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Brussels beware: we Brits are off and we’re taking our sense of humour with us

Are you following that French-language Twitter parody account of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker? I thought not, writes Justin Stares.

Did you hear that joke Merkel cracked during the last Brussels summit? What, you missed it?

That’s probably because the European Union capital underwent a sense of humour bypass in the 1950s, and the surgery was professionally done.

To say that Brits enjoy an EU humour monopoly would be overstepping the mark – we don’t want to attract the attention of DG Competition. There are indeed amusing Twitter accounts in English run by non-native-speakers. “Is EU concerned?” (@ISEUConcerned) comes to mind – the article has, appropriately, been left out of the handle.

The anonymous user’s sardonic Tweets ridicule the EU’s frequent statements of concern about the fighting in Ukraine. They are often short and snappy: “Gravely”, “Deeply” and “a lot”. It’s a nice contrast to the worthiness that floods through most feeds.

Other anonymous parody accounts look as if they are run by multi-lingual users. @Queen_Europe, “the thoughts of Angela Dorothea Merkel” on the EU, is written in flawless and fruity English by someone with a keen knowledge of German and Germany.

But in general, if you want to laugh at the EU’s expense, you have to go to a Brit. Twitter is a good start: its space constraints are great for parody. Many commissioners get raucously ribbed.

Self-deprecation is the forté of British humour, which means UK commissioner Jonathan Hill is in the frontline.  “See that?” @LordHillEU tweeted on November 4. “I used the term ‘delegated acts’. Getting the hang of this Europe thing”. Hill’s alter ego describes himself as “EU Chicken Commissioner in charge of Fox Policy”.

Humour can on course be a vicious form of attack, as well trained orators know. For chuckles mixed with biting truths, see @Berlaymonster.

Parody accounts are familiar to English-speakers, but the concept is mostly lost elsewhere. One Belgian national newspaper ran a feature last week explaining the EU parody phenomenon to its readers.

Outside of the internet-o-sphere, Brits also fill the little corner allocated to acceptable humour in Brussels. Every year British hacks put on a charity event in a theatre near the European Commission headquarters. Its bloody funny in parts (if you ignore the sketches put on by the continental Europeans) and has become so fashionable that good sports among the commissioners have been known to attend.  Non-native-speakers who believe they have a grasp of English chuckle along to jokes they have clearly not understood.

This is however a marginal activity. Crack a joke in an EU committee at your own peril. If they know you’re British, they might indulge you, as long as you are joking at your own expense. Everyone else tends to take themselves pretty seriously…

Yes, yes, other nationalities do have a sense of humour too. Italian humour is fantastic; the bored press pack would always look forward to Silvio Berlusconi’s arrival. For Belgian humour, take a look at the cartoons hanging in the International Press Club on Rue Froissart – they pull no punches.

But let’s face it: the British are as a nation quite funny. Continental Europeans, less so. That was diplomatic.

Now for the big picture. To judge by the political shenanigans in the UK, we Brits are off in a few years. The long-term British residents of Brussels would probably hang on post-Brexit, but the British community would quickly decline.

How do you feel about a humourless European Union? It would be a dry, sorry place. Kind of depressing.

Who would make up all those great EU myth stories for the press? Come on, admit it – you enjoy reading them.

Do you really want to leave the Irish in charge of Brussels humour?

To be fair, most Europeans know this already. That’s why every other Member State wants to keep Britain in the EU.

Apart from France, bien sur, but that’s because the French have no sense of humour at all 🙂

You can follow Justin’s unfunny Twitter feed @JustinStares. He’s also on Tumblr.

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