Tons of ink have already been spilt discussing the post-Brexit referendum future of Great Britain and the European Union with dire predictions and warnings galore on both the Leave and Remain sides. What has not been adequately discussed is the policies and circumstances that led the country that gave us the Magna Carta and, indeed, the first functioning modern democracy in Europe, to face the stark choice of Brexit. Yet, it remains all important to try to understand the causes behind Brexit, especially if the Remain side prevails. For it is very unlikely that the European Union can set its ship right, with or without Britain, if it doesn’t clearly understand what set it on its current wayward course.
To understand how far off course Europe has veered lately, it is worth remembering how it all started. Following two brutal fratricidal wars in the 20th century, the Europeans finally decided that to avoid a third one, they needed to create a set of powerful economic and political incentives to stick together. It fell to men like Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schumann and Alcide de Gasperi, giants of their time, to formulate and promote them. They came to be called the “four freedoms” and they were as powerful and sound as they were simple. Europeans had to agree to the unrestricted freedom of movement of people, goods, capital and services. They did and beginning in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome, the new European community began to take shape. People like Adenauer understood, however, that in order for this community to be successful, there had to be a spirit of competition in everything else.
Not so the French, who had never seen a socialist idea they did not like, and they started throwing monkey wrenches into the works from the beginning by insisting on agricultural subsidies, for instance. They and others on the Left were not satisfied with a community of free but competing nations, like Adenauer and de Gasperi, but dreamed of a Union of European Socialist Republics, a democratic version of the USSR. Eventually, they prevailed and the new union slowly evolved into a bureaucratized and ever less democratic entity further and further away from the original model. An early high point on this road to nowhere was reached with the introduction of the Euro in 2000, an ultimately disastrous effort to achieve political integration objectives by economic means. The result was a bottomless pit called Greece and the long-term economic stagnation of the entire southern tier of the EU.
In 2005, the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels decided they needed to speed up integration by means of an European Constitution and when the voters in France and the Netherlands rejected it decisively, they simply refused to take no for an answer and pushed the same objective through the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 that did not need to be voted on.
In the meantime, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, having convinced themselves that there will never be another war, the Europeans began disarming to the point where today the EU barely registers as a military power and the United States pays nearly 3/4 of NATO’s budget, a clearly unsustainable proposition. While the Brussel’s mandarins dreamed of perpetual peace, a newly resurgent neo-imperialist Russia under Putin raised its ugly head in the East, radical Islam posed an ever urgent terrorist threat in Western Europe and the Middle East succumbed to seemingly permanent violence.
As if to prove how dysfunctional EU policies had become, in September 2015, Angela Merkel told the millions fleeing from the mayhem in the Middle East and elsewhere that there were no upper limit to how many refugees Germany (and Europe) could take. A policy of nearly unfathomable stupidity that promptly resulted in the largest invasion of Europe since WWII by millions of mostly young, male, economic immigrants. To add insult to injury, her European commission cohorts informed the Eastern Europeans, who had not been consulted, that they would have to take quotas of migrants as determined by Brussels and, if they failed to follow orders, would be fined €250,000 per migrant not taken. One could hardly envisage a more brutal and less democratic dictate in a community of ostensibly sovereign nations and it was indignantly rejected. Merkel’s policies had quickly proven disastrous and were promptly reversed, but the damage was already done.
Add to this an European banking system that is broken, a monetary system that is a royal mess, an economic stagnation seemingly without end and an ever more oppressive regulatory system and it becomes clear why the British have had it with Brussel’s imperious and unaccountable government. But it would be a huge mistake to think that this is only a British problem. A new Pew Foundation poll shows that the anti-Brussels attitudes of the British are shared across Europe and growing. Fully 61% of the French have an unfavorable view of the EU and 42% of the Europeans now want power returned to national governments. What all of this means is that regardless of the outcome of the Brexit referendum, the European Union is facing an existential crisis. It will either start reforming itself in line with its original design or it will suffer a spectacular demise. Tertium non datur.
By Alex Alexiev