Brexit: a plea for a global EU

by Lisa Hermanns

The Brexit was surprising. Not only for Europe, not only for David Cameron, it also surprised many Out-Voters. The irony of this decision that apparently nobody took seriously, and only few in Europe had hoped for, is its arbitrariness. Nobody seems to know what will happen now. The Treaty of the European Union states in Article 50 that each Member State is free to leave the Union in accordance with its national constitution and that the conditions for such a case need to be negotiated with the Union. Yet, the way out of the EU is not laid down in detail. It is for Great Britain to submit its request to leave now, yet since Cameron and other government persons responsible do not hurry, uncertainty remains for the other Member States as well.

If the results of the referendum had been differently, everybody would have known what was to happen. It is surprising that a state would leave the EU anyways, and its founders did not envision such a situation. Indeed, Article 50 providing for such a case was only introduced in the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. Seven years after the ratification of this treaty, the scenario often depicted as a deathblow to European integration, could now occur.

On the global stage without Great Britain

And what exactly does the possibly leave of Great Britain mean for the EU and its Member States? Does the Brexit say more about the EU and its condition than about Great Britain? This is at least what Brendan Simms, Professor at Cambridge University, stated during a lecture at Maastricht University. The lack of transparency is often criticized about the EU, as well as it being alien to its citizens. The EU is pictured as an inefficient module of bureaucracy, to whom the curvature of cucumbers is more important than actual political problems. Internationally, the EU is often not respected as a partner in negotiations. These views and accusation do, however, not take into account that the Union is constraint by the way it shares competencies with the Member States. The latter try to keep their say in as many areas as possible. This behaviour is an explanation especially for the EU’s weakness on the international stage, as the 28 national representatives of the Member States always side-line the EU.

But while these states are worried to see their interests undermined if they were represented together with 27 others, European heads of states and governments do not seem to realise that their individual national interests do not matter extinctly on the international stage.If the interest of 500 million Europeans was represented unitarily, the international influence would be much more substantial compared to one voice speaking for 83 million Germans, another one for 9 millions Swedes, one for 60 million Italians and so on.

European Future

It is self-evidently not realistic to think that the interests of European states always converge. Otherwise no one would think it necessary to represent their national interests independently. Yet, the existence of the EU proves the ability of Member States to agree on common aims. Why should they do so only internally and not in global matters? For Great Britain, a state enjoying international recognition in global affairs, the EU has always mainly served economic purposes. Even EU-critical prime minister Margaret Thatcher was in favour of more European integration in the Single European Act of 1987, which completed the single market. If the EU concerned itself with topics non-related to trade, however, Great Britain was less enthusiastic. That is just why their leave is a chance for the Union to progress. Member States can risk more integration and reform the EU’s competences in a way to make its working more effective.

A reform does, however, not necessitate new competences for the EU. One step towards more efficiency would be to change the decision-making procedures in a way that would allow faster decisions. For instance, legislation by the Council of the European Union (national ministers) and the European Parliament could be designed more constructively: consultations on the intentions of both institutions could take place already before the European Commission brings forward a proposal.

If Council and Parliament likewise had the right to initiate legislation, the possibility to contribute common proposals could reduce the lengthy bargaining that usually follows a Commission proposal. Of course, these internal reforms would hardly alternate the EU’s global position. Yet, Great Britain’s possibly leave should encourage the Member States to reflect on the EU’s global meaning, and it should help them realise the Union’s value. If Barack Obama tells a nation like Great-Britain to get to the back of the line as an individual state, what does this even mean for other European states?


This article has also been published in German at firstlife.

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