EU chief attacks nationalists as 'unpatriotic' and compares them to alcoholics

Frans Timmermans said nationalism made societies 'weak'

Jon Stone
Wednesday 23 August 2017 20:26 BST
Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission
Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission (AFP/Getty Images)

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A top EU official has launched a passionate attack on nationalists and nationalism – arguing that the ideology makes societies “weak” and is unpatriotic.

Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, compared nationalism to alcoholism – arguing that it created a “short period of exaltation followed by a long period of headaches”.

Jean-Claude Junker’s deputy argued that protectionism, the “Siamese twin” of nationalism, could “destroy the internal market and disrupt international trade” – though a Commission spokesperson later denied that he was making a veiled reference to Brexit.

He was speaking in a video recorded to commemorate Black Ribbon Day, which is observed across Europe on 23 August each year to commemorate the victims of totalitarianism.

“Nationalism is like alcoholism. A short period of exaltation followed by a long period of headaches,” Mr Timmermans said, striding amongst the gravestones of soldiers killed in European wars.

“Nationalism makes us poor because it’s Siamese twin protectionism will destroy the internal market and disrupt international trade.

“Nationalism makes us weak because of its eternal seeking of enemies, its disdain of others, its need to feel superior makes cooperation with other nations to collectively guarantee our freedom and security much more difficult.

“If nationalism makes us weak, poor, and morally insecure, how can it claim to be patriotic? I maintain that nationalists are unpatriotic: a true patriot is proud of his nation and wants it to be strong, peaceful, prosperous, values based: to achieve that a true patriot knows he needs unity, he wants openness, he craves cooperation with others. He sees the strength found in compromise, debates, and unity.”

He argued that “to be a patriot is to be a European” and that “to be a European is to be a patriot”.

His comments come after Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, told The Independent that the EU had a “vital role” to play in resisting the rise of totalitarianism.

A European Commission spokesperson denied that Mr Timmermans’ comments were a veiled criticism of the Brexit vote.

“I would suggest not to construct a narrative that is simply not there. I think if you watch the video you will see a very powerful message which is as general as it is timeless,” he told reporters in Brussels when asked about the video.

“It re-states the values on which the European Union is built and it very firmly and very eloquently rejects a narrow and extreme vision of patriotism and its Siamese twin patriotism.”

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