«This is the end of Europe». According to some assessments this is the main conclusion of the British referendum outcome. “Brexit” was characterized as another blow to the slow death of a Union, which has been labeled as “undemocratic”, “technocratic”, “elitist” and has been criticized for not serving the interests of its people. However, the British people seem to be divided since 48% considered that its interests are better served within the European Union.
Yet Europe is and will be here. Its death has been heralded many times and all of them has been resurrected. Europe did not collapse under the burden of the financial and economic crisis, was not dissolved during the time of a possible “Grexit” and survived the refugee and migrant crisis. Were there any mistakes and omissions during the management of these issues? Undoubtedly, yes. But they did not bring the end of Europe.
A different reading of the above mentioned crises indicates not the end but the need for a cohesive Europe. These crises not only have not dissolved Europe, but in some cases have led to the creation of new European institutions. For example, as a response to the financial and fiscal crisis the European Stability Mechanism was established in 2012 and the European Fund for Strategic Investments (known as “Juncker Plan”) in 2015.
The need for collective action to address these challenges underlines the need for Europe. As long as the response to these crises lies in collective action, the EU will exist. This is a point where the critics of the EU often forget or overlook: the alternative solutions.
Critics are always eager to point a finger at the shortcomings and omissions of the EU, forgetting that there are not “magic wands” and weaknesses are unavoidable – there is always something that could have been done better. This criticism is not bad, on the contrary. The mistake of these critics is the whole condemnation of the EU because of these shortcomings and omissions that as said before are unavoidable.
However, there is another point more important when it comes to condemnation of the EU in general and that is the alternatives: is the return to a strong nation-state that shapes its policies based on a narrow definition of its national interests the solution to contemporary problems? How relevant and effective would the national states be to address present challenges on their own? Is the return to a single intergovernmental cooperation the answer to European challenges – growth, unemployment, security or the management of refugee and migrant flows?
Of course, the return to the nation state is not the only choice. Neither all of the criticism against Europe comes from far-right and nationalist forces. However, this seems to be the prevailing trend. Far-right and nationalist forces seem to dominate debates within member-states regarding an exit from the EU as is the case of France.
When it comes to the consequences of the “Brexit” both for Britain and the EU there is a plethora of possible scenarios, but nothing is certain. This is normal since the exit of a member-state is unprecedented. A crucial factor could be the duration of this process.. Delays and a lengthy process could exacerbate the consequences for both parties.
The crucial question now is the future relations between the EU and Britain. What is going to be Britain’s position towards the EU? In essence, the process of this exit is going to be a long-term negotiation and Britain seems that already is trying to gain time by delaying the exit process. On the other hand, the EU wants “Brexit” to be completed as soon as possible. During this tough negotiation Britain will try to maintain most of the benefits it enjoyed as member and the EU will be probably unwilling to provide them.
The consequences, both political and economic, are not going to be as dramatic as presented. Their magnitude will depend on the exit process itself, its duration and of course its final result. As long as this process is delayed, uncertainty and some turmoil will exist in economic and political terms. However, exit will take place finally. And both Britain and EU will continue to exist, maybe co-exist in a band new context.
Apart from the political and economic turbulences both in Britain and in the EU, two long-term consequences of Brexit worth attention: The first one refers to the EU and its change, a change that is going to be focused on deeper integration although not for all members. The second refers to Britain and its exclusion from shaping developments in Europe.
The EU is not
going to be dissolved and the fact that the day after the referendum everybody
speaks of “reform” and “change” is illustrative. The inadequacy of the
solutions offered by the member-states and the simple intergovernmental
cooperation to contemporary problems, highlights the need for
EU. The EU will continue to exist and will move forward trying to find ways to
deepen integration, improve cooperation and coordination among its member
states and become more democratic.
The European integration will move forward for the simple reason that in today’s world a large Union of States offers better and more adequate solutions to problems and crises than nation-states on their own. The EU will change by trying to enhance democracy in its institutions and processes and by focusing more on economy and development. Of course this change will be slow, with small steps. Yet, this has always been the pace of the European integration. The difference is that now integration will not include all member-states. The “multi-speed” Europe seems to be the most possible developing scenario regarding how integration will move forward.
However, in shaping the EU Britain will not have any influence or saying. This is probably the most significant consequence for Britain, let alone economic and political turmoil. The “EU project” will continue to exist and play a crucial role for the European continent and the world, but Britain will be a simple observer.