Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thoughts on Brexit

However the vote goes next Friday, it will be historic.  The vote is likely to be narrow and currently too close to predict.  I hope the initiative passes but perhaps not for the most common reasons.  It is true that what is at stake is the future of Europe.  I think the UK has a better role to play negotiating the next phase from outside than it does from inside.

The EU is facing a number of heavy crises, from the Euro public debt crisis to the closely tied immigration crisis.  These crises pit member state obligations to the central EU authorities against the obligations to their own citizens in terms of tax money allocation and much more.

To be sure, the immigrants aren't the problem.  Most are fleeing American-sponsored civil wars and have gone from good lives to squalor in search of some minimal security.  I see families fleeing Syria and my heart goes out to them.  I believe my country, the US, has utterly failed to do what it needs to in order to pay the tab on the human cost of American foreign policy.  US foreign policy is thus grossly irresponsible and one reason I cannot vote for Clinton is that she helped this mess forward.

But what is a problem is that Greece is expected to pay a disproportionate portion of the costs for housing refugees and handling immigration issues (as well as border enforcement) while also living under Troika-imposed austerity.  In other words, the problem is an intra-EU power problem over money.

Faced with these crises, the current EC President (Juncker) has stated (and I believe he is correct here) that the EU, if it survives ten more years, will be very different than it is today.  The question is different in what way.  There are calls to federalize immigration rules in the EU and for the EU central government to then pay for border enforcement.  That would be an unprecedented expansion of EU institutions and nobody but Merkel seems to like that idea.  But the Schengen and Dublin agreements are perhaps mortally weakened and something has to replace them.

But there are other serious problems.  The European continent spans three major legal systems and traditions.  You have continental civil law, organized around a civil code interpreted by judges.  You have English Common Law, organized around a civil code mixed with judge-made precedent.  And you have Scandinavian law, where judge-made law is built around skeletal parliamentary acts (Scandinavian law is even more different from Continental civil law than English common law is).   Trying to harmonize commercial law where you have three different structural systems of law (and maybe more!) means basically that the most powerful nations (France and Germany) force everyone else to use their system (Continental civil law) as the basic conceptual system.  In other words, the social and legal diversity of Europe works heavily against the EU.

We shouldn't forget that the EU in its current form is a product of the age of neoliberalism that is now coming to a close.  People who are afraid of base nationalism should take heart that the EU has been valuable enough that it will not go away, nor will the UK retreat into isolation.  Rather people will find ways to keep the relationship alive in the ways that are beneficial.

But which ever way the UK votes, I think it is almost certain that they will be a part of whatever pan-European international treaty organizations exist in a decade.  The question is, to my mind, would leaving help steer that transformation in the right way?

My hope is that a leave vote (or even a close victory for remain) would mean basically that the UK and other peripheral members (like Sweden, Denmark, and Greece) would get more leverage in negotiating what the next generation of the European Community would look like.  If it tips the balance of power in the negotiations towards national governments, then it is a good thing.

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