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About 15 months ago I gave a series of talks at London embassies about the UK and the EU. I argued consistently that there was a real possibility the Brits would leave. The reaction was almost uniformly that of incredulity.TimSmall

I based my argument on two main platforms. The first was that the real debate had not even begun and that once it did the clear lead for Remain would be steadily whittled away. The second was that conventional wisdom was based on the wise of Westminster, not the disillusioned of Dewsbury – a place far to the north of the capital which some politicians and commentators may have heard of but had never visited.

This is not written to say ‘I told you so’, but more as an argument that it is often helpful to factor in to planning not the world as you see it but as others, with whom you might disagree, see it.

Which brings us, post Brexit vote, to the future of the EU.

I’m now travelling around the country, and the continent, spreading more doom and gloom (at least for those who support the basic idea of the EU) by telling anyone polite enough to listen that there is no way the EU can survive in its current form.

This is based on three points.

The first is that the crash of 2008 has undermined the ability of the EU governments to properly provide the funds required for fully functioning welfare states, while simultaneously reducing the sort of investment needed for big state projects. We are all still feeling the effects of 2008.

Photo from UNHCR

Photo from UNHCR

This, in itself, could be handled. ‘Boom and bust’ is a regular pattern in capitalist societies. However, the second point is that this latest cycle came at a time when globalization accelerated thus endangering certain jobs in the accompanying shake up. Simultaneously there has been mass migration as the economic conditions and wars to the south, and south east of Europe, have propelled wave upon wave of people northwards. This in turn has contributed to the backlash against globalization which has now stalled, and to the rise in nationalist parties.

The third point is more ‘philosophical’. Sometimes in talks, admittedly for effect, I suggest that the award for the most stupid book title in the post war period should go to Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’. Agreed, his work is sometimes taken out of context, and he was not arguing that there would be no more ‘events’, but he did say that after the fall of the Berlin Wall we were witnessing – ‘…the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Given the complexities of human societies, and thousands of years of recorded history, it is difficult to see how anyone could arrive at that conclusion. Liberal Democracy is no longer on the march. It has come to standstill in Russia, and nascent moves towards it in China have gone into reverse.

What does this have to do with our Liberal Democracies in the EU? The lesson is simple. Nothing lasts forever be it the Roman or British Empires, the concept of the Treaty of Westphalia, the League of Nations, or… the EU.

Once you accept that, and then factor in points one and two, it is not difficult to construct the agreement that that EU will not survive in its current form.

The 28 are now on course to become the 27 – that much we know. But what of the remaining states in which a majority of the populations still have more loyalty to country than to Union?

This summer’s Eurobarometer showed that across the bloc trust in the EU had fallen from 57% in 2007 to 33% now. The Pew Research Centre finds that only 38% of the French view the EU favourably. Support is growing for the National Front which wants out of the Union. Support for remaining in the Eurozone is down to 54% in Italy, and the Five Star movement wants a return to the lira.

Schengen Visa

Schengen Visa

All these figures can be countered with others showing solid support for the EU and Euro in, for example, Luxembourg, but that does not alter the overall trend towards Euroscepticism.

The Visegrad Group –  Poland/Hungary/Czech Republic/Slovakia – now meets ahead of EU summits to try and agree a joint strategy, all are resisting greater EU integration. Bulgaria, Rumania, and others are increasingly sceptical about the Euro. As net receivers of EU aid, they don’t want out, but their populations are telling them neither do they want ‘interference’ from Brussels.

To the north the Scandinavian countries also see a rise in scepticism. They too increasingly see themselves as a bloc within a bloc. Talk of a mini Schengen, and indeed a Nordic trading area, is now commonplace.

Amid all this, because of the economic downturn, some of the richer northern EU countries are asking, more publicly, why they must subsidize those to the south, and if there is one factor common to almost all the 28 members – it is the rise of nationalist, sometimes extreme right wing, political parties.

And so, across the continent, the unthinkable, is becoming thinkable. Brexit is not the cause, it is a symptom, but what Brexit will do is potentially offer a route map to others who want out, or least a changed EU on different terms.

So, ever closer Union? The breakup of the Union? Or, a restructured Union? My guess is the latter.




8 Comments on "EU: Things Fall Apart…"

  1. There won’t be a restructured Union. The EU’s total refusal to give David Cameron a deal he could sell to the British people demonstrates that.

    The EU’s natural answer to any problems or threats is to batten down the hatches and refuse to change. If there is going to be a change it will me “more EU”, not less.

    The biggest threat to the EU’s future will be when Britain leaves in 2019. The 27 may believe this will make ever closer Union easier to achieve, however the removal of Britain’s very significant net contribution to the EU budget (the second largest after Germany) will jeopardise many of the EU’s pet projects.

    The countries of eastern and southern Europe will not readily accept the resulting cuts in EU spending on projects that are designed to help their economies grow.

  2. I think it will depend on how successful the United Kingdom turns out to be outside the EU. Should we do well, the call in other member states to leave, will grow ever stronger.
    I wonder if once the negotiations are finalised and we have left, assuming that we are bearing up as well as I hope, we could invite other countries to join us in a free trade zone.
    I can think of little else that would upset the EU hierarchy and please me more, than to see Denmark or Norway leave the EU to join us.
    After all, when we joined the Common Market that’s what the majority of us thought we were getting, not a European superstate.

  3. I would guess given previous form there will be a push towards ever closer union, how sustained or successful it is will depend on how next years elections turn out. If we end up with President Juppe in France and (less likely) Chancellor Gabriel in Germany it could come to pass over the objections of the leaders of the eastern nations. I do believe the commission and many European politicians are that out of touch as to think more Europe is the only way.

  4. Tim, an excellent article. I have thought the same for a long while but you’ve put some useful facts and basic argument in that support the argument. Just as matter and anti-matter are balanced, so is power (or control, which is maybe a better term). As the EU loses control of facets of European life a vacuum is created. It’s not a switch; I’m not suggesting that one day there is a hard vacuum but that as the barometric pressure drops in one sphere, local factors immediately move in to fill the container. It’s a dynamic process. The bigger the vacuum, the bigger the ingress.

    Or, to put it another way, Fagin gets taken-out, and his place is taken by Fagin MkII or a mix of Fagin-like bods. Which might, of course, be far worse (or less good, depending on your paradigm) than Fagin was. In that process, there is always a squabble between those eager to fill all or part of the void. Sometimes these squabbles are barely visible to the wider world and sometimes they become a full war.

    We need to be careful what we wish for and vigilant to ensure that the vacuum is filled by good molecules not bad molecules. Good Fagins, not bad Fagins.

  5. There won’t be a meaningfully different EU as the whole project is ratcheted towards ever closer union (political and economic). The Commission website makes it clear that this involves onward integration of national political systems and economies.

    These goals are legally binding, and it is illegal to jeopardise them. Powers lost to the EU cannot be repatriated under ECJ Case 6/64 – the loss of national sovereignty is permanent.

    There is a faltering currency, a migration crisis and wholesale lack pf public support. It would better to replace it with EFTA for trade, Council of Europe for other co-operation and selective agreements where necessary.

  6. Has the EU helped to prevent war in Europe and on it’s peripheries since it’s conception or has it aggravated relations between the EU and it’s neighbours? Can anyone give me some guidance with this question?

    • Hello Alan, I beleive it has helped prevent war by extending the space in which rule of law, democracy, et al is the norm. That peace has been underwritten by NATO as a miltary force, but the EU encorporating such a wide area has played a role.

  7. Thanks Tim, My brother argued the opposite and I got lost wading through historical information trying to refute his assertions. Your help is much appreciated. By the way I am enjoying your book Prisoners of Geography, I have so far read up to China and feel so much better informed. I have even bought a copy of the same book for my brother but he won’t see it till his birthday 10th Dec. Cheers Alan

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