Without the U.K., the EU becomes a socialistic economy indulging weaker, poorer members.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May this week made clear that the British people have wider horizons than the European Union. In affirming her country’s Brexit decision, she declared in a speech that the citizenry “voted to shape a brighter future for our country. They voted to leave the European Union and embrace the world.”
Incoming U.S. president Donald Trump also pointed to the EU’s irrelevance in interviews this week with the British and German press. Unlike President Obama, who sees the EU as a cosmopolitan, socialistic model for the world, Trump expresses disdain, indicating his indifference toward its survival. “I don’t think it matters much for the United States. I never thought it mattered. Look, the EU was formed, partially, to beat the United States on trade, OK? So, I don’t really care whether it’s separate or together.”
Trump sees the EU as dispensable, if not positively harmful, because its regulatory apparatus — especially its environmental overreach — impedes the growth of European economies through deal-killing delays. Upon leaving the EU, countries will be free to act quickly, not least with a United States open to trade. “Brexit is going to end up being a great thing,” Trump said, with a U.S.-U.K. trade deal “done quickly and done properly — good for both sides.” He predicts other countries will also leave the EU, partly because they will inevitably want to maintain their national identities. That inevitable want became an immediate want following the EU’s “catastrophic” error of forcing member nations to accept an overwhelming number of migrants.
A shrinking EU could begin to materialize within a year. In France, where 61 per cent of people have an unfavourable view of the EU, a national election in April will pit the National Party’s anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen, who wants to exit the EU, against the Republican Party’s anti-immigrant François Fillon, who merely wants to gut an EU he says “at best is inefficient, useless.”
In the Netherlands, where voters scuppered a proposed pact between the EU and Ukraine last year, the Party for Freedom’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU Geert Wilders is a heavy favourite to win the national election in March.
In Italy, where the prime minister resigned last year after losing a referendum to the anti-immigrant, anti-euro Five Star Movement, some expect a snap election to be called that could see the Five Star Movement heading the country.
Whether countries face imminent elections or not, anti-immigrant, anti-EU sentiment is rising rapidly across all of Europe, with anti-establishment parties either in the lead or closing fast on traditional parties. Even in Germany, the biggest economic beneficiary of the EU system and its last bedrock supporter, the anti-immigrant, anti-euro Alliance for Germany bested Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in her home province last year, leading some to speculate it could be a shock winner in elections expected late this year.
Europeans are uniting, not around the banner of a united Europe, but in demands that the European Union be diminished or be gone. A Pew poll last year of 10 EU countries found only a median of 51 per cent still favoured the EU, with support dropping fast from the previous year.
The EU grew rapidly to its current 28-country size, and was able to convince so many countries to surrender their national sovereignty, for one reason only — the lure of gaining access to its ever-larger trade cartel. With the loss of the U.K. — the EU’s largest economy after Germany — and its loss of stature in the new U.S. administration, the EU no longer looks a winner. It has become a sclerotic, socialistic economy that generates low economic growth and needs perpetual bailouts of its weaker members.
Not all countries will want to leave the EU. It remains highly popular among job seekers and “social welfare shoppers” — the term applied to citizens in its poor member countries like Bulgaria and Romania, who value the EU’s open borders for the incomes offered by its rich members. Apart from these poor cousins, though, the EU’s relevance diminishes progressively, and the growing question now is whether the EU itself will go out with a whimper or with a bang.
Lawrence Solomon is a policy analyst with Probe International.