Monday, June 20, 2016

Thoughts on the British Referendum on Remaining in or Leaving the European Union

           Voters in the United Kingdom will decide in a referendum on Thursday whether the U.K. ought to remain a member of the European Union or leave by 2018.

            The referendum is the result of a campaign promise made by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron in his last election, as demanded by many Tory and other voters.  He was able to negotiate some concessions from the E.U. to claw back some British powers if the U.K. would remain in the “Common Market,” but these were not sufficient to mollify those who wish to restore British sovereignty more fully—sovereignty that has increasingly eroded as the E.U. has expanded itself beyond its original intent of unity through economic cooperation into a European superstate, with not only all the domestic powers of a state, but even its own foreign policy and plans for its own military.    

The E.U. was developed gradually after the Second World War as a way to unify Europe, especially Western Europe, by integrating Germany economically with the other European States and to encourage peace and prosperity within the union.  Since the end of the Cold War, the E.U. has expanded into Eastern Europe as many of the States there have liberalized.  The E.U. was conceived as an economic union of States that shared similar values, such as liberty and representative government.  The political ideology that has encouraged more European economic and even political integration through the E.U. holds that these are particularly European values.  However, these ideas developed only in Western Europe, and only on a foundation of Christianity, which had provided unity to Europe in the past; the E.U. is now continental and increasingly secularized.  Furthermore, it is exclusive even of non-European States founded by Western Europeans that share the same Western values (i.e. the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), as the E.U. appears to have been established as a rival to the U.S.  In short, there does not appear to be any more of the claimed “Europeaness” evident across Europe—and only Europe—to justify the integration of all of Europe into a “United States of Europe.”   

The U.K. joined the E.U. in 1973.  The British had been concerned when they joined the Common Market about the organization’s potential development from an economic to a political union and even to a superstate.  The U.K. opted to retain its own currency instead of adopting in 1999 the E.U.’s common currency, the euro.  At the time, the Conservatives argued successfully against surrendering too much sovereignty—a decision validated by the recent debt crisis that threatened the euro project because of the fiscal and economic imbalances among eurozone States and the loss of national monetary policy.  The predictions that the U.K. would suffer economically from its isolation from the eurozone proved untrue. 

            The E.U. member States enjoy free trade among each other and, in a separate agreement among many of the E.U. members and other European States, their citizens may travel anywhere in the E.U. without a passport.  Because of the large number of relatively small States in Europe, these benefits make sense.  But as the British had feared, the E.U. has developed a complex, bureaucratic structure that, among other things, has seized ever more powers of commercial regulation from its members.  The citizens of the E.U. member States elect a European Parliament, based proportionately on population, but, given the E.U.’s size and bureaucracy, the citizens of even a state as large as the U.K. do not feel they are adequately represented or that the benefits of membership are worth the price of billions of dollars in the E.U.’s membership dues and its burdensome regulations.  A particular source of dissatisfaction with membership in the E.U. is the loss of individual member sovereignty in regard to immigration.  The E.U. is also increasingly supplanting its member States in international organizations.  Thus, the U.K., like other E.U. members, no longer has a seat at the table in a growing number of international bodies.  Membership in the E.U. prohibits member States from negotiating bilateral trade agreements.  It is difficult to reform the E.U., as evidenced by the relatively minor concessions the U.K. won from the E.U., as major decisions require the consensus of all the members.   
The E.U. has been perpetually in crisis since 2010, first with the ongoing sovereign debt crisis and currently with the migration crisis, yet those who dream of greater European integration always insist that even more integration is the solution to every problem.  They never acknowledge that the integration among diverse States itself causes problems.  Moreover, European political integration has led to more of what it was intended to reduce, namely nationalism, as a popular reaction against the loss of national sovereignty.  Furthermore, it has exposed cultural differences between Northern and Southern Europe and created resentments because of them.

Those urging the U.K. to remain in the E.U. have offered a host of scare tactics if the British voted to leave.  If the British vote to remain in the E.U., they would be rewarded with the minor concessions the Government negotiated, which might encourage other member States to seek similar arrangements, contrary to the Europeanizing trend. 

If the British voted to leave the E.U., the U.K. might not easily, at least for a while, be able to establish a new relationship with the E.U. from the negotiations that would occur during the lengthy departure period, as the E.U. would not wish to reward the U.K. for leaving.  The U.K. might also find it difficult in the meantime to obtain bilateral relations with E.U. member States, including even those with which it shares a border, Ireland and France.  Like other European States outside the Common Market, the U.K. might have to accept E.U. rules to retain some of the desirable benefits of membership, without any voice in drafting those rules.  There might be an increase in the current trend toward independence among the Celtic parts of the U.K., as they prefer to remain in the E.U.

However, the U.K. would not only regain greater sovereignty over its domestic affairs, but, as a major economic power, be freer to establish bilateral relations with States outside of the E.U., such as the U.S., with which it may seek a free trade agreement.  It would also not have to bear the burden of E.U. membership dues.  The U.K. would regain its international stature as a Great Power.  Even if the United Kingdom would disintegrate, a still-strong England would regain internal sovereignty that has been lost to the Celtic parts, which are likely to obtain independence eventually, regardless of the outcome of Thursday’s referendum, although after an initial period of coolness, the E.U. would before long become more disposed to negotiate a more mutually-beneficial relationship with the U.K. because of its might and borders with the E.U., as the E.U. would be incomplete without the U.K.

Once the United Kingdom left, other European members might also become emboldened either to seek more concessions or to leave the E.U., which might be the best outcome for the world.  Then, the all the States of Europe could renegotiate more favorable terms to maintain the current desirable benefits of the Common Market, such as free trade and passport-free travel, without all the costs, bureaucracy and loss of sovereignty that is based on a false ideology of Europeaness. 

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