hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 1 December 2014

Brexit: What Would Happen if the EU Fails?

Alphen, Netherlands. 1 December.  David Cameron made his ‘big’ speech on immigration last week.  However, as with most things Cameron the speech was not what it seemed.  Indeed, it was not so much a ‘big’ speech on immigration as another ‘small’ speech on ‘Europe’.  And, because it was Cameron it was an all things to all men speech, or rather an as much as one German woman was prepared to accept speech. Consequently, the speech satisfied no-one.  The speech was also full of reality-defying contradictions.  Cameron’s claim that he can re-negotiate a significant change in Britain’s relationship with the EU that will, as he said, require treaty change and do it by the promised 2017 referendum is complete nonsense. The EU if it works at all does not work like that.  So, is a Brexit now more likely?  Would a Brexit matter?  And what would happen if the EU were to fail because of it?

Is a Brexit more likely?  Possibly.  As someone who sees free movement as a consequence of victory in the Cold War it is a principle worth upholding.  However, I am a member of a British minority on this subject.  My concerns about the EU are not so much about the fundamental principles that have enshrined ‘Europe’ since the 1957 Treaty of Rome.  Rather, they concern the emaciation of democracy and the appalling ‘governance’ now inflicted upon the European peoples because of the silent power struggle between EU institutions and the member-states.  The result is the kind of political paralysis that was so evident in Cameron’s speech. 

Equally, denying member-states even temporary controls over mass movements at times of economic extremis such as today is utterly irresponsible and creates the conditions for revolt which is apparent in England in particular.  Many EU member-states are using Britain and the British people as a gigantic pressure valve for the release of social tensions caused by Eurozone failure and that is unfair.  Current levels of immigration to England from the EU are simply unsustainable.  If a solution is not found there is a real chance that England will reject London’s pro-EU political class en masse.  That would mean a Brexit?

Would a Brexit matter?  Certainly. Last week former Commission President Romano Prodi warned about the wider implications of Britain’s virtually complete marginalisation in Brussels.  This is not a recent phenomenon but has been underway since Britain sensibly opted not to join the Euro, the root cause of Europe’s endless economic and political crises, and because no political settlement has been put in place to make the EU fairer for non-Eurozone members.  Prodi’s essential point was that the implicit balance of power at the heart of the EU between Berlin, London and Paris has been shattered by British marginalisation and French decline. 

In the past smaller EU member-states would have reinforced the implicit balance of power by siding with one or the other of the so-called ‘Big Three’ thus preventing hegemony in Europe.  Now, in the absence of such balance the smaller member-states are rushing to cluster around Berlin which is giving the EU the character of an emerging German Empire.  This is something most sensible German leaders neither seek nor want because as Prodi suggests such a concentration of power on one member-state would sooner rather than later de-legitimise the EU and it would sooner or later unravel. 

What would happen if the EU were to fail?  Disaster.  If the EU began to unravel the entire political, economic and security balance of the Continent would be threatened.  Politically and economically the smaller, weaker member-states would look to Germany for leadership she is simply unable to offer.  Economically, the inability or plain refusal of southern and eastern European member-states to reform would impose ever greater burdens on the taxpayer’s of the seven member-states left paying for the wealth-transfer mechanism that in the absence of growth is the EU.  Add to that mix unstable banks and broke governments and at some point another major economic crisis would a) happen; and b) see the whole structure collapse.  If it survived at all the Eurozone would retrench into a German zollverein focused on a few northern, western Europeans.  The great unreformed would be forced out and their citizens subjected to the full fury of panicking financial markets and social and economic meltdown.  Russia would undoubtedly see such a crisis as a golden opportunity to re-establish a sphere of influence in central and eastern Europe with profound consequences for European security.

Therefore, if David Cameron was a Winston Churchill he would have couched his ‘big’ speech in ‘big’ strategy rather than ‘small’ politics.  He would have pointed out the strategic dangers to Europe of forcing Britain out through EU intransigence because said intransigence is in fact a refusal to face up to reform.  Specifically, Cameron would have pointed out that: a) ‘ever closer union’ has failed; b) the Treaty of Lisbon has led Europe into a political dead-end; c) the Euro as structured is the cause of Europe’s endless economic crises; and d) integration and harmonisation is leading to over-regulation and a form of statism that will doom Europe to inevitable economic decline.  

Finally, Cameron would have called on EU member-states to decisively take control back from those in Brussels seeking ever more Europe.  Only if other European leaders refuse to recognise what is now blindingly obvious would Cameron move to take Britain out of the EU because then he would have no alternative.  Unfortunately, David Cameron is no Winston Churchill.  Whereas Churchill was able to see the biggest of big pictures, Cameron never sees them.  Whereas Churchill understood strategy, Cameron only understands politics.  Or, rather, he only sees big-issue strategy as part of his endemic short-term local politicking. 

The EU must reform or die.  As for David Cameron he must for say what he means and mean what he says.  Last week he did not and as such he made an eventual Brexit from a broken EU more not less likely.

Julian Lindley-French

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