What will happen after June 23rd in Europe? If the leave campaign fails, the European Union will have business as usual. Everybody will be relieved and will stress how important it is that the British have decided for Europe no matter how close the result will be – next topic please. But what if the Brexit becomes reality? Nobody really knows.
The big chance
To be honest if you are pro-European and you want further integration heading to political union you better pray for the Brexit to be successful. What looks like a disaster in the first place could be the big opportunity for the European Union to press forward. No matter how big the challenges are and no matter how shaky the current EU looks like I am deeply convinced that the only long-term solution for the political challenges lying ahead in the decades to come can only be successfully tackled within a united Europe – in a deep integrated political European Union.
The Brexit could be the big game-changer for the EU. Nothing so far was able to push national governments to develop the EU really towards political union. Europe is still based on the historic nation states and run by national politics coming to Brussels to find the lowest common denominator. The withdrawal of the UK could be the incentive to change the system.
No malicious joy, no paternalism
To be clear: If the Brexit takes place the EU should immediately make clear that the result will be accepted and Britain can and have to leave the EU. Technically it should be made clear that the game is over. Britain retreats step by step from the European common policies (according to what is possible on the timeline) no matter whether it is good or bad. Brexit includes exit and if the people want to leave they have to live with all the consequences. Decision taken, then implementation. I am convinced that sooner or latter a high majority in the UK will regret the decision. But this will only appear after they find out that this referendum was totally nonsense but people mostly learn only out of experience. If there could be a come back of the UK is a totally different discussion. I fear the Brexiteers are not aware of this.
Window of opportunity
But: We shall not focus too much on the UK after the referendum. Europe should organise the Brexit technically and based on partnership but with one goal – to escort them outside of the club (according to their own will). More important – focus on the EU. Grasp the chance and come up with the Plan B which is actually Plan A for a political united Europe. The member states possibly the founding six and those willing to join should put a proposal on the table for a political united Europe. That could possibly mean a breakup of the European Union we know today. But it will open the way for a European Union of the 21st century.
After the Second World War the European integration offered a way that is not war and destruction and it worked. But this old narrative is out of fashion; it does not serve the aims of the European Union of today. We need the big leap which means political union. Those who share the idea of living as a united Europe in a globalised world with far more handover of sovereignty to the European level than one can think of today is free to join this new process, this new way of integration, this new European narrative. That does not mean that everybody against this way is excluded. I think a Europe of different speed or a Europe of concentric circles is possible. Countries can join partly with a political integrated centre but the centre defines the level of integration and the speed. If a core of member states establishes the “United States of Europe” fine. Nobody is forced. We need convinced European member states in the new version of the EU, true believers who are willing to cooperate and share as much as possible. Those who are not willing can stay outside like the UK.
Nothing I can think of today will develop the current European Union crucially into the direction of political union. Brexit is one opportunity: Coming up with a developed European democracy, a Common Foreign and Security Policy that is worth to be named like this, a European army, tax harmonisation, a common approach in education, the one telephone number that Kissinger was looking for… tbc. Brexit could be the chance for a real integrated Europe of the 21st century with a new storyline. If that chance is taken Brexit is not a disaster but a grateful moment for Europe.