Brexit trig­gers a fu­ture full of doubt

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS - GRE­GORY KATZ

LON­DON • Bri­tain will go it alone — turn­ing its back on decades of in­te­gra­tion to con­trol its own bor­ders and free it­self from the Euro­pean Union’s spi­der web of rules and reg­u­la­tions.

It is a bold and risky move for this proud is­land na­tion. Few coun­tries have walked away from such a large, pros­per­ous and peace­ful al­liance in favour of a solo path.

The im­pact on Europe will be mo­men­tous — and won’t be clear for sev­eral years at least. Bri­tain’s ac­tion comes at a time of max­i­mum peril for the EU, which finds its lib­eral found­ing prin­ci­ples un­der pres­sure as never be­fore.

With one brisk step, Bri­tain has ended the EU’s growth phase and, per­haps, started it on a path of de­cay and pos­si­ble dis­so­lu­tion.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to know if Bri­tain will be the only dis­grun­tled na­tion to walk away, or if it has set in mo­tion a process that oth­ers will fol­low, leav­ing the Euro­pean dream of an “ever closer union” noth­ing more than a quaint catch­phrase from an era gone by.

Un­til the past few years, which have been marked by fi­nan­cial and im­mi­gra­tion crises, there seemed to be a cer­tain his­tor­i­cal in­evitabil­ity to the ex­pan­sion of the Euro­pean Union.

It grew from the rub­ble of the Sec­ond World War, bind­ing to­gether for­mer en­e­mies whose com­mon his­tory was marred by cen­turies of bloody war­fare.

Most im­por­tantly, it rep­re­sented a tri­umphant vi­sion: The coun­tries that beat back Nazism and fas­cism would ex­tend a hand to Ger­many and Italy, where those ide­olo­gies had flour­ished, and pull them into the mod­ern world while the de­stroyed con­ti­nent was re­built.

United against a com­mon Soviet en­emy, and backed by the con­sid­er­able fire­power of the United States via the NATO al­liance, the Western Euro­pean na­tions that formed the EU pros­pered un­der re­mark­ably lib­eral trade and im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

Sym­bols of union abounded: The Bri­tish and French co-op­er­ated to build a for­mi­da­ble Chan­nel Tun­nel that for­ever linked the two na­tions. Most coun­tries jet­ti­soned their na­tional cur­rency (and a bit of their sovereignty) in favour of the euro, and phys­i­cal bor­der cross­ings were dis­man­tled.

When the Soviet Union col­lapsed in 1991, and its East­ern Euro­pean satel­lites were fi­nally set free from Krem­lin con­trol, it seemed only nat­u­ral that the lead­ers of the newly lib­er­ated coun­tries would look to the EU for in­spi­ra­tion.

So the union grew, mov­ing be­yond its core in Western Europe to the edge of the Black Sea.

The op­ti­mistic mid-1990s blue­print, backed by hand­some sub­si­dies for the newer mem­bers, was based on the be­lief coun­tries like Poland and Slo­vakia would de­velop into democ­ra­cies like Ger­many and France — with free trade and the free move­ment of peo­ple help­ing to bring about this trans­for­ma­tion.

The sit­u­a­tion to­day is dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent. The euro — never adopted by Bri­tain — has fal­tered badly, em­pha­siz­ing the splits be­tween wealthy coun­tries and in­debted na­tions like Greece. Europe has been taxed by the un­planned ar­rival of well over 1 mil­lion im­mi­grants flee­ing war­fare and poverty in the Mid­dle East and Africa, and Is­lamic com­mu­ni­ties have come un­der rhetor­i­cal fire fol­low­ing ex­trem­ist ter­ror at­tacks in Paris, Brus­sels, Lon­don and Madrid.

The chaos has led to a re­ver­sal of sorts in East­ern Europe, with some lead­ers re­ject­ing the free move­ment of peo­ple, and to well-grounded fears in Western Europe that right-wing lead­ers hos­tile to the EU are gain­ing ground in France, Ger­many and other coun­tries.

Bri­tain’s with­drawal must be seen in this con­text.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s in­vo­ca­tion of the brief Ar­ti­cle 50 clause cur­tails the Utopian vi­sion that 28 dis­parate coun­tries can find com­mon cause that trumps na­tion­al­is­tic con­cerns. It comes as the EU’s lib­eral prin­ci­ples are quickly fall­ing out of vogue.

The tests will come quickly now. There will be a pres­i­den­tial vote in April in France, where far-right can­di­date Marine Le Pen, strongly op­posed to the EU and its cur­rency, looks for­mi­da­ble.

Vi­tal German elec­tions are set for Septem­ber.

The fu­ture is im­pos­si­ble to know, but the start of Ar­ti­cle 50 pro­ceed­ings puts a mer­ci­ful end to Bri­tain’s am­biva­lent re­la­tions with the EU bloc af­ter decades of in­de­ci­sion.

Now Bri­tain — no longer im­pe­rial, and per­haps to be shorn of Scot­land as well — will stand apart once more.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.