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Brexit success will make Europe less like Brussels

The next few months will show us on what terms and within what timeframe Great Britain will leave the European Union. Brexit has rattled – and will continue to rattle – the balance of power in Western Europe that we have come to know so well over the past four decades.

This balance of power can be described in the following way, using simplified terms: for France, the participation of London in the European Community was a form of insurance policy to protect it against German power, both before and after the unification of the two German states.

The exact opposite was the case when it came to Berlin’s treatment of the British: as an insurance policy against France, which for many years aspired to assume political patronage of Europe. For the remaining EU member states, London was a pretty solid guarantee that the French-German tandem would not impose its will on the other countries.

Now a big question mark hangs over the nature of Great Britain’s presence in Europe, it is also difficult to imagine a scenario where the United Kingdom isolates itself from European politics and economy, which would lead to the disappearance of British involvement in the decision-making process in Europe.

In the last few days, the process of Great Britain leaving the European Union has been accelerated. We now know that London won’t postpone the official announcement of their intention to leave the Union for more than six months, that is by the end of March 2017. The current British government, and Prime Minister Theresa May in particular, has announced plans for an interesting ideological revolution in the United Kingdom, a move launched when a large part of the middle class as well as a segment of society that was once termed as “working class” decided to reject membership in the EU. It was the members of these groups, often from peripheral parts of England, far away from cosmopolitan, globalised London, that supported Brexit. And it was they that rejected relations with Europe in their current form.

Today we now know that the opponents of the EU, who came out in droves on the day of the June referendum, often have left-wing leanings but ideologically are strongly right-wing and patriotic, against the dilution of Britishness and Englishness in the European sauce.

But what impact will this have on Europe? It could turn out that England will provide inspiration for other countries pivoting to the right. It could come about that people decide that it is time to stop the super-national experiment that is the European Union, to stop the march of globalisation, that is the unfettered activity of the market all over the world. Taking note of these attitudes and witnessing the increasing implosion of the left in their country, British conservatives have decided to shelve their Thatcherite traditions and move to the centre, becoming a party that is sensitive to the needs of society.

There is no guarantee that this experiment will succeed, after all one should not forget that the Leave camp was composed of two ideologically diverse camps. The first camp was made up of supporters of the free-market, who believed that Great Britain is getting the bad end of the bargain in its participation in the socialist, statist project that is the EU which is why the country needs to turn its back on Brussels, for the good of British capitalism and free trade with the rest of the world. The second camp was a right-left union of disgruntlement against the domination of big business that, in their eyes, is destroying Britain’s social fabric with the enthusiastic assistance of an EU that is controlled by banks, corporations, lobbyists. Reconciling these camps as part of a conservative family is a futile task.

If the changes set out for Great Britain do succeed, then Brexit could change European politics not only in the sense that it disrupts the balance between Berlin, Paris and London.  The implementation of the changes announced by Theresa May could lead to an ideological shake up of the European political establishment. Countries that model themselves on Great Britain, or see the latter as a valuable point of reference, will see how Great Britain is managing well in its role as a perhaps not large but nevertheless prosperous country that decided to leave the EU.

In the same way that the Thatcherite revolution inspired the right-wing in Europe and the Western world, the Post-Brexit revolution could encourage Europe to dump the European Union and look for new models of inter-state co-operation in the Old Continent. The French, who are starting to turn their backs on Brussels, at least mentally, will be keeping a very close eye on the British. As will the Germans, who don’t have a solution as to how to piece together the divided EU, as well as countries such as the Netherlands, a big admirer of Great Britain, and the Scandinavian countries, which do not want to sacrifice their high living standards and economic development for the sake of the deeply neglected economies of Greece and Italy.

Returning our focus to France, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the programme of the increasingly strong Front National goes beyond Brexit and demands the liquidation of the EU, while the Brexiteers merely wanted to leave the EU. And looking at Germany, it is always worth remembering Angela Merkel’s logic: the EU must reform, because Europe today makes up several per cent of the global population, has around 25 per cent of global GDP but also makes up two-thirds of global social spending. In Germany there is a temptation, especially in big business circles, to abandon the EU and try its luck in the arena of trade superpowers, which Germany can count itself a member of. A move such as this one would signify the end of the European order in its current form.

For us, continental citizens, Europe is a lodestar. If Britain turn their EU-exit into a success, which in my opinion will be very difficult to pull off, then it is very likely that this will shake up the European Union and many countries will start going their own way, lured by the temptation to break away from Brussels.

However, the British could very well also get into trouble and become mired in their isolation, leading to a situation similar to that of the 1970s, when Great Britain became Europe’s economic sick man. This in turn would result in a new lease of life for the European Union and its development.  Europeans will once again believe that in the face of global tectonic changes, the re-nationalization of our continent is suicidal and everyone will love the newly supranational EU. That is why (what a paradox!), the fate of the EU is still in British hands, although they are about to pack their bags and hop on the Eurostar train or ferry back to Britain.

JACEK STAWISKI

Source: Dziennik Gazeta Prawna

20.10.2016