The day of reckoning has arrived. What most of us (outside of the UK) feared has come to pass. The British have voted in favor of BREXIT and are going it alone. The first knee-jerk reaction from many may be to start hiding gold nuggets and diamonds in some secret place in case the world collapse. Others will tear open their mattress and pull out their old Deutsch Marks and Francs. Yet even other will think let’s just close the tunnel and be done with it. Of course, diehard Euros will launch doom and gloom threats of “don’t you come crawling back”.
All of these thoughts are the rantings of a person on 10 cup of coffee, a night of nail biting and a bucket of hopes flush down the toilet. The truth is we are all in mourning. While we did not want it, it is now history in the making and will dominate our lives like faraway wars, financial crises, and refugees…we might have some British refugees are selves who decide to stay and ask for asylum!
The moment of truth is upon Europe. The idea that we are a family of nations bound by a common purpose will now be tested. What exactly is that purpose and what is the meaning of family? Is the EU an end in itself or a means to an end? As I see it, the EU is a vehicle that seeks to ensure the rule of law, peace and prosperity across Europe first, on its periphery second, and finally around the world. If we can agree on that then it begs the question is the EU post-modernist enough to come out stronger because of this decision. Can the UK follow its path and still play a constructive and welcoming role? how will the EU work with the UK in NATO, UN, etc.
Those of you who know me, know that I was a very rambunctious teenager. I left my family several times and went off on my own to see what I could do. Every time I came back, my family always welcomed me. They made room for me, set an extra place at the table, and reminded me of what the family rules were. Never once was I punished or threatened for going off and experimenting. It might be too simplistic for some, but this is my understanding of family. Let’s not punish the young generation for the decision of their elders.
If this referendum is the beginning of the end of the EU as we know it, it is already doomed. The referendum only lays bare the naked truth that there is a growing and sizable dissatisfaction with the way decisions are made in the EU, the role of the European Commission, and the lack of accountability. The British decision to leave was not an intentional decision to hurt Europe, it was the desire to make their own decisions without having to consult 27 other countries.
How it will turn out for the UK is anyone’s guess. It could be that everything blows over and the UK becomes a center of innovation and growth that pulls the EU with it. It could also be that after a few years on its own, the UK realizes that actually it was better off in the EU with 27 other family members’ opinion and they reapply to get in.
In a worst case scenario, there might not be an EU to go back to and herein lies the scariest part for me. Before the EU existed Europe was a region full of strife, dominated by fascists governments and war. The young people today do not have any idea of what life in such a world might be like. With Germany and Russia increasing military spending, rightwing governments on the rise in Eastern and Central Europe, and anti-Muslim and Jewish sentiments growing across Europe, the UK referendum might go down in history as the start of a new phase of nationalist conflicts in Europe, and such phases have never boded well for the UK, for Europeans, and for global peace. it is not in anyone#s interest o have an unstable EU or UK. At this point, we can do one of several things:
- Bury our heads in the sand and continue life as usual ignoring dissatisfaction across the EU;
- Build up fortress EU across keeping the UK out of the proverbial EU-sandbox;
- Hug the UK and pull them tighter showing them they are European even out of the EU; or
- Seize the moment to reform the EU and get on with our building an EU where every European country finds a home regardless of what speed of integration they choose.
For me there is only one path: pack a lunch and a juice for our British friends for their long journey ahead, address the democratic deficit in the EU, and slow down integration to allow Europe to weather both the UK loss and all of the other crises we have experience. Not every country can join the EU and the EU can prosper very nicely without the UK. If in a few years after careful consideration the UK were to hold a new referendum and vote to rejoin…how fabulous would that be? I would have only one word for that…fierce.
A family is only as strong as it can absorb the challenges it faces while still remaining a family. When I left for Europe, my family was angry. They felt abandoned and for a long time it was difficult but with time, they came to see that despite the distance and different paths we were still a family. When we need each other we are there for each other.