Brexit is the EU's Ultimate Test
I don’t like independence referenda, and Brexit was not an exception. As with all things political, they invariably end up being subject to manipulation from every side with skin in the game. Campaigns get real dirty real quick, and why not? In the end, the result is decided by numbers so compromise, the secret spice that makes mob-rule democracy somewhat functional despite all it’s pitfalls, is thrown out the window by all. Bitterness and mutual resentment grows, and usually hangs on for a while, even long after the ballot boxes have been counted.
Now that the UK has voted on Brexit, this is where the real work happens, where politicians on both the winning and losing sides of the debate are going to have to work together to respect the democratic consultation. This is going to be a challenge in the UK surely, where the issues was extremely devises, but it’s the European Union who’s going to face its true test.
The above clip of Nigel Farage has been making the rounds on the internet. Abrasive pomp and smugness aside, the message is that the relationship with the EU doesn’t have to end because the UK has decided to get out. Despite the intentions that Remain-ers will try to give the Leave campaign, the only possible outcome of the Leave victory is to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty to negotiate withdrawal of the UK from the Union. NOT the immediate shutdown of borders. NOT the immediate return to splendid isolationism. NOT sending back EU nationals in the UK to the continent by firing them out of canons. The UK will get out of the EU like it got in: through negotiation, politicking, and most possibly a fair share of bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy is a beast that knows no master, but negotiation and political settlement are both things that require one thing to work properly: good will. In the clip above, Farage showed some good will, in his own snarky way. The rest of the MEPs, not usually a rowdy bunch, accepted this good will with booing and shouting. Following Farage’s speech, Jean-Claude Juncker asked the former why he was still here despite the voting having passed, soliciting massive applause. Juncker’s question was stupid, because he knows the answer to it. Unless he is even more of a dunce on the EU than I am, he knows damn well that nothing is over until a negotiated solution is reached. So why the passive-aggressiveness? Where’s Mr Juncker’s good faith?
Other Pro-EU figures have also been very quick to invoke doomsday scenarios, issue threats and generally become very prickly and arrogant about the whole situation. Belgium’s own Charles Michel starts out with literally “I’m not bitter, but…”, then advocates for “making it obvious to the British that their victory is pyrrhic.” According to him, this must be done quickly. Another stunning display of level-headedness that jumps the gun in a spectacular fashion while completely forgetting the dispositions of article 50.
This is the big test for the EU, one that European nations, pretenders to the Union, and trade partners who aren’t targeted by integration will witness. It will determine the following: Is the EU reasonable as a political entity? Is it jealous and vengeful when it doesn’t get its way, or can it remain cool in times of crisis? It’s ok that EU politicians stop acting in the UK’s interest, that’s expected because it’s what sovereignty implies: a country being solely responsible for itself. What’s not OK is conducting a process which is fully recognized by the institutions of the union with bad blood and hope that the doomsday prophecies invoked by Euro-leaders are realized.
If the EU is heavy-handed with the UK, what message does that send to nations with an application still in the works like Turkey or the Balkan states? What does it say to chronic economic under-performers like Italy, Spain which might get a taste of what Greece has been getting in the past years? What does it say to Greeks which are probably already throwing darts at pictures of Juncker? What does it say to Romanians who are scheduled to get forced into adoption of the Euro by 2019? Or to others who might be forced to do the same at a later date? In the long term, I’m confident that the UK will survive, as sovereign nations have for several hundred years now. The same can’t be said of the EU if it chooses to be brutish about Brexit: this is unchartered territory and the world is watching.
As Glen Greenwald said, the true mesure of a society’s freedom is how it treats its dissidents. Calling for the blood of every British firstborn for the UK’s heresy of renouncing integration, even if proverbially, will only hurt the EU.