The European Project

Could you be less committed?

| | Reading Time: 2 mins

This entire rant may get invalidated by a single comment from an English friend, however, I suspect it won’t.

I was recently reading an article, “How remain failed: the inside story of a doomed campaign” by Rafael Behr in The Guardian. I am told that The Guardian was not in favor of leaving the European Union. This quote struck me:

“Polls showed that many voters were unaware that a remain vote was the party’s official position, a confusion exacerbated by Jeremy Corbyn’s manifest ambivalence about the entire European project.”

I’ve bolded the words “European project.”

Merriam-Webster defines the noun form of project as:

  1. a specific plan or design : scheme
  2. obsolete : idea
  3. a planned undertaking: as
    1. a definitely formulated piece of research
    2. a large usually government-supported undertaking
    3. a task or problem engaged in usually by a group of students to supplement and apply classroom studies

None of these definitions encompasses my understanding of the European Union. I read this and I think that connotatively we tend to use the word project with two meanings:

  • Project meaning a hobby. A project is often something you’re doing in your spare time in your garage. It can be like a kit-car or an interest in sculpting garden gnomes. You do it and either aren’t really committed and could drop it tomorrow or are very committed and embarrassed by the level of commitment.

  • Project as an assignment that you may or may not agree with and that may still be canceled or superseded. A project at work isn’t something your company does all the time.

By constantly referring to the European Union as the “European project” the British are seeming to voice their constant non-commitment. This language isn’t new and based on my little bit of research seems to be uniquely British. I feel like people have been sitting around in the UK for years saying cute things like, “Oh yes, Bob, in addition to being your Uncle, is very dedicated to the ‘European project’, ‘tis such a pity to see him tilting at windmills like that. Crumpets, crumpets, corgis and the Queen.” Ok, so they probably don’t say that or use air-quotes around the words, but this is what I imagine.

They say language shapes our beliefs. If this is true then BRExit makes more and more sense. The commitment was never terribly strong. There was always a distance. I wonder how British people react if they read articles that explicitly say the “European Union” or “our membership in the European Union.” Does this stronger language make the connection seem stronger to them. Does it make it harder to rationalize withdrawing amongst those in favor of leaving?

So UK’ers am I completely misinterpreting your British English? Is it bad that I wanted to write “English English” there?

PS: This is not an attempt to turn this small collection of my ramblings into a solely BRExit based blog. It just happens that these two topics came up in a row.