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07 July 2016

Guy Verhofstadt: Only more Europe can beat Europe’s nationalists

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If British inaction causes Europe to continue to suffer economically from political uncertainty, a full separation should be carried out unilaterally, writes ALDE President on Project Syndicate.

[...] Britain has chosen isolation in Europe, against the advice of its friends and allies. Now that its post-imperial decline is complete, the most important lesson to take away from the “Brexit” referendum that sealed its fate is that one cannot defeat nationalism by pandering to nationalists. If the EU wants to tackle the strains of nationalism that are undermining its very raison d'être, it will have to listen to people’s concerns and offer a radical new vision for effective governance. Otherwise, the nationalist cancer will spread.

To begin with, the remaining EU countries must now uphold European law and push for a quick and clean divorce. The United Kingdom’s citizens voted to leave, and its political leaders insist that they will respect the referendum’s outcome, so it is not “punishment” to insist that they do so as soon as possible. If British inaction causes Europe to continue to suffer economically from political uncertainty, a full separation should be carried out unilaterally.

Politically, the UK is already on its way to becoming an adversary, rather than a trusted partner, of the EU. [...]

Fortunately, post-Brexit contagion has so far failed to materialize, most likely thanks to the embarrassing public spectacle that the UK has become since June 23, with its economic prospects dimming, its financial sector – a global powerhouse – scouting new locations, and its leaders stabbing one another in the back.

In fact, the referendum may have even prompted EU countries – including those with noisy Euroskeptic parties, such as Denmark and Sweden – to close ranks in support of EU membership. [...]

EU leaders must not sit on their hands. The Brexit crisis should be treated as an opportunity for the Union, given that concerns about globalization, terrorism, immigration, and inequality are now mainstream. A divided Europe has failed to respond to these challenges; and, while the British will be missed, the EU will now be less divided.

Still, today’s EU is not capable of decisive, large-scale action. To provide an alternative to the emotional appeal of populist nationalism, the Union must become more responsive to its citizens’ demands. This will require radical structural reforms to the eurozone and to the EU’s central political institutions.

Economists generally agree that a single currency without a fiscal union or a common treasury is unsustainable. If Europeans do not finish the job they started when they established the euro, they will continue to experience the economic pain of structural disunity. Complete integration would deliver prosperity and better governance. [...]

Only by starting on such far-reaching reforms can Europe begin to stem the rise of populism that led to the success of the UK’s “Leave” campaign. Some would say that more sovereign powers should be returned to EU member states. I could not disagree more. This would only further weaken the project of integration that has safeguarded peace and prosperity in Europe for decades. Populism and Euroskepticism are the enemies of that project. The only way to beat them is to build a Europe that works for its citizens. Anything less works only for the demagogues who would follow the UK into the wilderness.

Full article on Project Syndicate

© Project Syndicate

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