M D Nalapat
GIVEN that it is only the UK and Germany that actually provide surplus funds to the European Union, the 25 other members are going to be in the most trouble were the UK to exit the European Union, as directed by a majority of British voters three years ago. Given the affirmative vote for Brexit, it was an odd choice for the Conservative Party to choose Theresa May as the replacement for the popular David Cameron, who would have handled a British break from the EU with far more finesse than Prime Minister May. Her lack of commitment to Brexit has led to a dilution of the negotiating stance of London in its dealings with the expanding bureaucracy in Brussels, which is a cancer that is eating away at the vitals of the Union. Had the EU leadership adopted a less reactionary policy towards the desire of several parts of certain countries in Europe to separate from the rest, the EU could have found a reason for existence by ensuring that such separations get done almost wholly painlessly.
However, the EU bureaucracy responds not to the idea of Europe enunciated by Jean Monnet but to the governments of the 27 States that are members. As a consequence, it failed a crucial test, which was when a clear majority of the Catalan people (if we not include those from outside Catalonia who are living in that quasi-state) opted for independence. Both (the residual) Spain as well as Catalonia would have developed much faster and acquired far more social cohesion had those in authority in Madrid acted with the maturity of policymakers in London, who would have accepted the departure of Scotland from the United Kingdom rather than bring out the chains and handcuffs (cheered on by the EU bureaucracy) the way such a trampling of the popular will is being responded to by Madrid. Northern Italy could have gone its own way, as also the Basque region of France and Spain, or other groups that regard themselves as stifled within the nation states they find themselves in.
Only by embracing diversity brought about by freedom can the EU survive as a living force rather than simply a collection of bureaucrats whose some objective is to protect their sinecures. The UK’s exit from the European Union would have forced that group to reform in a manner relevant to the 21st century rather than cling on to the Westphalian logic of immutable nation states. Were Serbia and Kosovo part of the EU, were both wings of Cyprus part of the EU, situations that are painful to endure may have healed. However, it is clear that Theresa May has no intention of leaving the EU, and that she wishes to dilute Brexit such that the UK remains a part of the grouping in effect, but without any say in its overall policies. British MPs are showing by their patchwork quilt of votes on resolutions dealing with Brexit that they as a collective deserve a Prime Minister such as Theresa May.
Ireland under its formidable Taoseach Leo Varadkar would never agree to a solution that entails a hard border between Dublin and Belfast. Should Scotland have a second referendum and declare independence, there needs to be a soft border between the new country and the United Kingdom. The twin doors to the European continent that contiguity between the UK and Ireland as well as Scotland would be to the advantage of each of the participants. Clearly Prime Minister May regards with panic the prospect of a “No Deal” Brexit, forgetting that very soon, the EU would need to come to an accommodation with London so as to serve its own interests. Although the UK has the stringer negotiating hand, the fact that the Prime Minister is at heart very reluctant to leave the EU has created a situation where she (and therefore her country) has been reduced to begging the EU for concessions that are minuscule compared to what it being asked of the UK in exchange for a “smooth” Brexit, or in other words, an exit that is nominal and which serves the interests of Brussels rather than London.
By stealth, May is jerkily positioning the UK into a situation where (in the name of democracy, of course) a second referendum gets held that the Prime Minister hopes will go the Romanian way. She is making the process tangled and nightmarish so that British voters overturn the decision taken three years ago to leave the European Union. Should that take place, should the UK remain within the EU either formally or in effect (the way several in the Conservative Party want), the outcome will be chaos. British Members of the European Parliament will adopt the stance taken by rowdy fans at football matches and create mayhem. London would stymie several decisions that would be acceptable to every other country but cannot pass the barriers created by the not very concealed disgust that UK voters have for the way the EU has transformed itself into a self-perpetuating and expanding bureaucracy in the manner of NATO. A Brexit that is fair to the British people is an impossibility under Theresa May. However, for fear of triggering an election that may bring Jeremy Corbyn into 10 Downing Street, Conservative Party MPs are slowly choking their party into irrelevance. The greatest danger is when folks are too scared to take any risk, and that is the situation facing the ruling party in the UK.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
M D Nalapat