Brexit, after all, did not happen overnight; it was a long time coming. And it just took an act of British democratic traditions to consult the people on issues of formally “shared sovereignty.” The response was clear: The British did not want to board up their revered Palace of Westminster, the cradle of modern parliamentary democracy.
In my view, Brexit was caused less by an original sin — i.e., admitting to the EU a country with free-trading traditions and a fierce attachment to national sovereignty — than by the EU’s French-German mismanagement and stubborn resistance to change.
Most British concerns were also shared by nearly half of the French electorate (Front National, La France insoumise and Debout la France) during the first round of presidential elections in April. Those problems are still there as witnessed by a spectacular — 57.36 percent — abstention in the second round of French parliamentary elections on June 18. The rate of abstention among people 35 or younger was 75 percent, with another 70 percent among the low-income people.
The new French president says that Europe will take care of all that. He is telling the skeptical French that the country’s problems can only be solved in a “Europe that protects (from unbridled free trade and a chaotic globalization)” and a “Europe that protects with safe borders.” (Guess who said that first, but lost the elections?)
Let’s see how that’s done … in a community of different national interests, traditions and values.
For example, the feisty Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) does not want Europe to intrude on its sovereign decisions about immigration and issues of culture and national identity, while the Scandinavians want untrammeled globalization and free trade.
That is what drove the U.K. out, but the French, with a German nod, are saying no to “Europe à la carte,” unless, of course, it’s a French-German menu du jour. Paris and Berlin are threatening sanctions and withholding of regional development funds to those disobeying their orders.
Again, let’s see how that is done in EU councils where decisions are taken with unanimous votes.
In the middle of all that, Italy and Greece are crying out for help in dealing every day with hundreds and thousands of migrants/refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
So, before worrying about China’s feared domination of the world order, Germany should help solve the existential problems of a captive market where it collected last year a trade surplus of 162.8 billion euros — a whopping 65 percent of its total net exports.
Germany should also worry about an appearance of Paris and Berlin talking past each other. France, currently driven by a neophyte zeal, wants serious EU institutional innovations, even those involving treaty changes, while Germany keeps saying “yes, but…” And, in a sobering reminder, Germany also keeps repeating that France has to reform its labor markets and tax codes, and to have its budget deficit (3.4 percent of GDP) and public debt (96 percent of GDP) converging with Germany’s budget surplus (0.8 percent of GDP) and a much lower public debt (68.3 percent).
These are tough issues. They are political dynamite in France, where the government now says that it will be very difficult to keep the commitment of bringing the budget deficit down to 2.8 percent of GDP by the end of this year.