fed up with the freedom of movement that the others enjoy.
Regardless of how we look at it, political Europe looks more like a game, one played by professionals, but with amateur spectators on the losing side in the end. The “political game” is distinguished by the fact that it is played at the expense of third parties (the spectators), in contrast with the competitive game played in a market economy where the stakes consist in the satisfaction of third parties, and the failures to achieve it impact the players themselves – namely, the less inspired entrepreneurs. In its pure form, purity being a criterion that politics doesn’t really live up to, the game is a manifestation of freedom that engages our “fullest reality”. Solomon Marcus volunteered this splendid definition: “thought moves forward in a game from the known to the unknown, from the predictable to the unpredictable, from the certain to the problematic, from randomness to strategy. A game is not associated with ease and superficiality, but with creation and sensitivity”. Changing the perspective, games can be classed as either “zero-sum” games (one player’s gain is another’s loss), or games “with a positive sum” (the net total of gains and losses is positive). Football is a “positive”, zero-sum game, whereas politics is rather the other way around, although literature is ambiguous on this matter, and those who flee ambiguity opt out of it.