“We cannot let [Britain] profit from Brexit, as that would be lethal for the EU.” So says Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, a largely ceremonial position designed to be a guiding figurehead over the other European Union institutions and the other six presidents therein. Tusk was not alone in his thinking. In fact, this quote was rather tame. The reaction from Brussels has been far more vitriolic than Tusk’s more measured comments this week.
From the perspective of EU leaders, there is a legitimate concern that a tragedy of the commons scenario might arise post Brexit, where everyone wants to access a free and open Europe, but no one wants to pay for it.
Unlike others, I acknowledge that the EU does do some good, particularly for new members from former-communist countries. But the tone of many European presidents has been far from presidential; it’s been more like an angry ex-spouse who is more concerned with inflicting pain than actually resolving the issues.
If money were the only concern, EU leaders could have proposed a system where Britain got the “emergency brake” on EU migration for an extra billion euros. David Cameron would have done cartwheels for that deal, and it would have likely swung the referendum the other way. But EU officials thought Britain would roll over and take that travesty of a deal. They were wrong.
And in the wake of Brexit, the reaction has been to blame and punish Britain rather than reflect on what reforms the EU might need to institute to stay relevant to the people they govern.
The USSR failed because it was incapable of changing with the times. It forced an undemocratic, bureaucratic inefficient economic system onto people who didn’t want it or vote for it. While the EU is a benign and peaceful institution, parallels are starting to emerge.
When you know what you’re offering isn’t working, you have to bully and threaten people to accept your bad product. When your product is beneficial and producing great results, then one person choosing to depart is not a “lethal” matter.
Sadly, so many Europeans have blindly accepted the notion that EU equals peace and prosperity that to question any practice — no matter how undemocratic — becomes heresy. Should perhaps three of the EU’s seven presidents be elected by Europeans? (At present only one is elected.)
Should the rule-making bodies of the EU move away from political integration and focus on policies that deliver jobs? Should leaders radically re-think the single currency? In refusing to reform, or even engage in the appearance of reflection, these EU leaders are only hastening the demise of the institutions they claim to love so much.