(Fanfare britannique, Londres – 2013)
(Version française disponible : ici)
As if forced to watch the unending drama play out in a bad soap opera that they wish, desperately, would reach its conclusion so they can at last find out the ending, the EU is waiting, wearily, to hear the answer from the British in the upcoming referendum on 23 June.
The possibility of a UK exit has produced a variety of reactions, mainly alarmist, since 2014 on the effects of a potential separation. According to opinion polls, the majority of people support the UK remaining in the EU.
Amicable divorce is sometimes for the best
The other member states and the EU institutions appear so paralysed at the prospect of a British exit that they have been unable to put up any opposition to David Cameron’s sometimes outrageous demands. The biggest concern here is that a vote in favour of Brexit would lead to the UK asking for new exemptions as part of future public consultation.
If Cameron wants to play Russian roulette, it might be an idea to ensure that the gun is pointing at his country and not at the European Union. After all, although an amicable divorce is often the best solution for both parties in a troubled marriage, what is important here is not whether divorce is good for the UK but whether it could benefit the EU.
Ending the myth of unceasing integration
Obviously it would be a shock.
Firstly, it would be a psychological shock, seeing as it would be the first time a country in its entirety has left the European project. It would arguably undermine the goal of ‘ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’ set out in the treaties. However, as the referendum project itself has essentially already put paid to this idea, we can assume that it would not be such a great loss. Indeed, in providing for the withdrawal of a member state from the EU at all, the Lisbon Treaty has effectively already sanctioned an end to the myth of unceasing integration.
Relative economic costs for the EU
Next, it would be an economic shock, which is where speculation is given a free rein. Nobody can put a precise figure on the costs for the EU or the UK if it leaves, but there is some consensus pointing to a recession in the UK and a relative cost for the EU. However, this relative cost could be cancelled out if UK-based companies chose to relocate to countries within the internal market. The agreement reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union will be key here.
A bonus for EU political cohesion
Finally, it would be a political shock; the fear is that Brexit could trigger similar referenda in other countries where Euroscepticism is also on the rise. However, apart from the fact that it is unlikely any of the currently significant movements would demand an official referendum to leave the EU (except perhaps the French Front National), the chances are that at the first sign of the UK slipping into a Brexit-induced recession, however temporary, any separatist ideas would be quickly snuffed out. The withdrawal of a member state could therefore actually turn out to be an asset in terms of European cohesion.
The UK didn’t want the euro and they didn’t get it; they didn’t want Schengen and they didn’t get it; they didn’t want a system of cooperation in criminal matters and they didn’t get that, either. What they did want, however, was a Europa à la carte, new member state enlargements and a rebate on the EU budget – all of which they got.
It’s worth remembering that the British were not interested in the European Community at its inception. It was too bold a project for them and they formed a rival association with several other countries instead. But the European project was so successful that they quickly abandoned their own project to sign up for the Community they had previously scorned. Better to be in the EU and keep it in check than to be outside and a mere victim of it, so the thinking went.
Today, a proportion of the British population would like to return to splendid isolation, the open sea their new horizon. Bon voyage, then! Or good riddance. If their bid for freedom ends up shipwrecked on the rocks, it will at least act as a catalyst for public opinion.
UK withdrawal from the EU would mean an opportunity for us to reshape our relations with Britain, as well as with other European countries who benefit from a number of advantages without formally participating in the Union, such as Norway and Switzerland. Admittedly, these countries contribute to financing the EU and apply a significant part of its legislation without having any say in decision-making, but we should not content ourselves with such a paltry set-up. The European Union deserves better than that.
So, let’s go for all or nothing, for a change! And let the European people see for themselves the true costs of going it alone. That could very well prove the best way to attain true European accord.
We should be clear on one thing: Europe is not strong because it is composed of many countries; it is strong primarily because it is united.
(Translated by Catherine Johnson)
Interested by Brexit ? You could find another article about the Brexit Speech on 17 January: Brexit fog in Channel!
A lot of articles about Brexit, but in french here.