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The Lessons from Brexit (Henri de Courtivron)

The Lessons from Brexit (Henri de Courtivron)

The recent episode of Brexit emphatically highlighted many weaknesses and shortcomings which demonstrate that neither economics nor politics is an exact science – starting with the economic commentators, who, in their vast majority, asserted that the Brexit will not happen, supported in this belief by polls, which also, overwhelmingly, presaged a defeat for Brexit supporters. The result is as we know it; journalists were very quick to predict an impending disaster for the United Kingdom, although the impact of Brexit was inevitably mitigated by the fact that the British decided to exit that which they had never completely entered. Again, the doomsayers were mistaken and the United Kingdom did not collapse. But commentators believe that it won’t be long and the British will certainly not get away so easily.

But it is ignorant of us to think that our British friends will not mobilize all their pragmatism, dynamism, sense of their collective best interest, and they will not react positively to ensure their country a satisfactory economic development in the context they have given themselves. After all, for now their economy remains on track, only the real estate prices are declining in London, but after skyrocketing in recent years, the damage is minimal. Regarding relations with the European Union, we can be confident of their ability to negotiate and defend their common interests, as they always did when they were members; make the best possible use of their relations with the Brussels authorities and obtain, as they have always managed, exceptionally favorable treatment for which they have the secret recipe.

But while commentators and journalists have been generally mistaken about the different phases of Brexit, which after all was their own responsibility – and perhaps they eventually will get it right – it is more pertinent to see how our politicians deafen us with their silence on the true lessons of Brexit. We are told that the British have made a serious mistake by voting for exiting the European Union, and that, of course, it shall surely not be that the voters of the countries of continental Europe will do the same and that they can be trusted to have the good sense to not commit, in turn, such an error.

This is certainly a misinterpretation of the motives of the British and there is no inclination to acknowledge that, if the same question was asked in countries like France, Germany, Italy and probably Spain and others, the answer would be the same and the majority would probably be enough for an exit from the European Union, especially as the English example sets a precedent that could make the voters more courageous. The mistake would be to think that voters are against Europe, but probably, that’s not the message they wish to convey. European citizens as a whole are not against Europe, but they are against Europe as it is presented to them, and often imposed.

The criticisms made about European integration are now widely known.

It starts with a definition of the European project. How can we ask the citizens to join a project when, we are not even able to define the perimeter and to finally settle the question whether Turkey should or should not be in and when, enlargement of Europe is done haphazardly, to include a large number of countries with totally disparate and often irreconcilable economic situations and varied objectives?

The second criticism is obviously about the serious democratic deficit in the European construction. The Brussels authorities, who have no democratic legitimacy, impose constraints, which sometimes, even go against democratic decisions at a national level. It even happens that democratic consultations, if they do not like our leaders, can be circumvented by pseudo-democratic arrangements, which electors find quite hard to take and will remember for a very long time.

Finally, the general impression is that European integration is done at the cost of an absurdly privileged bureaucracy, cumbersome and expensive, too concerned with matters which are of petty importance and not focusing effectively enough on critical matters as tax harmonization, legal, economic, etc.

As long as one does not understand that Brexit must be interpreted as a free warning and it highlights the absolute urgency to clearly answer questions asked by citizens of continental Europe and to correct the fundamentals of the European construction, the most extremist movements of all stripes will be increasingly attracting sell-out audiences.

Those who have long cried in the wilderness, stressing the dangers of the democratic deficit in Europe and the lack of clarity of the European project, are being joined by an increasing number of citizens who, if they do not find satisfactory answers provided by the political parties that claim to be their leaders, will have no choice but to express their resentment and anger, by giving their votes to parties that are usually considered to be untrustworthy. The responsibility for this situation, which can lead Europe into a severe turbulence and unpredictable consequences, will become clear to political parties who pretend to be trustworthy.. for now, failing to assume responsibility, they are mostly faint hearted and lethargic. This presumes that a number of politicians across different parties, recognize their mistakes; and everyone knows that this is not their forte. Their awakening, and ours, are likely to be painful.

Henri de Courtivron
(September 2016)

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