Life without Britain: European Union will struggle to survive

  • Viju Cherian, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 24, 2016 17:03 IST
A Union flag flies next to the flag of the European Union in Westminster, London. Britons have voted to leave the Union. (REUTERS)

On Friday morning the ground beneath the European Union (EU) shook and how did it!

The financial implications of Britain’s exit from the EU will be manifold, and if market reactions are anything to go by it’s going to be a tough ride.

But Brussels, the EU headquarters, will have to brace itself for the political aftershocks. And suddenly, almost as though they were waiting for Britain’s decision, leaders of some EU-member nations are voicing similar intentions. The probability of a smaller EU, which seemed almost outlandish until this morning, is now real and amplified.

Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front is on record saying that France has 1,000 more reasons to leave EU than Britain. Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom, has promised that if he was elected the next prime minister a referendum will be held in Netherlands. Both countries go to polls within a year’s time. Sweden and Denmark also have their eurosceptics. Unsurprisingly it is nationalist, Right-of-the-centre politicians who are fanning ‘xenophobic’ emotions.

READ: Britain votes to leave European Union, Cameron quits, markets plunge

The economic prudence of Britain’s decision aside, Brexit should force Brussels to introspect. The EU was set up almost 60 years back to bring prosperity and security to Europe--while it has brought prosperity in varying degrees, on security the jury is still out.

There are many positives that the EU has brought about, especially when it comes to easing trade bureaucracy, but as is with any alliance, when the going gets tough the faultiness magnify. Two recent developments expose these wide gaps: The EU’s approach to tackling terrorism and the union’s policy towards refugees and displaced people.

The Charlie Hebdo shootings, the November 2015 Paris attacks and the Brussels bombings in March exposed the flaws in the EU’s preparedness to tackle terror attacks. If the Charlie Hebdo shootings caught EU unawares about home-grown terror, the latter two attacks exposed the chinks in the EU’s efforts to monitor and check the movement of suspects.

READ: How the UK could remain in the EU despite a vote to leave

The refugee crisis, amplified by the current unrest in Syria and Iraq, saw thousands, if not millions, crossing borders into Europe. But not only did the EU lack a policy, but when it came to formulating one, countries were at odds with each other. Finally, all it could do was strike a deal with Turkey to accommodate the refugees and, in many ways, ask it to act as a vetting agency for displaced people wanting to enter the EU.

For the moment it looks unlikely that the EU will disintegrate with Britain’s exit--but it won’t be the same anymore. The EU will have a tough fight to keep its relevance at world forums.

It is to be seen how, or whether, Britain’s exit will affect countries queuing up to enter the union, and how many members will consider following Britain. The EU is changing; it will rest on Brussels on whether that change is for the better.

(The views expressed are personal. The writer tweets @vijucherian.)

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