Have you ever wondered what Europe is exactly? Henry Kissinger once said, „When I call Europe, I don’t know whom to call.“ Critics may say that the same applies to the European Union. Populist and far right parties across Europe seem to bury the concept of the European idea. Being the top of the iceberg, the Brexit vote in Great Britain shows a trend of political movements believing that countries are better off on their own. But are they really and under which circumstances does a united Europe make more sense?
Getting the facts right!
One major argument brought forward during the referendum in Great Britain was the so-called enormous membership fee Great Britain would have to pay on a regular basis. In 2014, Germany paid 25.82 billion Euros to Brussels. In comparison and due to the British discount, Great Britain paid 11.4 billion Euros (http://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/155196/umfrage/die-zehn-wichtigsten-beitragszahler-im-eu-haushalt-2010/) and got back around 6 billion through fundings for projects (educational projects being a part of them) and agriculture. In contrast, Italy is paying 14.37 billion. On the one hand one could argue that a bit over 5 billion to send to Brussels - as they say - is too much. On the other hand how much does it cost to gain access to the common European market? The British pound reached its lowest point in 31 years (http://boerse.ard.de/marktberichte/wundenlecken-an-der-boerse100.html) and the EU might as well celebrate an example with Great Britain making commercial contracts more expensive than within the common market.
Bearing these trends in mind, special efforts need to be made in order for Great Britain to make the Brexit profitable. Right now, those five billion Euros seem to be eaten up by systemic costs. Great Britain’s biggest problem is the trade deficit with countries of the European Union. This makes an access to the common European market all the more necessary and weakens UK’s position going into negotiations. Whether the new British government is a miracle worker, needs to be seen.
Loss of responsibility!
Bearing these challenges in mind, one would think that the initiators of the British referendum had a plan going forward. But both Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson basically escaped their responsibility leaving a bad taste behind. And what about David Cameron? The man who’s idea this referendum was in the first place, does not want to be the prime minister handing in the letter that starts article 50 of the European Union. A two year period where everything needs to be renegotiated with the countries of the European Union. To my mind - and that is just me - political responsibility looks differently.
Populism is like cancer!
The headline might be a little harsh but indeed, populism seems to be the cancer destroying not only the European idea but everything the EU stood for. What populism basically offers are simple answers to very complex questions regarding the economy, the political unity, the integration process and the migration crisis. But I am going to destroy those illusions right away: There are no simple answers. Period! Anyone believing in them might as well believe in Santa Clause. And returning to small countries with no geopolitical say whatsoever is definitely not THE answer.
Take the migration crisis for instance: There are well over 500 million people living in Europe. That means that five million refugees (we have not reached that number yet) would be 1 % of Europe’s population and do not tell me, that this 1 % is going to overburden us. But member states with populist or right wing governments turn this number into a crisis by not participating in something called solidarity. Ironically, those governments often speak about the systemic failure of the European Union.
Be careful what you wish for! It might come true.
As always, reality is different. Brexit is real and the European Union has to redefine itself without the UK whilst facing huge challenges - the terror attacks being one of them. There is a chance that the European Union is going to exit its biggest crisis stronger and more united than before. But in order for that to happen, official bodies need to acknowledge that there are systemic problems. Agreeing on a European level and criticizing their own rulings nationally, national governments leave their fellow countrymen with the impression that being part of the European Union would not have any benefits. If that culture changes, there is going to be a chance for the European Union to succeed. And more importantly: The European Union needs to position itself as a united geopolitical player speaking with one voice - a democratic voice. If someone wants to call Europe, he or she needs to know whom to call …