Τετάρτη, 3 Φεβρουαρίου 2016

Brexit is no way out of a Europe in crisis


1/2/2016

By Gideon Rachman

In its own interests, Britain must contribute to stability on the European continent

David Cameron should hurry up and hold that referendum on British membership of the EU. If the UK prime minister does not get a move on, there might not be an EU left to leave.

Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, said recently that, unless Europe gets a grip on the migration crisis, “the European project can die, not in decades or years but very fast”. Even allowing for a degree of hyperbole in that statement, there is no doubt that Mr Cameron is negotiating with an organisation that is in grave trouble.

The refugee issue and the threat that it poses to the EU’s border-free Schengen area is the most obvious emergency. But it may not even be the most fundamental problem. The very basis of the European idea is that the EU is a community of democratic, law-governed states. But the independence of the courts and media are clearly under threat in Poland and Hungary, powerful countries that retain full voting rights within the union.

The euro crisis has not gone away either and Greece may well need another bailout this summer. Germany remains the only nation capable of giving some leadership to the EU. But the authority of Angela Merkel, its chancellor, has been badly damaged by the refugee crisis. The Merkel government is, anyway, increasingly estranged from eastern Europe over refugees; and from southern Europe over the euro.

Amid all this, Mr Cameron’s demands for minor changes in Britain’s relationship with the EU seem almost bizarrely besides the point. As one German policymaker fumed to me: “The European house is burning down and Britain wants to waste time rearranging the furniture.”

Even more strange is the fact that the British debate about whether to quit the EU (Brexit) seems to have barely factored in the idea that the organisation itself is in crisis. Both sides — pro and anti — are deploying arguments that have hardly changed since the 1990s. The Brexit crowd claims that Europe is proceeding headlong towards a federal state, ignoring the fact that it is in much greater danger of disintegration. The pro-EU camp stresses the virtues of the single market while trying to avert their eyes from the horrible political mess unfolding on the other side of the English Channel.

If the two sides in the Brexit debate were to acknowledge the extent of the EU’s political problems, how might that affect the referendum campaign? It seems much more likely that the image of an EU in crisis would help the Brexit camp. A squabbling, paralysed EU is a much tougher sell than a smoothly functioning success story. But, perhaps paradoxically, the fact Europe is in crisis actually strengthens my own resolve to vote for Britain to stay inside the EU.

For all its faults, the EU champions ideas that are crucial to peace and freedom in Europe. These include co-operation between nations, the rule of law, the protection of human rights and the promotion of free trade. Nationalist political forces that challenge all of these ideas are growing in strength across Europe, from France to Poland, and they are united by their hostility to the supranational EU.

Outside the EU, a hostile and freshly aggressive Russia is cheering on the possible collapse of the European project — and is probably funding some of its most ardent internal opponents.

Brexit would deal another blow to the EU and could even be a major step along the road to its collapse. Given Europe’s bloody past and troubled present, helping to destroy the major vehicle for European co-operation cannot be a good idea.

It is true that the crisis within the EU may soon require a fundamental rethink of the organisation’s aims and methods, well beyond the minor changes that Mr Cameron is able to negotiate.

But when the moment comes for a fundamental reappraisal of Europe’s future, it is vital — both for the UK and the rest of Europe — that Britain is a full participant in the debate. However, a UK government that had helped to precipitate the collapse of the EU is more likely to be cast in the role of scapegoat than architect.

Eurosceptic voices in Britain will argue that all this is far too theoretical. If the European house is indeed “on fire”, surely it makes sense for Britain to get out fast? In particular, they will argue that free movement of people within the EU means that Britain is unable to control its borders, which could be dangerous at a time of turmoil in the Middle East and Europe. The Brexit camp believes that the Channel can once again serve as a firebreak, protecting Britain from what is happening in Europe.

But that view, while superficially attractive, ignores the patterns of history. These suggest that if there is political turmoil and conflict in Europe, Britain inevitably gets sucked in, whether it is the wars of the Spanish succession, the struggle against Napoleon or the two world wars of the 20th century.

Britain cannot isolate itself from the troubles of Europe. In its own interests, it must contribute to the stability on the European continent. For the past 50 years, the EU has been crucial to underpinning peace, prosperity, diplomatic dialogue and the rule of law within Europe. It would be a serious mistake for the UK to undermine an organisation that, whether we realise it or not, is crucial to Britain’s own security.

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