January 24th, 2013
05:57 PM GMT
London (CNN) – “Let’s stop all this talk of two-speed Europe, of fast lanes and slow lanes, of countries missing trains and buses, and consign the whole weary caravan of transport metaphors to a permanent siding.”
The irony is unmistakeable, but this was a serious call to plain speaking. David Cameron’s words, delivered early on in his seminal speech on Britain’s in the European Union, came as a cruel blow to those of us spending our days attempting to illustrate each tiny increment of this crisis with a language that often falls short.
The consequences are difficult to contemplate. We must wave goodbye to the train of European federalism, end all talk of capital flight, and as for the good ship QE…well, she will be consigned to the scrapyard of mere acronyms. And once you do that, there’s no going back. It’s a one-way ticket.
Much like the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, the potential mortality of our metaphors leaves us with a nagging doubt. Can we survive without this linguistic safety net? No sooner had Cameron finished speaking, the cries of protest against a “Europe a la carte” started up, and the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius hit back with a sporting salvo: “Imagine Europe is a football club and you join, but once you're in it you can't say, 'Let's play rugby.'” Had he simply said, “you can’t pick and choose your European experience,” we probably wouldn’t have remembered.
Europe’s problems, however, go much deeper than the next clever headline, and if Britain is to find its place in this continent in crisis, the chances are, it will require a new way of thinking, and with that (reluctantly I admit) must come a new way of speaking, and writing. At the Davos World Economic Forum, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said the root of the continent's problems was leaders “promising illusions” and “ending up with taxes and debt and sovereign debt crises.” Illusions, or allusions…Europe may find it easier to navigate the road to recovery, if it leaves both behind.