“Europe is a garden, the world is a jungle”: The prejudiced speech of the head of European diplomacy

The current head of European diplomacy apparently has the head in the 19th century. Spaniard Josep Borrell, whose full title is High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, spoke at the opening ceremony of the European Diplomatic Academy in Bruges, Belgium, to an audience of European diplomats. His words carry overtones of racism, of old European imperialism and are disconnected from the current world.

The speech was, in large part, about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and related issues, such as the construction of a supposed new order of international security and the need for people to engage more with issues of international politics and diplomacy. It also brought a new and important discussion about the need for ministries to be “reinvented”, since issues that were previously only domestic now imply aspects both internal and external to States.

In this argument, Borrell wanted to highlight the potential role of the European Union in this scenario. For this, he stated that “Europe is a garden”. “We built a garden. Everything works. It is the best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion that humanity has been able to build – all three together.” A romantic, idyllic, idealized vision, but, come on, if only that was the figure of speech used.

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The world is a jungle

For Borrell, the head of European diplomacy, speaking to young diplomats, not only is Europe a garden, but “most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle can invade the garden. Gardeners should take care of that.” The “gardeners”, in this case, are the diplomats. The racist and colonialist analogy continues. In advocating greater European engagement with the world, he asserts that “Gardeners have to go into the wild. Europeans need to be much more involved with the rest of the world.”.

The conclusion, then, is startling. “Otherwise, the rest of the world will invade us, in different ways and means.” It’s speech so disastrous for a diplomat, so contradictory on its own terms, and so wrong for any citizen with a knowledge of recent history that it’s hard to know where to begin. European countries do have a good standard of living for most people, good economic and academic indices, among many other qualities. It is not about denying the merits of Europe.

Many of these merits even came with the construction of a common European order, which culminated in the European Union. For centuries Europeans weren’t thinking exactly about their standard of living, but about killing each other. For worshiping, or not, images of saints, for lines drawn on a map, for being Jews or for dynastic heritages from centuries before. And that ended, if it ended, basically yesterday, at the end of the Second World War.

The most constructive conflict of humanity began in Europe, the continent where it was created. So Europe has learned its lessons in recent decades. Borrell even briefly mentions this process. What he forgets, however, is that defending the merits of Europe does not imply denying the merits of the rest of the world and other societies, which have faced such tough challenges and have also advanced, and are advancing, in conquests and advances. The world is not divided between a perfect garden and a barbaric jungle.

Other people’s blood

In addition to forgetting other people’s merits, mainly, Borrell seems to forget that many of these merits came from the colonial and imperial exploitation of other territories, other peoples and other cultures. If Europe is a garden today, this garden has been watered with a lot of blood from “jungle” peoples. When talking about the need for “gardeners” to go to the “jungle”. Borrell still seems to believe in the romanticized and lying version that his Spanish ancestors came to bring “civilization” to America.

No, they came to look for gold, products to be traded, cheap labor and disposable because of their skin color, all while they stroked their own conscience, thinking they were fulfilling some crusade or “divine work”. No, this is no anachronism, this is not a 21st century look. Even in the 16th century, men like Bartolomeu de las Casas already denounced the barbarism they saw in their countrymen. Perhaps Borrell prefers to be compared to someone more recent.

His “gardeners going to take care of the jungle” may just be fulfilling Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”, which justified European expansion into Africa and Asia in the 19th century. The height of pseudoscientific racism, of the idea that the white man would be superior by genetics, in a totally distorted interpretation of Darwin’s work. It is ironic that he speaks these words in Bruges, Belgium, region, and country, so benefited by imperialism and racism of the 19th century.

While millions of Congolese were killed and worked to exhaustion, Belgium and its monarch, the criminal Leopold II, were getting rich. Again, no anachronism here, as Joseph Conrad denounced all this violence as it happened, in Heart of Darkness, which this columnist even prefaced in a certain edition. And it is imperative to remember that this relationship is a two-way street. It is not just that the “garden” was built with resources and the work of the “jungle”.

If Borrell thinks that some places in the world are a “jungle”, he also thinks that this is it not related to the fact that for centuries some regions of the globe have been deprived of the fruits of their own labor? For example, how much of the French “garden” was built not by French hands, but by the hands of enslaved Africans who were exploited in their Caribbean colonies? As we highlighted in a column about Haiti, we are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars in current values.


The same dynamic applies to negotiations about the climate crisis and the need to reverse them. Today, countries like China, India and Brazil are among the biggest polluters in the world. In cumulative numbers, however, Europe and the US are by far the biggest polluters in history. Indian industrialization is a few decades old, the United Kingdom has been polluting since the 18th century, to the point of having exhausted several of its mineral coal reserves. They burned everything to build this “garden”, leaving the whole world to account.

Borrell’s tone and words are already amazing in themselves, but the shock goes even further when, after the obvious and fair negative repercussion of his words, he stated that he did not see any problem with them. Negative repercussions, by the way, including within Europe and by European allies, such as the Canadian ambassador to the EU. This is the worst kind of exclusivist and discriminatory thinking, which is so ingrained in the individual’s mentality that he doesn’t even see problems.

Borrell would hardly call an Indian diplomat a “monkey”. For him, that would be unacceptable. To say that the rest of the world is a jungle and ignore the centuries of violence that created this dynamic, however, is “normal”. He must consider himself a progressive person, even as he is affiliated with the center-left Spanish PSOE, integrating governments of that party. In his speech, he even “needed” Donald Trump, saying that “building a wall” is not a good solution.

While Borrell defended the European need to engage more with the rest of the world and criticized , for example, that a fifth of the world’s countries abstained from voting at the UN regarding the war in Ukraine, he, in the end, only managed to further alienate these “jungle” countries. And without these “jungle” countries, the EU will face more and more challenges. Yes, today it has several advantages, the result of the accumulation of wealth and knowledge of these centuries.

In the medium and long term, however, the EU will face several problems. Its share of the global population is tiny and declining. Its share of global wealth is also falling, with the rise of China, India and other players. Its internal articulation is in crisis with the war in Ukraine, and European defense policy is at a crossroads, divided between being the junior partner of the USA and the construction of its own security order, costly in money and political articulation.

Borrell knows all this. In other words, you must know. Today it is already possible to question the judgment and capacity of the head of European diplomacy, since, even in the face of these challenges, in which partners will be very important, he chooses to use not only Eurocentric but discriminatory terminology. Old-fashioned, prejudiced. We are no longer in the 19th century, and if there is any “jungle” in this whole story, primitive and wild, it is in Borrell’s words. The EU deserves someone more connected to the real world in this role.

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