The intriguing ‘Brexit’ debate has been on my mind for a while. Now that Cameron has finally struck a deal with his European partners, I can make up the balance: the UK has not only distanced itself from the EU, it has also reintroduced a destructive political tool.
We’ve all heard what the Brits want in terms of European policy reform. Some of the demands are quite sensible, like the limitation of child benefits for workers coming from within the EU (mostly from Eastern Europe). Others, such as the removal of the notion “ever closer union”, is merely symbolic. Most of all, Cameron’s primary concern is pleasing the eurosceptics in his Conservative party, thereby strengthening his own position during his second term in office.
Yet I believe the debate has focused too much on the specifics, while neglecting the bigger picture. One important consequence of the deal and its negotiating process is that the UK has widened the English channel in terms of political goodwill. Of course, everyone is aware of the UK’s perception as being a special member of the club. From a historical and cultural point of view, they have some good reasons to pursue a custom-made arrangement with their European neighbours. That being said, its particular background does not allow it to use any means necessary in order to advance its political aims. Threatening to leave a cooperation that brings so much more than opportunistic migrants or bureaucratic red tape is not only exorbitant, it is counterproductive as well. It should be used as a measure of last resort, not a bargaining chip.
By claiming to leave the EU if its demands would not be met (or at least actively campaigning for an ‘out’ vote in the upcoming referendum), Cameron has shown how a combination of political rhetoric and muscle-swinging can still be used get what one wants. The door is now open for others to take their chances in claiming the loot from Brussels. Who will be next? The Italians might want to shrug off fiscal discipline with the help of a stubborn “or else…”. Easterners are keen on throwing the refugee relocation policy in the bin and would probably succeed once they unite their exit-threatening capabilities. After ‘Grexit’ and ‘Brexit’, how many more awkward abbreviations can we expect?
Hopefully none. Yes, there are problems. Sure, the EU far from perfect. But, it is always better to have a seat at the table and try to fix things in an orderly fashion, rather than letting self interest take the day.