The parable of the neighbours

This parable may have parallels with the EU — its birth, development and death…

Once upon a time, in a street not far away, there were two warring families, the Brown family and the Green family, who had adjoining houses.

After many years of fighting over shared drive space, hedges, and intrusive noise etc, they finally exhausted themselves and agreed to make peace with each other and indeed to fully embrace each other’s lives, families and properties.

They resolved that over time they would work towards full “Neighbourly Union”.

This would initially be done through small steps: buying a shared barbecue, lawnmower and other day-to-day resources, followed by a long period of swapping/sharing items over the fence.

But over time, this process reached a quite dramatic turning point— monetary union—which involved the merger of the Browns’ and the Greens’ bank accounts. People elsewhere in the street suggested this was surely not a good idea and would end in tears or worse. But both the Browns and the Greens were adamant that this was the path they had set towards Neighbourly Union and insisted “there could be no going back to the terrible fighting of the past.”

And so monetary union came about. All bank accounts of the Browns and Greens were merged (including those of the two rather profligate teenage children in the Green family) to create the new single ‘Growno’ bank account to which all the old account holders became signatories.

At first things were fine, but it soon became clear that the Greens’ teenage children weren’t using the Growno wisely and had to be reined in and their debit cards limited to small withdrawals. This caused a certain amount of anguish between the households, threatening an outbreak of renewed conflict, but the heads of both families resolved to continue on the path to Neighbourly Union.

(As an aside: One or two bankers who happened to live in the street at the time pinned the tension on the various faults in the monetary union, especially the inclusion of the teenagers at the outset. But on the wider concept of Neighbourly Union, the bankers would simply shrug or say they were in favour — they couldn’t see that monetary union was an inevitable and logical step towards Neighbourly Union. To them it was an aberration.)

“All this tension proves that our current Neighbourly Union is imperfect and we need to complete the process we started when we made our peace”, the Greens and the Browns would increasingly tell others in the street, who looked at them more and more suspiciously.

“Our two families need to be seen as one family.”

And so they set about knocking through walls between the houses and taking out hedges and fences that still divided the two properties. They even changed their legacy surnames to “Green-Brown”.

“It’s to cement our Neighbourly Union”, Mr Green explained to a local newspaper journalist who had become interested in the two families, having never seen or heard of such an unusual arrangement and who had pointedly noted that no other households in the land were copying the Green-Brown’s rather odd ideas. But given their fractious history, maybe it was understandable.

However having apparently achieved Neighbourly Union, the conflict within the new unified family only seemed to intensify, until the point that the teenage children were out of all control and refused to take instructions from certain members of the new family. Simmering resentments developed among the older members over who did what in the newly merged house. Old grievances, long thought to be buried, started to bubble up in the middle of arguments.

Soon the whole thing threatened to boil over.

Mr Brown - sorry, Green-Brown - eventually took aside old Mr Green and suggested they had to go further still in their Neighbourly Union. Something was clearly missing.

“Whatever can you mean, my good fellow? After all we do everything together and share everything”, said old Mr Green.

The old Mr Brown cast an admiring eye at old Mrs Green across the room and then back to old Mr Green before whispering: “How about me and Mrs Green, y’know, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays…? Old Mrs Brown has always rather fancied you so I’m sure we can find a reciprocal arrangement in the full spirit of Neighbourly Union.”

The resulting explosion in the Green-Brown household was discussed by others in the street for years afterwards. But what nobody could ever work out was why the Greens and Browns took this obviously strange path in the first place and, more importantly, why they stuck to it almost “religiously” despite mounting evidence (and plain common sense) suggesting an approaching disaster.

One old gentleman in the street — a Mr Britton —who predicted the final denouement from the early days of the Greens’ and Browns’ journey said, “They should have stuck to lending each other things and regularly chatting over the garden fence.”

“I kept telling them that ‘Good fences make good neighbours’ but whenever I said that, they would get annoyed and would shout back that I didn’t understand neighbourly conflict. The whole thing was madness and everyone now says so.”

And indeed they do say so……indeed they do.


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