By Dr. Filippos Proedrou, Vice President KEDISA
The British decision carries sweeping ramifications both for Britain and the EU. The EU cleavage transcends Britain and will mean that Britain will no longer be the same. The Scotts are more than likely to undertake a second referendum in the near future and this time opt out of Britain and for the EU. The future of Northern Ireland also comes into question. A united island in the EU makes much more sense and there are significant political dynamics towards this goal. The end result: a dismembered Britain, not exactly what the Brexit proponents had in mind.
The EU, on its part, enters its darkest period. The period of permissive consensus is officially over, and the EU has to engineer a much more proactive public diplomacy targeting its member-states’ constituencies. The achievements of unprecedented peace, prosperity, stability and welfare are taken for granted, rather than alluded to the EU. More importantly, how these will be achieved in a weakened, dismembered and handicapped Union is nowhere properly answered. The euro-skeptic and far-right fronts have released a merciless attack on the virtues of open societies, open borders and post-national, post-sovereign political arrangements and threaten the very basis of European prosperity. History will narrate Cameron’s political tenure as the least wise. Attempting to mute the far-right, he went along with xenophobic responses, played the Brexit card and tied himself to a dangerous referendum which adopted its own uncontrollable dynamics and culminated in a historical anti-EU decision.
In this context, one should anticipate pressure for more referenda across the EU, at a time when the German and French elections are around the corner (2017). The EU, on its part, has no option but to show that exiting the Union entails costs that far outweigh the meager benefits. While respecting British decision, it can only move forward with further European integration, that will increase security and boost economic performance. Only this way will a renewed gap be created between the insiders and outsiders, the same that made the EU so attractive a few decades ago.
What sort of partnership Britain and the EU will agree on can only be left to speculation for the time being. Membership of the common market, labor and movement rights, and the plight of mixed families are all in the air. While a Norwegian type partnership will save the day and avert a fervent economic recession in Britain, it will leave proponents of Brexit feeling justifiably frustrated and betrayed. In all, relationship with the EU will remain an issue on the domestic agenda, since Britain cannot but relate to the continent across sectors. Its influence and leverage, though, has been dealt a fatal blow, since Britain has practically quit on its chair in Brussels.
A last note on democracy is essential. While referenda are a considerable political tool, one could question whether marginal results (say less than 60%-40%, or 65%-35%), should be binding on political elites. Secondly, national referenda on post-national issues, with non-nationals but affected populations illegible to vote, undermine liberal rights and democratic principles, and should be further scrutinized. National democracy is all we have, but in a post-national world it is neither efficient, nor very democratic per se.