Europe after Brexit

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

On 31 January 2020 Great Britain left the European Union. For the first time in its history and the history of its predecessor organisation the EU has lost a member state. The fact is being judged very differently, and indeed it depends on the perspective how the event is being assessed.

Childhood memories …
and lessons to be learned in later life

Those of the readers who grew up in one of the six EEC states (France, Italy, Germany and Belgium) during the late fifties or early sixties of the last century might remember those Eurovision events broadcast live several times in the course of the year on saturday afternoons. There we could witness how young people from these countries were competing in sports or other game contests – not all too seriously but for the pleasure of the spectators on site and on television. The author of this article had been a child at the time and had liked to watch this programme. For him the EEC, this attempt to unify Europe meant a project to achieve more understanding among nations and he heartily welcomed such peaceful cooperation in Europe after two horrible world wars – which he had learned about in 1964, 25 years after the beginning of World War II and 50 years after the outbreak of World War I. War meant something terrible – that he knew for sure – and the EEC meant a peace project to him – of which he was sure as well.

Only much later he learned about the motives for founding the EEC as well as for founding the Montanunion in the early fifties, which were above all inspired by power politics by the responsible politicians in the Cold War. Mainly triggered by powers outside Europe, namely by the US politics. A lesson for the very different levels of political decision-making. To express it pointedly: the difference between appearance and reality.

Appearance and reality

The recently executed Brexit is probably no different story: Many British citizens as well as those from the Continent had hoped for more freedom and democracy, as well as a change of thinking in the EU itself. Perhaps there will be more freedom and democracy for the remaining member states. However, this is not realistic, at least not in the short term.

The “City of London” and the Brexit

Even as early as during the British Brexit campaing in 2016 it was doubtful whether the campaign leaders in politics and media on the one hand and the British citizens on the other were acting in concert. It was a varied mixture that has assembled for the campaign. Note the following quotation from the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 3 February 2020, in which the former German diplomat and head of the German ambassy in London Rudolf B. Adam described the role of the “City of London” as for the Brexit: “It is a persistant prejudice coming from the City of London: Nigel Farage had been resources broker, before he discovered his “calling” for politics. Jacob Rees-Mogg made his money as an investment counsellor and fund manager. The funds of Arron Banks who co-initiated the “Leave” movement are estimated to be 100 million pounds. Boris Johnson himself had been the major of London for eight years and is very well connected in the City. Prominents of the City support him with donations. Salid Javid, the present finance minister, had been a banker for 18 years. Financial service providers are profiting from the Brexit. Their main business is situated beyond Europe anyway. They defy the control by the growing EU financial supervision. They no longer have to deal with foreign EU-authorities but only with a national government that is connected with them by countless personal sympathies and which will not want to put pressure on a branch of trade that generates 20 per cent of the whole tax revenue.”

This does not sound unlikely. And it is most likely that the European continent must reckon with influential circles in Great Britain, last not least in the above mentioned “City of London” are still dwelling on worldpower dreams – with all those implied dangers for world peace. The British Prime Minister evoked those dreams once again in his speech in Greenwich on 3 February 2020 in which he spoke about Britain’s future relationship with the EU and about the role that his country is prepared to play in the world.1 

No change of thinking yet in the EU

However, there seems to be no change of thinking in the EU or elsewhere. Quite the contrary: With the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen a politician has adopted a central position for whom power politics – von der Leyen: “Europe has to learn yet the language of power” – is a matter of course. And this is not only about the questionable “European Green Deal”2 but about military ambitions which von der Leyen had already stood up for as a former minister of defence. There was not much attention for the fact that also in her WEF speech she had demanded a powerful EU: “[…] to be more assertive in the world, we know we must step up in some fields. […]

[…] We are the largest donor for development cooperation – in fact, we invest in this more than the rest of the world combined. But we must also do more when it comes to managing crises as they develop. For that, Europe also needs credible military capabilities […]”.

Moreover it is a fact that democracy is being questioned quite openly at present.3 And last not least a “politisation” of ever more realms of living can be observed – not in the meaning of res publica but characterised by the striving for power. There is no promotion of peaceful and eye-to-eye cooperation but methods of how one can enforce things are being practised. This ranges from the behaviour in talkshows up to the rules in computer games as well as private organisations and even families. The ethical principle formulated by Immanuel Kant, “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end, and never as only a means” – an essential principle of dignified human legal and dignified personal relationships – is being disregarded. The shambles must not surprise anybody.

All this could be different

If it is still allowed to make a suggestion – here is one, even in case its realisation may lie far ahead.

In the multipolar world that is becoming apparent, Europe as well must find its new place, as even the German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted at the Davos World Economic Forum. Without Great Britain, which is still ambitiously striving for world power, the chances for the remaining states have become better. The EU links might create a positive strength in the sense of avoiding to be played off against each other – as was the case on the Continent during the past centuries – neither against a European country in the East, namely Russia.

Neutrality instead of power politics …

Europe might – with armies of the member states, which are capable of defending their countries in case of an attack, however not with an “EU-Army” for world-wide war operations – strive for a path of political neutrality, which means not to interfere with the worldwide political power games between the great powers USA, Russia and China and ambitious Great Britain. Instead it could develop a benevolent and peace-promoting neutrality while offering good relations to all states and powers.

Europe was the main battlefield for two devastating world wars. Europe will not survive a third world war. Isn’t it indeed absurd if European politicians believe that they might secure the peace by joining one of the war parties? NATO, led by US-politics is indeed obsolete for Europe.

… and a different EU

Such a concept of defensive neutrality, however, is not compatible with the current structure of the EU; for the latter greatly inhibits the free and democratic life of its member states. 75 years after World War II – there is certainly no need to keep any European state in leading strings. Europe as a cooperation of free and democratic states under the rule of law, a practical realisation of the idea a “Europe of fatherlands” would indeed mark a good future. Europe after the Brexit might then breathe again.  •;

2  Cf. Current Concerns No 26/27 12 December 2019 and No 29 of 9 January 2020

3  Only recently the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” pointed to this fact in a contribution from 28 January 2020 “Demokratie ist das, was wir aus ihr machen” (Democracy is what we make of it).




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