Foreign Affairs: The European Disunion

The EU will survive a "Leave" vote in next week’s referendum on Britain’s departure, but its clout will diminish everywhere - including the Middle East.

A ‘BREXIT’ SUPPORTER holds a Union Jack at a Vote Leave rally in London earlier this month. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A ‘BREXIT’ SUPPORTER holds a Union Jack at a Vote Leave rally in London earlier this month.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Adventures are to the adventurous,” wrote Benjamin Disraeli, a line that may ultimately be inscribed on the European Union’s epitaph.
The multinational giant, which for a while seemed destined to greatness on par with ancient Rome’s, now looms ominously as a spectacular failure, a wellspring of international disorder that next week might face the beginning of its inglorious end.
Next Thursday’s “Brexit” referendum in Britain might fall either way, though polls now claim that the “Leave” campaign has opened a consistent lead, and experts note that the endorsements of The Sun tabloid, which this week called on its readers to back the departure, have repeatedly proven to predict a British poll’s victors.
Should that take place, Prime Minister David Cameron might resign amid mayhem in financial markets, as a 60-year-old political experiment – possibly history’s most ambitious – begins a protracted but steady retreat to oblivion.
Yet even if the “Remain” camp wins the referendum, it will likely do so by a narrow margin which will underscore growing fears among millions of Europeans that their statesmen’s venture must be seriously reprogrammed and in many respects reversed.
The debate in Britain is largely over a prospective departure’s immediate macroeconomic impacts, mainly because that is what the “Remain” camp’s alarmists keep raising. Led by Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, this part of the debate is over the extent to which leaving the EU would severely devalue the pound, diminish growth, cost jobs and trigger inflation.
However, down in the street, what is driving the “Leave” supporters is the sense that in return for sizable portions of British sovereignty, Brussels has given the Brits immigration pressures, a refugee crisis, a terrorist threat, and a growing sense of overall insecurity.
THE EU became adventurist on multiple planes – financially, socially and geopolitically.
Financially, the EU launched a currency that ignores economic fundamentals, issuing it through a central bank that has no taxation engine alongside it while serving and commanding multiple treasuries, which in turn finance multiple armies, air forces, secret services and whatnot. Regardless of politics, it is a financial distortion of the American model whereby one currency commands rather than serves the economies of its own many states.
The euro’s launch is the direct cause of the Greek crisis, which convinced many that the EU knows how to create mayhem but not how to undo it, and that the political structures it has built are likely to generate more catastrophes unless this anomaly is somehow undone.
Then came the refugee crisis, which the EU caused by felling its internal borders without properly sealing its external borders.
These two circumstances alone, the financial and the Middle Eastern, have seriously destabilized the world.
Then there is the exposure to terrorism, which the EU intensified by its borders’ porousness, and before that by the massive Muslim immigrations it invited but never fully absorbed.
Finally, there was the geopolitical ruin caused by Brussels’s reckless provocation of Moscow.
The assumption that Russia emerged from the Cold War shorn of its historic status as a superpower could hardly have been more naïve, ignorant, and fateful. Yet the EU pushed itself into Ukraine, which by any pragmatic yardstick is part of Russia’s historic sphere of influence. Russia responded in kind, unleashing its mighty army on a European country for the first time since World War II, and returning to behave as the West’s antagonist.
And so, the EU’s adventurism has now resulted in political rifts among its members, massive social crisis in Greece, a currency that effectively subjugates weaker economies to stronger ones, renewed conflict with Russia, unrelenting refugee pressure, and a looming ascendancy of neo-fascist political alternatives.
Adding up to an inversion of the caution that is the hallmark of British political conduct, Europe’s economic and diplomatic records have made millions of Brits question their place in the EU. This is besides the fact that many in Britain felt the EU was also challenging democracy.
Laws and taxes, said Justice Secretary Michael Gove, “should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out.”
Instead, he said, Brussels tells the Brits that they “cannot remove or reduce VAT, support a steel plant through troubled times,” or “deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country.”
Gove’s advocacy of a departure from the EU is such that he said he is prepared to be fired for backing this cause, as he might be, should his boss emerge victorious from Thursday’s poll. Then again, in case of a “Leave” decision, the one who might have to resign is Cameron, who will otherwise be tasked with executing the divorce he has fought to prevent.
If Cameron resigns, his replacement will likely be former London mayor Boris Johnson, who has anyhow been long touted as a potential successor, but even more so because he has been one of the most vocal and effective leaders of the “Leave” campaign.
What, then, can be expected to happen following next Thursday? IF “LEAVE” wins, the markets will likely respond by weakening the pound, raising British interest rates, and selling off some British shares. Yet after a few weeks these impacts will prove shallow, and possibly also short-lived.
The macroeconomic fact is that Britain’s $2.9 trillion economy – the world’s fifth-largest and Europe’s second – is solid and vibrant. Moreover, an ever-pragmatic British leadership, whether under Cameron or his successor, will immediately embark on talks for free-trade agreements with China, India and the US, initiatives London is currently prevented from launching independently because of its membership in the EU.
The same, by the way, will go for Israel, whose task in such a case will be to obtain a free-trade deal with London without damaging trade with the EU, Israel’s second-largest trade partner.
The task will soon prove diplomatically simple and commercially uncostly, as Europe will be neither positioned nor interested to obstruct Britain’s trade with third parties.
President Barack Obama’s opposition to the British departure, and his warning that a free-trade agreement with the US might take a decade to conclude, will prove immaterial as talks will commence and the markets will take a prospective agreement as a foregone conclusion. Delhi and Beijing will be altogether eager to strike their own free-trade deals with Britain.
Yet the bigger repercussions will be political rather than economic, and they will take place on the Continent rather than in Her Majesty’s realm.
A British “Leave” vote would energize the anti-immigrant political forces that are gathering across Europe. France’s presidential election in April next year might result in victory for the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, and Holland’s parliamentary election the previous month may crown Dutch Party for Freedom’s Geert Wilders as prime minister.
Both Le Pen and Wilders are fiercely anti-EU, and their countries, unlike Britain, were founding members of the Common Market that later became the EU.
In such an extreme scenario, the EU, which will have lost one of its members for the first time since its foundation, will proceed to lose many of its political tools as well.
Wilders, for instance, thinks the European Parliament should be dissolved and Holland’s payments to Brussels should be sharply cut. Le Pen wants to reintroduce the franc and rescind the Schengen Accord, which allows free movement of people within the EU. This is besides having submitted a bill in the European Parliament for the EU’s dissolution.
The inversion of this scenario is a decisive “Remain” victory in next week’s British poll. In such a case, Brussels will feel ideologically vindicated and politically empowered to continue in earnest with the long-term project of denationalizing Europe.
In the more likely event, whereby the poll is decided very narrowly either way, the EU will still emerge severely bruised.
THE HOSTILITY that a critical mass of the British public has expressed toward the EU in the wake of the Brexit debate will help inspire some serious retreats from the European integration project. Border controls will gradually return and immigration policies will be repossessed by national governments, with or without Brussels’s approval, as politicians in countries such as Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic are already making plain.
Gradually, the European Union will return to be the economically focused alliance the Common Market originally was, shedding the grand political designs it later adopted, and many now lament.
A side effect of this humbling will be a diminished EU role in the Middle East. The organization whose first foreign policy move was its recognition in 1980 of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its call for a two-state solution will now become introverted.
Beset by social strife, national tensions, economic indigestion and intensifying security threats, the EU will lose the prestige, authority and possibly also the motivation that are prerequisites for helping settle other people’s disputes.
This retreat is bound to happen in upcoming years even if Britain remains in the EU. A “Leave” victory next week, however, will mark next Friday as the beginning of the EU’s end.