Saturday

28th May 2016

Focus

German political humour sends up EU

One of the most frequent stereotypes about Germans is that they lack humour. Their politicians even more so. And politicians speaking about the EU are considered in a class of their own in terms of tedium.

But not for Martin Sonneborn, the former editor-in-chief of Titanic, a political satire magazine. He is top of the list for the EU elections on behalf of the German satire party "Die Partei" (The Party). Following the recent German constitutional court decision to scrap the minimum threshold for the European Parliament elections, Sonneborn has a shot at becoming MEP.

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  • The German government hopes to increase turnout in the EU elections (Photo: European Commission)

"There are enough madmen who are in favour of Europe and enough lunatics who are against it. So we tailored our slogan to the 70 percent of Germans for whom the EU elections are completely irrelevant: 'Yes to Europe, No to Europe: Die Partei'," Sonneborn told this website.

Sonneborn says it is "realistic" for Die Partei to get around 0.6 percent of the German vote needed to send an MEP to Brussels.

"The German constitutional court showed with its verdict that it considers the EP as something of a joke parliament. And the political arm of the satire magazine Titanic belongs there, for sure," the satirist said.

Asked what he will stand for if elected, Sonneborn said: "For myself. For fun in Europe. For even more absurd regulations."

Die Partei plans to send a different person each month to be an MEP, as Sonneborn would resign after a month and so would his successors, until everyone of the 59 party members on the EP list get to have a taste of Brussels and Strasbourg.

A signature 'policy' of Die Partei is the re-creation of the Berlin wall as well as other walls in and around Germany. Sonneborn says that Russia's actions in Ukraine are "finally restoring a division in Europe" and that his party has the best concept for it: "Walls. The need for walls will increase tremendously."

Other political parties, notably the Pirate Party, are also using humour in their outdoor campaigns. The Pirates show the Manneken Pis, Brussels' iconic peeing boy statue, with the slogan "I can't if somebody is watching" – a reference to the US spying on Europeans.

A go-to-vote campaign sponsored by the EU commission and the German government also seeks to be funny: it shows a bent cucumber saying "Nobody is perfect – you should be picky only about your political choice."

Political humour in advertising

German humour is there "but it's different," says Johannes Krempl, who owns Berlin advertising agency Glow. His agency is famous for its cheeky political news-related ads for a local lingerie brand. "Dear USA, no wonder you want to fuck the EU" is one of them, showing a lingerie model.

The message is a reference to the tape leaked by the Russian secret services in which a top US diplomat, Victoria Nuland, was complaining to the US ambassador in Ukraine about the slow EU reaction to Russia's actions. At one point, she says "Fuck the EU", to which the ambassador replies "No, exactly."

As for German humour, which may be "not so sarcastic as British legendary humour, but more direct and flattering," Krempl says it has something to do with Germany's federal structure.

"The UK and France have great ads, but they all target the audience in the big capital. In Germany's federal structure the target is in smaller towns, where the audience may not be as refined and have different standards than in London or Paris. So the humour peaks are also lower," Krempl explains.

Wooden language

German novelist and satirical author Friedrich Christian Delius, who lives in Berlin following several years spent in Rome, also disagrees that Germans have no humour.

"I think Berliners are much more easy-going and funny than people in Rome, for instance. Romans have become more morose," he told this website.

Delius, who mocked both German political discourse as well as 'EU speak' in his satires published in the 1960s and 1970s, says it is not Europe as such that is boring.

Rather it is politicians and bureaucrats adopting a certain way of speaking because they "don't want to deal with any criticism".

"So they use standard sentences, they show no enthusiasm, even their own criticism, sometimes justified, lacks originality. You get the impression that they have not thought it through with their own minds, but rather that 20 people sifted through it to make it as weak as possible," he said.

He gave the example of the EU constitution that got rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands.

"I don't know who was responsible for it, how many hundred people worked on it – but just from the point of view of the language used: it was way too long. And that's already a mistake. The shorter a treaty is, the better. You don't have to put everything in there."

The fact that none of the current EU leaders is a good orator or has any literary education is also contributing to the rising euroscepticism, the writer says.

"Europe is based on culture, not just geography. European novels were always interconnected. The big writers from different countries were always in touch, since the Middle Ages. This was what education meant. If we don't see that culture, literature is the basis for our society, then we get these fools and imbeciles who write a Constitution that nobody will ever read or understand."

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