WHILE Europe is mesmerized by the Euro Cup football matches in France (no basketball news even in the sports pages of the papers, much less any mention on television), something is hanging over the European Union that is crucial to its future. It occupies all the political leadership because its consequences will impact on all Europe. That is the referendum in Britain this Thursday, June 23, that will decide whether Britain remains in the EU or exits, thus Brexit (Britain exits).
The EU is a post-World War II evolution that began as an anti-war move to avoid the conflicts between nations that have roiled Europe through the centuries. After the devastation of both World War I and World War II, it seemed that it was a compelling need that yet had to be slowly proposed and slowly accepted in stages. From the Common Market to the EU, an institution based in Brussels, common rules were adopted for infrastructure, food, drugs, border security (as in the Schengen Agreement for borderless travel within the Union) and, eventually, for the economy which resulted in the common currency designated as the euro.
As problems cropped up as they normally do, solutions agreed upon were taken. But when problems became crises, the solutions or the rules affecting them became burdensome to the countries concerned. We only need to look at the Greek financial crisis and, before that, the Spanish and Portuguese financial woes, and possibly the Italian to see that the affected countries had to follow the EU rules. Which may have been for the good of all, but were quite a heavy punishment for the individual countries to bear. There is always the idea that a government of one country knows what is best for it and should be able to act accordingly—which is not the communal consensus that the EU requires.
Britain, for one, was always of two minds about the EU, possibly because it is a country not in the continent, meaning it is insular, individualistic, much less willing to give up certain liberties of governance. In fact, it alone of the EU has insisted in keeping its own currency.
After much to and fro between it and the EU or rather Britain being unhappy with its rules, and with the crisis of migration to Europe as well as terrorism and the EU management of these, Britain has come to a point where the pressure of discontent has obliged the government to call a referendum of whether they will be in or out.
So, this is the “Leave” or “Remain” referendum that will take place this Friday. The tensions are high and one Member of Parliament has been killed by a disaffected citizen calling to “put Britain first,” whatever that may mean in today’s welter of crises—migrants? terrorists? EU rules? Jo Cox was known to be sympathetic to migrants and campaigned for Remain.
Meanwhile, the EU as such looks with disfavor and apprehension at the idea of Britain’s departure from it. It will be a crisis on both sides, as a Leave victory will mean an earthquake that will demand drastic adjustments as well as instability from the peril that other countries within it will follow suit.
Both Britain and the EU will pay a price, reverse the gains of unity and consensus that have ruled them since.
In essence, it would mean much work to be done to keep intact the idea of peaceful and united progress for the good of all.
At the baggage carousel at the airport when I arrived in London, a sign said: “You will be voting for your future.” Indeed, that is what Britain will be doing this Friday, not only for its future but also for the future of the nations within the EU. It seems to be that crucial.