This is going to be a piece in English, because it was triggered by an event which happend (to be precise: is still unfolding) in the United Kingdom. German Readers will have to revive their reading skills aquired in school, or use Google translate.
Angela Merkel might be to blame for a lot of things. But rushing a deciscion is not one of them. And how she deserves to be lauded for it on the background of the British referendum’s Brexit vote!
All over Europe senior politicans are furiously calling for a quick divorce from and harsh consequences for the Brits after the Brexit vote of June 23rd. No true leader would have done that. They might have been shocked by the result, they might have expressed regrets, but they definitely would not have called for speedy consequences, least of all a formal declaration of putting into effect Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union. Angela Merkel did not do any of that!
Because there is absolutely no need to lose your mind over the Leave vote, historic as it may be. On the contrary: the vote, what it means and how it came about deserves to be studied calmly and with caution not to be rushed into false conclusions. Here are a few questions – and short answers on what actually did or will be going to happen:
Was there an obvious and easy answer to the referendum’s question? No!
Will Britain actually leave the EU? This depends on a lot of things – including the question of how the rest of Europe reacts. Conceit, arrogance and intent to teach a lesson certainly will not help! Nor will fear.
Let’s take a closer look at the first question. Was there an easy answer? No! Could it be possible to read the referendum’s result as something different than an outright decision to leave at all costs? Is there room for any conditionality in the referendum’s question?
The question was a simple, uncondtional question. It read:
»Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?«
As such, it is seen as pretty close to the ideal question an electorate should get. Interpretation of a what is at stake should be limited to a minimum. Does this make the question an easy one? Even one that is immune to the disease of conditionality? Of course not! There are very few uncondtional questions at all. Love of one’s children being among those that come closest to unconditionality. The question asked in the EU referendum cetainly was not unconditional, hence it was far from being an easy one!
What kind of conditionalities were attached to the question of leave or remain? And what implications follow from the answer?
Well, there may have been few conditionalities in the question, but surely there was one which each and every voter in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland must have had on their mind. Because it was right in front of their eyes: The United Kingdom!
Leave activists as well as those on the continent who call for a quick response and demonstration of determination to carry on without the Brits should pause and think for a moment: is the vote really that unambigous? That cristall-clear as they say (or act)? No!
The Leave vote in its present harshness and EU-aversion is bound to the condtionality of scope and structure of the United Kingdom to remain un-changed. But that’s not a given!
As we have seen in reactions from Scotland and Northern Ireland there are serious scenarios lurking in which the integrity of the United Kingdom as it is known today would or could be affected by regional Leave-votes in the Province and/or Scotland. It is all but clear whether the Brexit vote would have gotten anywhere close to a majority if the question would have taken this conditionality into account.
Consequently, it is fair and probably even necessary for Westminster to pause and reconsider the implications of possible next steps. One is to go ahead as planned and notify the European Commission of Her Majesty’s Government invoking Article 50 of the EU treaty. Obviously this implies that a Brexit referendum is not the same thing as a Brexit. Other than the past referendum, however, that move of notification would indeed be a point of no-return! It would mean the beginning of negotiations on the details of Britain’s exit which need to be completed in a set time frame. After that Britain will be definitely out.
But there are other options at hand:
One of the options is this: have a thorough debate on whether or not the UK is prepared to disintegrate itself over the issue of Europe. Very likely, this will lead to a sobering effect on both sides: The UK will discover that not even the present state of the European Union is worth risking the future of the Union of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. (N.B.: Boris Johnson’s statement on the Vote seems to indicate that he too is aware of the multitude of options and their respective advantages. Many observers have long been pointing to the plausible main reason for Johnson to join the Leave campaign: getting rid of David Cameron. As for the EU and Britain, Johnson was never known to be a die-hard isolationist. And why should he be?)
The second aspect of conditionality refers to the European side of the problem:
Only ignorants can deny a growing concern and disappointment over the state of the EU all across Europe. And it is not just nationalists and far right extremists who frequently criticise lack of democratic control and demand transparency in the EU’s political process. Consequently, it is important to understand the vote as the product of various factors, instead of a simple anti-European resentment by the British! Especially those kind of EU politicians who are now angriliy calling for swift action on behalf of and versus Great Britain need to understand this: the more the vote comes to be seen as a victory of the selfish and bad (UK) over the gracious and good (EU), the harder it will get to evolve Europe into what it can and should become: a manifestation of common cultural heritage, political values and economic prudence as well as solidarity.
If Europe is going to preserve its influence in a globalised world, integration is imperative. TINA, as in There Is No Alternative. To many people’s taste, to many Britons who voted Leave, integration in the EU has gone too far. However, it is not so much the handing over of power which is problematic, but rather the lack of tools to hold Europe or Brussels responsible for, or even reverse if need be, what comes into effect.
What European Leaders – leaders in the true meaning of the term – need to discuss and develop is a reform model for democratic participation. The biggest task ahead is predominantly domestic: Germans need to understand that Europe is worth paying for – because Europe is, has been, and should be the platform for German economic growth of the last 40 years. Europe comes at a cost, and the cost is financial and/or political, depending on what country you look at. But the price for not having a European future will be much higher still.
Britons should reconsider, as should the EU. It is time for democratic reforms. It is time to develop a true European political identity. Because there is no point in taking on the challenges of the future seperatly. To be or not to be, that is the question.