How fortunate the world is not black and white and, provided we don’t work for the media, we don’t have to look at every event in terms of an incredible miracle or unmitigated disaster! Britain’s exit from the European Union is getting bad press up and down Europe. And rightly so! Contraction of the European Union following departure of one of its most important, richest and strongest member states is – I lost count of the number of times I heard this on Friday morning – very bad news, while the long-term consequences are so unpredictable that even the boldest predictions are pared right down to the bone. But Brexit is not the end of the world or the end of Europe! It is a change of the political and economic landscape we’ll all have to get used to. Neither the first nor the last such challenge. What will the European Union look like without Great Britain, without the British economy (second in size in the EU), without the British card in foreign policy? It’s hard to say much at this moment. It will certainly look different. However, the fallout of Britain leaving the EU should not be a cause for concern. It is a problem to be solved.
Problems are problems, but my gut instinct is that Brexit opens up some opportunities. The City of London, being now outside the European Union, will become less and less attractive for companies operating across the whole continent. So the question is: do other European capitals stand to gain in the face of the decline of one of the most important European centres? For example Warsaw – a self-styled contender aspiring for quite some time now to be one of the business centres of Europe. It was hard for us to compete with one of the most important capitals of the European Union, but as the capital of Great Britain only, London stands in a somewhat different light.
Although I refuse to get emotional about Brexit, I have a sneaking feeling it is not the end but a beginning of changes on the European continent. Polls in many other member states show clearly a surge in the wave of euroscepticism. Emotions are running highest in France and Greece, but half of all Germans, Spaniards and Dutch (to list just a few of the more vocal opponents) would be only too willing to get out of the EU. That’s why I think the fight for the European Union more or less as we know it today has only just started. However odd the expression eurosceptic Europe sounds, everything seems to suggest we have to start getting used to it. Against this eurosceptic Europe, Poland comes out really well: a shade over 20 per cent of eurosceptics – the number which can be rationalised and which does not raise concerns (in Hungary and Italy that number is twice as high). This shows we are fully aware of the dangers (fortunately hypothetical only) of leaving the European Union. In the theory of negotiation strategy, there is a concept of best alternative (compared to the negotiated outcome being reached). I think that our attitude to the EU is based on an intuition which is motivated by the weighing up of the potential alternatives. We have pricked up our ears. We can say with unerring precision where the champagne corks were popping on Friday morning.
I’m sure I’m not alone in not being able say why so many Europeans believe they do not benefit from membership of the European Union. Why should half of the French, only a fraction less of the Germans, half of the Czechs, nearly half of Spaniards, Dutch and a majority of all Greeks want to leave the European Union (although Greece is a separate case, of course)? I know however what would make the European Union a safe and comfortable home for us. There are certain universal principles which work well for marriage, business and politics alike. One of them says: problems lurk under the carpet. We’ll not rid ourselves of problems by pretending not to see them; we’ll not solve problems by pretending they don’t exist. Problems unsolved are problems doubled. That’s why the referendum in the UK does not bring anything to a concussion, not only in the scuffle over the future of the European Union. It should signal to Brussels the start of a long and painful process of learning the lessons. Because the European Union is very, very precious. Too precious simply to wait just like that for another referendum. It’s time for changes, and not just those changes that Brexit has brought to the fore.
On 24 June all world media went into overdrive reporting the results of the British referendum. Here are a few stories I found interesting: