The EU institutions are regularly blamed for anything that happens in a particular context or member country. However, major decisions are all taken by member states who have regularly negotiated a pick and choose policy. If the EU members do not get a coherent economic, social and financial policy it will either lead to a total disintegration of the EU or a smaller EU…
The European Union (EU) was founded in the aftermath of WWII as a solution for a peaceful longer term Europe which had seen 2 world wars and centuries of rivalry in the continent. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and most of the previous Soviet bloc joining the Union, today, the EU with a 500 million population, is the biggest single market in the developed world and, the Euro, has become the second most important world currency behind the US Dollar.
On June 23rd 2016, the UK’s population voted on a referendum to decide whether they wanted to REMAIN in the EU or LEAVE it? With 52% of voters choosing to LEAVE i.e. a slender 2-point margin, they said LEAVE. Who chose to LEAVE: rural England, those above their 50s. (SEE TABLE BELOW). The cities, the below 50s, Northern Ireland and Scotland predominantly chose to REMAIN.
It all started with David Cameron promising, to counteract Nigel Farage’s populist UKIP, to hold a referendum if the UK did not get changes to the pact with EU that was satisfactory. Though negotiations bring about some of the demands of the UK, it was not enough and Cameron had to keep his promise. Cameron himself was never either fully in or out on his relationship position about the EU. He resigned subsequently and is now replaced by Theresa May who will need to take steps on the results of the referendum. Similarly, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage and many other prominent politicians who campaigned to LEAVE resigned!!!
Sadly, the referendum campaign was not fact based, but on fear and nationalist populism: immigration, loss of identity, sovereignty, divided vision on globalisation. The benefits that the UK enjoys as a member nation was lost in the noise and Farage’s bus poster saying the UK will save GBP 350m a day by quitting the EU (though the number is a third of it after adjustments) tilted the vote for BREXIT.
A referendum on a historical change, I believe, should not be decided by a simple majority but on at least 70-75% of the population voting for it. Other nations contemplating a referendum should keep this in mind.
To formally act the exit, the UK parliament needs to approve invoking article 50 of the pact which allows a member nation to exit unilaterally the EU. This approval will depend on what sort of terms that Theresa May proposes to the EU. Upon Parliaments’s approval the UK has 2 years to negotiate the terms of its exit. There are 3 possibilities: 1) a Norway style of agreement where the UK gets full access to EU markets and free movement of people while accepting to contribute to the EU budget and not having a say in the decision-making process (WHICH WILL MAKE THE LEAVE CAMP ANGRY BUT WHICH WILL HAVE THE LEAST ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES); 2) negotiate a new bilateral agreement, which will take years to negotiate and lead to relocation of activities from the UK to the EU, for e.g. Nissan exports 50% of its production to the EU from its UK plants, the City is the financial hub for the EU and the investment banks who do not like uncertainty may move their operations to the EU; 3) a straight-forward exit, without any pact, leaving the UK to follow WTO rules which will cripple investment and the economy in the UK in an important way and also to a certain extent in the EU.
In a recent opinion poll in France 67% of the population said they want France to leave the EU. The FN (right wing National Front party) which is anti-EU, will use the UK referendum as a key argument for strengthening its position for the 2017 Presidential elections. The FN is already considered to get into the 2nd and final round of the elections.
Italy, with a mountain of debt and dependent of EU support, is in political turmoil and may hold a referendum to leave the EU too.
Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay and this may lead to them leaving the UK, resulting in the disintegration of a kingdom of long date.
With Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for the forthcoming US Presidential elections, has been on a populist position and seeks an USA which is more inward looking. If Trump wins and puts this vision in place, we are probably looking into a very uncertain future after 70 years of peace and prosperity growth in the world – though not necessarily equitably distributed – which was built on the post-WWII foundations of the Bretton Woods agreement creating the UN, IMF, WTO etc. and the EU as it is today started by 6 countries as the European Coal and Steel Community.