Perspective: Britney Spears and the European Union

By Sophie Boulter, World News Editor

A quick listen through Britney Spears’ discography can demonstrate the hypocrisy of the European Union. OK, I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. Presenting itself as a positive force for human rights and justice, the bloc purports to exist in the liminal space between a washed out, trumped-up America and a belligerent, Orwellian China. This is, of course, a lie. 

The EU is notoriously difficult to join. In moves reminiscent of Spears’ 1998 hit, “…Baby One More Time,” the Balkan States attempted to join the bloc after receiving encouraging messages from the EU — “Give me a sign” — only to be told that their membership was denied, but to try again next year after improving their human rights records. “Hit me, baby, one more time,” indeed.

The bloc’s denial of membership to the Balkans is ridiculous, given the human rights record of two of the EU’s member-states. The illiberal democracies of Poland and Hungary disregard human rights with impunity. 

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party continues to wear down the independence of its judiciary, passing a law forbidding judges from criticizing judicial appointees from Poland president Andrzej Duda. The Polish government uses COVID-19 as an excuse to prevent peaceful anti-government protests from occurring.

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has warned Poland to respect human rights actions, but the EU is unable and unwilling to take direct action against the state. The CJEU’s warnings have done little beyond questioning Poland’s actions — as Spears queried in her 2003 banger, “Don’t you know that you’re toxic?” — and reinforce the government’s impunity.

The situation in Hungary is similar, if not worse. The Hungarian government routinely questions the impartiality of the judiciary and the media and encourages discrimination against the LGBT+ community. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party blocked EU initiatives to condemn human rights abuses in Russia and China. 

Orbán himself called migration into Hungary a “poison” and referred to Muslim migrants as “Muslim invaders.” 

Hungary directly undermines EU strategy, preventing its pursuit of a human rights-based foreign policy. And yet, the EU does nothing beyond releasing hackneyed, lukewarm statements against Hungary’s human rights record. Orbán, meanwhile, continues to string the EU along, just as Britney plays her head-over-heels lover in her 2000 jam “Oops!… I Did It Again.”

It is time for the EU to let Hungary and Poland know that they’re “not that innocent.” 

The EU could reform its “Treaty on European Union” to allow it to take direct action against human rights abusers within its own borders. Yet, Hungary and Poland could work together to block EU reform; individual member-states can easily veto large-scale initiatives, because the bloc does not allow lasting reform to be decided by a simple majority vote. 

Photo courtesy of
Britney Spears’ poignant lyricism can help elucidate the problems and hypocrisy of the EU. The EU’s structure prevents the bloc from reforming.

Allowing individual member-states to veto initiatives makes lasting change within the EU impossible. As Spears observes in her 2008 jam “Womanizer,” “I guess when you have one too many, makes it hard; it could be easy.”

So, unless EU countries decide to apply the bloc’s current simple majority vote system to deciding human rights disputes, the same problems will continue to occur.

Change won’t happen unless EU member-states are willing to inch closer to a United States of Europe. The choice here is a difficult one — if initiatives can be passed by a simple majority of member-states, then this erodes the sovereignty of individual member-states. But if initiatives can be blocked by individual member-states, including human rights abusers, then the EU has an ingrown obstacle to its initiatives.

I can’t claim to have the answer to the age-old questions with which the EU is grappling — sovereignty versus supranationalism, the community versus the individual, human rights versus national interests — but I do know of someone who can help us think through them. 

It’s Britney, b*tch.