Expatica news

Can the EU survive Brexit?

The loss of one of its biggest members will at the very least force major changes on an embattled bloc faced with growing anti-European Union sentiment, a migration crisis and a struggling economy.

Calls for other referendums could in turn lead to a much looser grouping, and possibly even disintegration of a union established 60 years ago to restore security and prosperity to a Europe devastated by World War II.

Following the ‘leave’ vote, the European Commission denied that Brexit was the beginning of the end for the bloc, although EU President Donald Tusk had warned in the run-up to the vote that it could bring about the “destruction of not only the EU but also of Western political civilisation”.

Janis Emmanouilidis, director of studies at Brussels-based think tank European Policy Centre, said the vote means “a lot of uncertainty — for EU relations with Britain, for EU member states individually and for the bloc’s place in the world.”

“You have opened up the box towards an exit which is something which is sending a negative signal to the outside world but also to EU citizens in general,” Emmanouilidis told AFP.

– ‘Have-nots revolt’ –

Chris Bickerton, a lecturer at Britain’s Cambridge University and author of “The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide”, said it was a “very serious blow” but not necessarily fatal, given the “core role” of the EU in much of European political life.

“I don’t think it would suddenly disappear but over the longer term, we might see it slowly decline and become something different,” he told AFP, envisaging a “looser, ad-hoc” union.

In the immediate aftermath of the British vote, seven years of potentially bitter divorce negotiations between Brussels and London loom, despite the EU’s calls for a quick exit.

Meantime, with a troublesome Britain on the outside, those more pro-integration member states on the inside appear set to press ahead on their own.

France and Germany, the EU’s power couple, have already been working on a joint plan but analysts believe they may not get very far given sharp differences over key issues such as the future of the euro single currency zone.

Berlin and Paris might be unwise too to ignore the lesson of the British vote.

“The British have said ‘no’ to their establishment. It is a revolt of the small poeple against the ‘haves’,” said Dominique Moisi, with the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

“As far as the EU is concerned, it is a rejection of the European project itself. (The people) accuse their leaders of betraying them, of abandoning them to Brussels,” Moisi told AFP.

– Domino effect? –

The main fear in many European capitals is that either way, the result could trigger a domino effect of referendums in other countries.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen immediately called for a referendum, a messeage echoed by far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

The danger for the EU is that even after if it makes changes following the British referendum, it will still not be able to quell the forces of history tearing it apart.

The British vote should be a “wake up call for Europe,” said Lueder Gerken at the Centre for European Politics in the German city of Freiburg.

“The centrifugal forces at work are too dangerous, above all in the Netherlands and in Denmark. It is not only in Britain that you have seen voices raised against ever more (EU) integration,” Gerken told AFP.

AFP / Expatica