The Mad Men of Smith Square: A Lonely Battle To Save Europe in Britain

By Juan Moreno and Christoph Scheuermann in London

Contempt for Europe is rising all across Britain, driven by politicians and media who blame Brussels, often absurdly, for everything from the declining economy to male impotence. A small group of pro-Europeans are waging a bizarre campaign against the country's agitated majority.

A group of men, all clad in dark suits, have gathered in a central London conference room to save Europe. They have responded to an invitation proclaiming that "the fight back begins" -- and the seriousness of the situation is reflected in their faces. It is late on a Wednesday afternoon a fortnight ago -- one week after British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a referendum will be held on Britain's membership in the European Union. That has opened the door for the country to exit the EU, which is something that the men in this room want to prevent at all costs. Ever since the day when Cameron said it was time to "settle the question" of Britain's relationship with Europe, these men have had a mission.

The building in which they are forging their plans is Europe House -- a political flashpoint. Up until just a few years ago, this was the Conservative Party's headquarters. Margaret Thatcher once planned her attacks against Brussels here, and Cameron used to have an office on the premises. Now, the building on Smith Square houses the offices of the European Parliament and the European Commission. The mass-circulation Daily Telegraph has dubbed it the "propaganda headquarters." This should actually be a good place to defend the European ideal against its adversaries, but it's a lonely place -- the last bastion.

Fight, Battle, War

Not many people have come to the meeting, 150 perhaps, and they can all easily fit into the windowless room. Members of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party are attending the event. This is a cross-party movement primarily of older men with thinning hair, and very few women. The event was organized by Peter Wilding, who now grabs the microphone. Wilding, who has the charisma of a brush salesman, is the director of the Center for British Influence through Europe, a newly founded group that is lobbying for Britain to remain in the EU. He shouts into the room: "Help us to win, help us to fight back."

He says he wants to assemble an "army of supporters" to fight Europhobia in Britain. Wilding's voice has the pitch of a general who has to lead his troops into a decisive battle.

A young, bald-headed political scientist named Petros Fassoulas is attentively listening to him. Fassoulas understands this battle just as well as the man on his right, a former journalist named David Gow, and the man a few steps further away, an independently wealthy millionaire by the name of John Stevens. All three men are veterans. Fassoulas, Gow and Stevens started the fight for Europe long before this evening, each on his own front, each with the knowledge of how quickly this battle can be lost. Fight. Battle. War. These are the unfortunate terms of this conflict, which has taken on such importance because it has to do with Europe, that mighty idea, and Britain, which is overwhelmed by the sheer might of this idea. Why have Britain and Europe drifted so far apart?

That's a question that Fassoulas, 36, asked himself early this month when he headed for Bristol, a two-hour train ride west of London. Fassoulas is the chairman of the European Movement UK, an association that was founded in 1948 in The Hague, under the chairmanship of Winston Churchill, to help the nations of Europe reconcile their differences. World War II is long over, but Fassoulas sees himself in the same situation as when his organization began its work. He travels throughout the country to help the British reconcile their differences with Europe. He, a Greek, tells them that Europe is good for Britain.

Audiences Boo

Fassoulas grew up on Zakynthos, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. In the late 1990s, he went to Wales to study political science, and he now lives in London, but his English still sounds as if he were lampooning a Greek. Audiences boo when he counters his opponents' arguments during a panel discussion. A guest at a debate forum once compared him to Comical Ali, Saddam Hussein's head of propaganda during the Iraq War, and during a radio show a politician once asked him: "Why does a foreigner tell us what we have to do?" Fassoulas tries to laugh off such attacks. Perhaps it would be better if a Briton spoke out -- but there are practically none willing to do so.

With the donations from the some 1,500 British members of the European Movement UK, Fassoulas has just enough money to pay for his train tickets, but it's not enough for a small salary. Three months ago, he had to close the movement's office because it was too expensive. The interns at the association now work from home. Serving as association chairman is Fassoulas' hobby, so to speak. He earns a living from his day job as a consultant for a consortium of tax experts.

He has brought along support for his appearance in Bristol. Sitting next to him on the stage is an official from the European Commission, a woman from the city administration, and three members of social initiatives that receive EU funding. They serve as witnesses that things are going well with Europe, better than the British think they are. Fassoulas gazes at the audience -- three dozen people, some of whom are even under the age of 40. For an event titled "The Legacy of EU Funds in the Regions" on a Monday evening in the southwestern part of the country, that's not bad. He asks the man from the European Commission to approach the lectern.

The official arranges his notes and begins to talk about what the EU has achieved. He says that over 25,000 jobs in Britain alone have been created with aid from Brussels, and nearly 1,000 projects have received support. Then he lectures on cohesion policy and labor market mobility, but puts the audience to sleep as if he had distributed Valium. After 20 minutes, the next witness steps up to the lectern.

'I Am Convinced We Will Win'

Fassoulas says he's convinced the issue has to become less emotionally charged and more levelheaded again. Reasonable arguments are based on facts and, indeed, he intends to fight the Europhobes with figures. "I am convinced we will win," he says. When his opponents become hot-tempered and attempt to fan people's fears, Fassoulas remains calm.

But it doesn't help his position any that his adversaries are at an advantage in most debates. They call for change, which always appeals. Fassoulas argues by citing the budget of the EU Cohesion Fund, while his rivals point to the centuries in which Britain has repelled every invasion. Fassoulas sounds like an accountant; his opponents sound like patriots. The opponents have the advantage that their goal means change, even if they do nothing but evoke the politics of the past. Fassoulas says it's easier to promote change than to maintain that the status quo should be maintained.

Even today, some in Britain are still delighted about an event that occurred roughly 8,000 years ago. Rising sea levels in the North Sea washed away the land bridge that had existed until then. Britain was free, an island in the sea. This was the origin of all differences with the Continent. Britain was a forerunner in introducing constitutional rights and its own religion. A maritime nation that created an empire that stretched from Canada to India and as far south as New Zealand, it overcame every dictatorship, every revolution and every disaster that caused the Continent to go up in flames. But while the British Empire was collapsing, Europe was uniting to become a major power bloc.

In Bristol, three women from the audience stroll by Fassoulas on their way to the juice buffet. They are wearing red polo shirts emblazoned with the name of their employer, an aid organization that helps disabled and socially disadvantaged individuals to establish their own companies. The project is partially funded by the EU. The three women were already fans of Europe before they entered the room. Most people here are in a similar situation. They are fans of the EU because it distributes money that the British government no longer has. The woman from the city administration says that London would be better off staying on the sidelines.

Rewarded with Money for their Faith

That evening in Bristol, Fassoulas, the missionary for Europe, was preaching to people who had already been converted because they had been rewarded with money for their faith. The figures that Fassoulas uses in his bid to win the country over to Europe are also rather depressing: The British economy continues to shrink, the banking sector is in ruins and the national debt is higher than ever. The Scots are currently considering seceding from the UK, and the big question is: Who is responsible for the whole mess?

Back at Europe House, in central London, event organizer Peter Wilding says it's necessary to form a front against "them," so "they" can't claim the union jack for themselves, because "they" are not the true patriots, but rather the men and women in Europe House. He closes with the words: "Help us strike back." If this were all a movie about the end of Europe, a string quartet would now play Bach, followed by a round of applause.

Article...
  • For reasons of data protection and privacy, your IP address will only be stored if you are a registered user of Facebook and you are currently logged in to the service. For more detailed information, please click on the "i" symbol.
  • Post to other social networks

Comments
Discuss this issue with other readers!
6 total posts
Show all comments
    Page 1    
1.
thorpeman@sky.com 02/14/2013
Zitat von sysopContempt for Europe is rising all across Britain, driven by politicians and media who blame Brussels, often absurdly, for everything from the declining economy to male impotence. A small group of pro-Europeans are waging a bizarre campaign against the country's agitated majority. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/lonely-group-battles-to-save-europe-in-britain-from-tabloid-lies-a-881679.html
What utter tripe we have never been aligned with Europe that has always been the last place on the planet we have ever had an interest in. We are a traveled trading nation, our weekly shopping basket has soared in price because we have restricted ourselves to buying food produce from Europe rather than importing from New Zealand, the West Indies, China, India, Canada & Australia which all produce better & cheaper food than we can get from the European Union but because of the EU & Its single market we have to apply EU tariffs to imports of food from our traditional supply sources.
2. Whose money is it anyway ?
chris@drakemarine.co.uk 02/14/2013
It's all very for supporters of the EU to make a fuss about all the EU funds spent on projects within the UK but they conveniently forget to mention the most important fact : As one of only four net contributor countries, all the money Brussels bureaucrats graciously grant to fund projects in the UK is essentially them giving us back some of our own cash ! If we didn't pay into the bottomless pit that is the EU, We would essentially be cutting out the middle man and would be able to fund many more projects ourselves. British citizens might start to take the European Parliament seriously when they vote to stop the ludicrous expenditure on a second parliament in Strasbourg.
3. The Futile War Against Euroscepticism.
sylvesterthecat 02/15/2013
I enjoyed this article although the number of Eurofanatics was underestimated somewhat. I've no doubt that the mad men of Smith Square do exist and that they hold meetings across the country, talking mainly to the converted and perhaps a few dog-walkers sitting at the back, who've slipped in out of the rain. We have politicians who are pro-Europe but by and large they keep their views to themselves. No doubt they will carefully 'test the wind' before they finally decide exactly where they stand regarding Europe (as politicians will.)If they finally discover Euroscepticism, they will of course claim they were never anything other than Eurosceptics. Those Eurofanatics who do raise their heads above the parapet, tend to limit their contributions to the debate, to a series of lurid and desperate predictions as to what will happen to us if we leave Europe. They're quite impressive but as they were the same people with the same dire warnings as to what would happen to us if we didn't join the Euro, it has tended to limit the effect of their warnings now. The only event that will turn the Eurosceptic tide will be that the EU and the Eurozone, against all the evidence, turns out to be successful. It must be a very lonely life being a Eurofanatic in England.
4.
Atvarnic 02/15/2013
I read this publication with interest but until now have never left a comment however on this occasion I will. What utter Rubbish, the article rubbishes the UK press and then proceeds to paint a picture of both the UK and the reasons its looking at withdrawal from the European union which wouldn't be out of place in a Monty Python sketch. To begin with lets get something straight on the economics yes the economy is going through a difficult patch at the moment and probably will be for some time as the economy deleverages. However to say the average person blames Europe for that is wide from the mark although the somewhat sneering tone adopted in the article is out of place given the Euro zone issues and the decline in continental economies which is undoubtedly making recovery in the UK more difficult than it might otherwise be. England has been around for the best part of 1000 years the UK for 300 or so in that time the economy has boomed and Bust and been effectively bankrupt many times but has never ever defaulted on its debts, True this bust has been exacerbated by the former labour governments irresponsibility with the public purse but recovery will come none the less and lets not forget even now public debt is still lower than the Euro average and unemployment lower than most other Euro nations. The article also manages to get in the continental obsession with thee British empire in their it might surprise some on the continent of Europe but very few if any British people even remember we had an Empire let alone talk about it as endlessly as overseas reporters do I can assure readers that when I go out with friends the British empire is not talked about. The absurdity of this article is highlighted with claims that the British wish to pull out of Europe because of false hoods published in the right-wing Murdoch press about bar maids boobs and vibrators being returned by Brussels decrees. I can only assume that this is meant to Europeans a bit of a laugh at Britain's expense. The reasons most people would like to see Britains withdrawal can be summed up as follows. 1) the loss of border control has meant an influx of migrants the like of which this country has never ever seen before While that migration cannot all be laid at the feet of Europe 2/3rds of it can be. This is not xenophobic islanders against all foreigners an 5,000,000 or so have arrived no one knows how many. This has put pressure on schools ,hospitals ,roads and has increased pressure for additional house building on green fields to accommodate them on what's already the most over crowded place in Europe. I and most other residents do not wish to live in Mega City one formerly known as the UK because we can no longer decide for our self who lives here. 2) Regulation over 60% of all regulation now comes from Brussels this has two major drawbacks The British way used to be different from Europe's in that Under British law any thing which is not proscribed is legal unlike the Napoleonic system where you can only do what you're allowed to do, The second drawback is that whereas most British obey these regulations to the letter eg animal well fare and rightly so we see other Euro nations simply ignore them completely. 3)Our financial contribution is already out of proportion to the value that Europe brings to us and is steadily becoming more out of Kilter The UK has been a net contributor since joining we have helped pay for Roads and other infrastructure projects all over the continent and what do we get in return lectures from other european states who have been net beneficiaries on being Good Europeans (code for give us more money). 4) The trade gap the article quoted some ridiculous statement that The EU exports more to the UK than the US and China combined well I have never heard that spoken of over here However the Figures do show that the UK imports £45 billion more from Europe than it exports to it, this figure is partially down to the single market which exacerbates our weakness in traded goods and yet prevents it capitalising in the services sector where its strong. I could go on and on but by this point I'll wrap up with one more factor and that's the right for the UK people its electorate to make its own decisions via the ballot box and determine its own future in the world for good or ill rather than have decision forced upon it by what is rapidly becoming the EUSSR and we all know what happened to that. PS Der Spiegel it may be a problem with translation by could you please try to get grown ups to write your articles or at least get them to so some proper research rather than produce a piece which appears to have come from some first years student rag. PPS I notice that the European settlement on spending was not reported in your publication is this because possibly the UK is not as isolated in its concerns about Europe as you would have us believe.
5. Perhaps the title shoulf have been The Sad Men of Smith Square
Iwantout 02/15/2013
In one sentence you sum up one of the most corrupt aspects of the EU “They are fans of the EU because it distributes money that the British government no longer has.” The EU has to buy its friends in the UK because it simply does not have popular support. When one remembers that the UK (along with others including Germany) is a net contributor to the EU it would perhaps be more honest to remark that the overwhelming feeling is that if we kept our own money we would have more to distribute ourselves. (Oh, and create more than the 25,000 jobs) Regarding the media, please can I remind you of two salient facts. Firstly originally all the media were supportive of the EU, many still are and certainly the broadcast media are generally pro EU. (See http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/our_work/govs/independentpanelreport.pdf ) Secondly there is considerable academic evidence that papers, magazines etc tend to print what they believe will be popular with their market and therefore promote sales. So it is entirely reasonable to say that the balance of printed media coverage on the EU actually follows the views of the population rather than shapes it. You made sure that Winston Churchill was mentioned early in the article with the implication that he would be pro EU, if I might I will give you a quote back which makes his view of Europe absolutely clear. “We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not comprised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.” But for goodness sake he has been dead since 1965 and the World has moved on. The fact that you accept there are practically no Britons prepared to speak out for the EU after 40 years of membership must surely tell you something about the prevailing view in the UK. You might also look at the nature of the postings from your UK readers on so many of your articles, not many pro EU voices. As a final plea, could you please differentiate between the EU and Europe. They are not the same thing.
Show all comments
    Page 1    
Keep track of the news

Stay informed with our free news services:

All news from SPIEGEL International
Twitter | RSS
All news from Europe section
RSS

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH



From DER SPIEGEL


European Partners
Facebook
Twitter