While European television channels and newspapers are full of officials and pundits warning of the chaos, should the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union, some wonder if Brussels may be engaging in a little realpolitik behind the scenes, and would actually welcome a Brexit.
Contingency Plans, Or Excuse For A Power Grab?
Far from heralding the end of the EU, some officials believe they could use the Brexit as an excuse to expand their authority. Talks regarding a "Plan B" that would map out the first steps toward a post-Brexit fiscal union between EU nations are officially denied, but various ideas have been discussed since the UK referendum was announced on February 20th.
One idea that would ease the EU toward total integration is first consolidating security and intelligence operations. This would allow the EU to more easily coordinate the fight against terrorism, and better manage the migrant crisis. After the people are comfortable with the "new, effective EU," the push toward a common defense "Euro Force" army would follow. Once that is accepted, the fiscal union would begin.
Charles Grant, of the Centre for European Reform, warned that the members of the European Commission are turning a tin ear to political realities. “They are the people who just don’t get it, and are the ones who may well be tempted to try to exploit Brexit for a vault forward,”
None of these ideas has been written down at EU headquarters, for fear of a leak causing panic.
Is Brussels The New Bastille?
The view among many in the EU elite is that Britain must be punished in the event of a Brexit, to keep other nations in line. These elites are unable to see that Brexit, and the rise of the many Euroskeptic movements in the EU, are a reaction to EU power grabs. Instead, the Brussels Bureaucrats believe that the "peons" don't know what's good for them.
One top official, however, is sounding the alarm. EU president and former prime minister of Poland Donald Tusk is warning the EU bureaucracy that they'd best listen to the crowds clamoring at the gates. "Obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration, we failed to notice that ordinary people, the citizens of Europe, do not share our Euro-enthusiasm. Disillusioned with the great visions of the future, they demand that we cope with the present reality better than we have been doing until now ... Euroskepticism (has) become an alternative to those illusions."
Tusk charges the EC with ignoring realities while trying to sell a vision of "utopia" to ordinary citizens: "It is us who today are responsible for confronting reality with all kinds of utopias -- a utopia of Europe without nation states, a utopia of Europe without conflicting interests and ambitions, a utopia of Europe imposing its own values on the external world."
While not a proponent of punishing a Brexit, Tusk warns Britain that a vote to leave the EU will mire the UK in years of red tape and economic limbo. Any trade treaty will have to be ratified by all 27 remaining members of the EU. Good luck with that.
Better Without Britain?
Would Brexit actually be a positive development for the EU? Famed bond guru Mohamed El-Arian thinks so. He sees the UK as working at cross-purposes against Germany and France, who want a closer union between EU member states. The UK just wants a big free trade zone, with as much sovereignty as possible for individual nations. El-Arian's views play to the preconceptions of the EU elite, but fly in the face of ever-stronger Euroskeptic movements throughout the continent.
We Can Dream, Can't We?
John Hulsman at City AM dreams of an EU bureaucratic elite shocked to its senses by a Brexit that reverses centralism for centralism's sake. Brussels could devolve authority on many matters back to the governments of the member nations, to assuage complaints of an ever-more powerful, unelected bureaucracy.
But as Hulsman himself says, "Don’t hold your breath, as, other than the brave Tusk, most of Europe’s elite seems incapable of actually making sense of why their project is failing. But while unlikely, nothing is preordained, the empirical evidence being there for all to see that things in Europe simply cannot go on as they are."
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