Let’s make these Crazy Years a new era of great ideas
There is no doubt that the last ten years have been as imprecise as they were chaotic.
We still don’t have a definite term for a decade that saw massive change, from the increasing power of social media to the accompanying ascendency of angry populism.
This has assisted all kinds of dramatic developments, not least of all the emergence of Brexiteers and gilets jaunes.
In terms of British-French relations, mass protest power will certainly be a characteristic of a period we can already firmly define as The Twenties.
It has a far more appealing ring to it than The Noughties (2000 to 2009) and whatever you want to call 2010 to 2019.
Beyond inevitable parallels with the Roaring Twenties a century ago, I’d like to suggest that les Années Folles – the Crazy Years – would be perfect this time round too.
This isn’t necessarily a negative suggestion – it is because an era of uncertainty and change can produce great ideas, art, music, literature… generally an exciting buzz in every field of human activity.
We should try to be confident and bold as we enter this epoch of potential lunacy – one that is neatly summed up by Britain’s upcoming “exit” from the EU.
Whether you agree with it or not in principle, in practice it is fundamentally absurd. The UK is set to become the first country ever to insist on downgrading its position within the world’s largest trading bloc.
Most of 2020 – and more likely far, far longer – will be spent partially extricating a traditionally superbly pragmatic nation from a union within which it has won success after success: from creating the Single Market and retaining Sterling to negotiating a hugely generous Rebate and staying out of the Schengen Area.
Britain’s real intention is, of course, to remain in the EU, while diminishing its influence sufficiently enough to claim that it has left.
Notoriously dishonest politicians will announce that “We Got Brexit Done” as early as January 31, while the sensible ones will admit that there is still masses to work out.
This is because the British still want to trade with their closest neighbours, and indeed take part in multiple other forms of intricate cooperation.
Negotiation will go on and on, ad infinitum, and the logical corollary will be that a great power that has displayed exceptional leadership over the centuries will want to continue to be a big beast – not a junior partner.
Official re-entry might be decades away, but the British will be pushing to improve their own position within the EU at all times.
The French called the 1920s les Années Folles because people were letting off steam after World War One – the greatest act of collective madness in the history of mankind up until this point.
Paris became a vibrant centre of modernist excitement and achievement, attracting the world to her theatres, art galleries, fashion houses, concert halls, clubs, cafés, and – of course – her ideas.
Like Brexit – with its promise of unicorns and green pastures ahead – much of it was all a gilded illusion, unfortunately.
The passion of the roaring 20s ended in economic collapse. The Great Depression and the rise of extreme national populism was the story of the 1930s.
The result was yet another cataclysmic global conflict – one that was even more destructive than the first.
As we push into another Twenties, we should at least embrace the challenges that lie ahead. It’s always been a mad world, but consolations can be rich and plentiful.
There is no reason why history should repeat itself, and there is much to look forward to, not least of all for Connexion readers.
Here’s to a happy and successful 2020 and beyond, to all of you.
Nabila Ramdani is an award-winning French-Algerian journalist who specialises in French politics and the Arab world. Her articles feature in the French national press as well as internationally. She is a regular columnist in The Connexion