EU’s long recess gives new meaning to unbearable ‘Dog Days of Summer’ and encapsulates lack of dynamism in its polity

Cillian Murphy as “Jim” in the opening scenes of the film "28 Days Later" and attempting to work out where everyone in the world has gone. (Photo by Sundance/WireImage)


Walking around the European Quarter in August makes you feel like you are in the opening scene of the 2002 post-apocalyptic horror film 28 Days Later.

It begins with Cillian Murphy as “Jim” who awakens from a coma in an empty hospital and staggers out into the streets of London that are entirely devoid of human life.

The reason for London’s emptiness turns out to be the accidental release of a highly contagious virus that turns people into psychotic zombies and has caused the breakdown of society.

It’s not that bad in the European Quarter yet. Its empty streets are the result of the European Parliament going on its summer break at the end of July, with the rest of the EU institutions like the European Commission not to be outdone and following suit.

Technically the summer break for EU institutions finishes at the end of August, though the next plenary session when the parliament meets isn’t until September 11, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some legislators opt for a very gentle landing when it comes to getting back to work in early September.

The vacuum of EU activity for the whole of August serves as a neat illustration of why the famously hard-working US succeeds and moves forward, while the EU feels like it is a bimbling retiree.

And it’s not just the summer break when everyone downs tools.

Once you add up the three-day weekends that many of the EU institutions’ finest and brightest embrace — justified by heading back to home countries on a Friday — that comes to about 156 days (3 x 52), also known as about five months.

In case working only 6 months of the year risks causing too much strain, Belgium has an inordinate amount of national holidays that EU workers enjoy too, including the dubious May 1 Labour Day “celebrations” that often seem more about tearing down everything the EU is meant to be protecting and promoting.

In Belgium the best way to earn money is to work for EU organisations. Not only are you likely to earn more than your private sectors compatriots, you will definitely get taxed less. If you work in the private sector you could easily get hit with around 50 per cent taxes without being a CEO—I can hear the gasps if not thuds of Americans reading this hitting the floor in a fainting fit.

No wonder the US leaves the EU in its dust when it comes to a strong economy and producing an innovative private sector. The very structure and ethos of the EU polity encourages stagnation and failure — failure in terms of choosing to give its blessing not to innovation and risk taking but to languishing in a well-paid job adhering to the consensus and not stirring the pot.

The EU likes to suggest that it has relevance on the world stage and can “project” globally. But how can it when it takes half the year off.

The US, in contrast, does maintain very effective relevance on the world stage. That’s not just down to its work-your-socks-off work ethic, clearly, but the dedication, commitment and energy involved certainly contributes to an effective projection of US willpower and presence globally.

EU leaders also aren’t shy about extolling the bloc’s post-Covid-19 “recovery plan” and “a once in a lifetime chance to emerge stronger from the pandemic, transform our economies, create opportunities for jobs”. Again, hard to see that happening with a four-day work week — is it me, or is there also a bit of a mainstream media narrative about how wonderful a four-day work week would apparently be? — and only working about half the year.

Suffice to say the proclaimed recovery is not happening, rather quite the opposite, in many places around the EU. Germany, once the bloc’s economic powerhouse, is well and truly in the doldrums. The Dutch economy has contracted for the second quarter in a row, meaning the country joins Germany in recession.

Meanwhile, the US is making efforts to entice EU corporations to jump ship across the Atlantic — and is succeeding.

As the EU stagnates, with many fearful that the bloc is in danger of fully deindustrialising, its leaders seem only able to talk about “degrowth”, migration quotas and diversity as solutions.

Perhaps they’ll have brainstormed some new ideas on the sun lounger by the time they return in September. We’ll soon know.