Brexit - The British Divorce. Photo Credit : http://www.investmentweek.co.uk/investment-week/news/2462614/sterling-plummets-to-lowest-level-since-1985-as-uk-votes-to-leave-the-eu

The Spark to Redefine “Europe”

The results of today’s referendum in the United Kingdom present an unprecedented situation for a strained European Union. For the first time in its history, a member state voted to leave the Union. In an organization that grew exponentially, the exit of a powerful contributor will force remaining nations to make some tough choices. The UK will also need to make some hard decisions about how to move forward outside of “Europe”. Needless to say, the Brexit will not be an easy process for anyone.

The UK has historically played balancing role on the continent, but this referendum represents a decisive departure from Britain’s neighbors and a vote of no-confidence in the European Union. Eurosceptic voters of the UK have many reasons to want to sever ties with Brussels: the aftermath of the economic dysfunction made manifest by the near-miss of the Grexit, the inconsistent and frantic response to the refugee crisis, and the resurgence of a bold and unpredictable Russia. British voters, however narrowly, ultimately lost faith with the European Project.

In choosing to leave the union, the UK has lost its privileged position as one of the leaders of a modern, unified Europe. Great Britain had a unique position in the Union as one of the only states with a balance of political, economic, and military might – a position it built over the decades through active diplomatic and economic engagement in continental affairs. It was arguably the most independent of EU members, enjoying many of the benefits of Union membership without the risks of the Euro, or the borderless society of the Schengen Agreement. Britain’s options for influencing the continent are now weakened, and the benefits of Union membership lost –a unilateral disarmament of what was once a formidable diplomatic and economic arsenal.

Centrifugal Force

Europe had a lot to lose from a British exit. Strong and independent Britain played a stabilizing role: ensuring no single country –namely France or Germany– could push a unilateral direction upon the EU. It was a role only the UK could play. Italy and Spain are prone to economic and political instability; the Low Countries and Scandinavia, though economically formidable, do not have the clout or muscle needed to balance their larger neighbors; and the Višegrad economies of Eastern Europe are too new, many with elected governments more interested in moving away from Europe than towards it. Germany is the de facto leader of the EU, which is a source of great discord among the smaller, more economically-vulnerable nations that do not appreciate Chancellor Merkel’s heavy-handed style or the historical aftertaste of German leadership.

Though division within the EU is not new, the departure of its great offshore stabilizer starts the political centrifuge spinning. Right-wing leaders in France, and the Netherlands are already demanding independence referendums of their own. Spain’s call for dual-sovereignty of Gibraltar is a sign that some disputes between the UK and other EU member states may reemerge after being held dormant by a spirit of intra-Union cooperation. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, prominent leaders in many of the EU’s major nations called for their nations to follow Britain’s lead.

Not surprisingly, independent-minded regions within European nation-states will also ride the winds of change to clamor more loudly for their independence. In a bizarre twist, Scotland may have voted to remain in the EU, but may not want to stay in a non-EU Britain. No doubt Basques and Catalans in Spain will watch closely if a second independence referendum takes place in Scotland, and aspiring EU members in the Balkans are unlikely to tolerate a long and painful application process while the more developed countries are voting to leave.

The Brexit may well be the spark that brings about the dissolution of the European Union. Its erosion and potential breakup would deprive its member states of a useful venue for cooperation to solve common problems; an international political situation closer to 1914 than 2016. At a time when transnational issues are more relevant than national ones, it is not at all clear why European leaders are divesting themselves of international tools to deal with them. Europe should take a moment to reflect on its fractured past.

Opportunity in Discord

As noted European diplomat, Victor Angelo recently predicted: Europe will survive Brexit. What is not clear is whether the EU or the UK will survive their divorce intact. Perhaps the Union grew too quickly, haphazardly attempting to unify the continent in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, pushing “Europe’s” borders ever outward. In this manner, Brussels hardwired weaknesses into the future unity of the European Union.

But, as I’ve said before, there is opportunity in crisis. Challenges can break a weak union or strengthen a strong one. Perhaps this is the kind of shock Europe needs to wake up and implement further democratization and a unified fiscal policy towards a federal union. Any other course could doom the entire project to failure, and erase all the good Europeans have built, together.

Nick Avila Associate Blogmaster, Navisio Global. Brexit.LT Nick Avila is a U.S. Naval Officer and Olmsted Scholar in Belgrade, Serbia. He received his B.A. in History with a focus on American Diplomacy from Amherst College in 2008. He is an MH-60S helicopter pilot by trade and has military experience from two deployments in the western Pacific to include operations in Guam, Japan, and Australia. The views expressed here are his own and not those of the US Navy or the George and Carol Olmsted Foundation.

5 thoughts on “The Spark to Redefine “Europe””

  1. With Russia already saber rattling to the east, what greater effect will this have on the power play that Russia has been pushing over the last few years? A weakened EU may be seen as a wounded sheep, with a hungry wolf waiting outside the pasture. Will the US be required to continue to act as a shield? Will we be enough…especially when facing another great power in the Pacific trying to press it’s boundaries?

    1. I think that’s a great question.

      Russia has already been acting as a destabilizing factor for both NATO and the EU over the past few years, proving political will and unity with the conflicts in Georgia in Ukraine. Personally I think that Russian leaders will see this as vindication of their personal beliefs that the Union is fractured and will continue to take advantage of it. The reality of the situation may not be so dire, but in the minds of Russian leaders who already see weakness in Western Europe, this will only serve to embolden them.

  2. Great read!! Shared with my entire audience!! Would love to have you come on my radio show and discuss this, to educate my listeners on what is going on! Please feel free to contact me at the email below!!

    Warmest Regards,

    Jenn

  3. This is a pretty good overview, a “Helicopter View” perhaps from a diplomatic distance. I suspect however that use of the past tense in assuming this is all a done deal may yet be far from true. There is a way to go before the BREXIT is actually signed off on by someone.

    Britain leaving the European Union will be a disaster for all, politically, economically and in terms of the signals sent to enemies, as indicated here. The result was mainly due to petty nationalist sentiments in smaller towns and regions across England. The level of lying and misinformation by the so-called “LEAVE” campaign was on an industrial scale. Fears over Immigration fires were stoked far too highly.

    The decision to hold a referendum in the first place was a terrible mistake and the result is that several political careers have quickly and quite rightly now been destroyed.

    There is a lot of scrabbling around and chattering going on right now. Personally I think an English EU EXIT (Scotland and Northern Ireland are making rapid moves to change) is now just not going to happen. Maybe that’s just a vain hope.

    The Article 50 sign-off sword has been set in stone and is now severely poisoned. It is a sword which will and must only be touched and withdrawn now with great care and risk.

    The following article sums up three scenarios now possible that could stop BREXIT happening, “Bracksies”: how Brexit could wind up not actually happening:

    http://www.vox.com/2016/6/25/12031254/no-brexit-article-50

    It’s not over until it’s over.

    With new political parties with new leaders in England maybe we shall have 2 groups who do not hate each others class-conscious innards and can actually communicate and co-operate a little. They are going to need to.

    The major problem has not been with the EU “Concept”, the long running project of European peace and unity which has taken such time and effort from so many to develop, but the way the European Commission [EC] has been incompetently and chaotically run and managed for many years.

    Juncker and others should be pushed out. He has become a disaster, too old school “core” Europe, far too keen to please France and Germany. He has some problems now and should possibly retire. There should be a massive root and branch overhaul overseen by independent outsiders in how the EC is run in Brussels and in Strasbourg and elsewhere.

    Time is up guys. Change or die. A new politics of Proportional Representation in the UK and a Newly run slimmed down EC which is less imperial and imperious in it’s workings and much, much more accountable and answerable to National Governments. Is that too much to ask?

    http://www.politico.eu/article/the-time-of-jean-claude-juncker-troubles-european-commission-president-investment-plan-travel-meetings-scheduled/

    The EU leaders inside the vast and ridiculously costly Berlaymont building in Brussels had “absolutely no Plan B whatsoever. Hopeless. There should be some interesting back-room secret talks going on over the coming weeks. Let us hope the “Media” is kept away and that some sense finally prevails over populism and negativity. Order from chaos?

    The overall situation might be summarised. Britain can and must still remain IN and the UK must stay united. In tandem, the EU must now demonstrate to the whole of the European population that it will be quickly and meaningfully changed for that to be facilitated. Otherwise it’s OUT and the EU disintegrates slowly but surely.

    1. Helicopter view! I like it.

      You’re absolutely right. It is, by no means, a “done deal”. However I think the general analysis is correct in stating that it would be politically tricky to do anything but exit at this point.

      I don’t think the UK will fall apart, nor do I think the EU will. But something has to be done. Right now there is either too little authority vested in the EU, or too much, depending on how we look at it. By continuing to tread the middle ground between confederacy and economic union, they are eventually going to lose all the work they’ve built over the past few decades.

      I believe the only lasting solution is centralization, which is an opportunity that the Brexit creates. Whether or not the political will exists to push that through is another question.

      I agree that the UK should stay in. Though perhaps this shock to the system is what the EU needs to reform, and for the UK to realize what it will lose. Sometimes an event of that magnitude is needed to produce positive change.

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