Guest blog post by Jason C. Moyer. Georgetown University.
Apocryphal warnings of the end of days for the European Union as the Brexit referendum looms have ignored an unintended benefit of the vote to the cohesion of the EU. If the UK does indeed vote to break away from the EU, it will struggle to regain its footing economically and be relegated to the sidelines of the transatlantic relationship, becoming a cautionary tale instead of blazing a path of independence others can follow. If an independent United Kingdom is anything other than an unbridled success it will encourage other EU members to remain in the union, ultimately strengthening the mandate of the European Union.
In the face of rampant Euroskepticism, multiple European countries have signaled they will attempt to hold referenda on their continued membership in the EU pending the results of the UK vote on June 23rd. As anti-EU parties wait with bated breath for the results of the UK’s referendum to establish a precedent they could push their respective countries to pursue, prominent political figures across Europe have similarly issued a clarion call to renounce the EU. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National and forerunner of the early French presidential selection process, has stated she will seek a referendum on France’s continued involvement in the EU, dubbing herself ‘Madame Frexit.’ Fringe groups in the newly re-named Czechia have called for a Czexit to follow the UK out in the next few years, should they vote to leave. As countless other parties across Europe grapple with how to stylistically append ‘–exit’ to the name of their country, it will all be for nothing if Brexit is anything other than an unbridled success.
At best, Brexit will result in little visible change for the citizens of the UK, with trade benefits from independence negating losses of leaving the European Single Market, but nevertheless dealing a symbolic blow to the European Project. At worst, voting for the UK to leave the EU would lead to an economic downturn and the dissolution of the country as we know it. Conservative estimates of a successful leave campaign show the UK’s economy negatively impacted, with some estimating as much as an 8 percent reduction in GDP. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, has unequivocally stated that if the UK votes to leave the EU it would re-open the question of Scottish independence, compromising the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and dissolving a partnership that spans centuries.
Voting to leave is only the first step, followed by a lengthy negotiation process that will undermine the impact of a vote for independence. The UK will face tough talks from an intransigent EU, reminding EU nations that they are better off in than out. While most EU countries have been silent about their negotiating stance in advance of the vote for fear of influencing the outcome, some have been quite vocal in their opposition to a potential Brexit. France and Germany will likely make negotiating the UK’s future relationship with the European Single Market extremely difficult, as incumbent leaders will face anti-EU parties in their upcoming general elections. The Front National in France, led by Marine Le Pen, has advocated for France to follow the UK in its exit, pushing France’s President François Hollande to adopt an even more hard-line stance to Brexit negotiations. Germany’s Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) wants to remove Germany from the single currency – not the broader EU – but has succeeded in dragging the country further right than it has been in recent decades, requiring the incumbent Merkel government to negotiate from a place of strength and fortitude.
Regardless of the result of the referendum on June 23rd, the United Kingdom will not be any closer to resolving the nature of its relationship with continental Europe. If they vote to leave, the UK will find itself adrift and reflecting on its relationships. Should they choose to stay in the EU, the UK will continue to question its place in the union and will likely rekindle the question of Brexit again in the future, despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s claims that this will be the last referendum for the foreseeable future. The Brexit vote could not come at a worse time as Europe grapples with some of its most demanding existential challenges: the refugee crisis, continued economic stagnation, terrorism, and the rise of far-right populist parties. Amidst these crises, the EU should relish the chance to rid itself of the most petulant member of the bloc. One of the enduring qualities of the European Union is its perseverance despite adversity, surviving worse crises than a national referendum. Regardless of the results of the referendum, the European Union will endure – Brexit will only be another bump in the road for the continued integration of the European continent and will lead to a more refined European Union.Maxime Sattonnay