The EU will lose one of its most progressive and democratic member states, says Anke Hassel.
On the one hand, the UK is a special case as it has always been a reluctant member of the EU. On the other hand, there are two key underlying causes for the vote against Europe:
The first is an increasing alienation of the people in Europe with the integration process. While the single European market, eastern enlargement and even the Eurozone has opened many opportunities for freedom of movement and business, the measures associated with the Eurozone crisis and other policy measures by EU institutions have been increasingly encroached on the democratic decision-making process in many member states.
The second is an effect of economic restructuring itself. Migration benefits societies as a whole but migration also puts pressure on public services and low skilled workers. The UK has been one of the countries in Europe with the highest net immigration numbers in recent years, both from the EU and outside it. The polls show that particularly low skilled UK citizens have turned against the EU because they see it as the main reason for increasing numbers of immigrants.
Both underlying causes are present in a large number of EU member states. So is the populist movement that has skillfully exploited the disillusionment of the UK citizens. Many other EU member states are watching the Brexit development closely as they anticipate similar moves at home.
So how should EU policymakers and member states proceed?
- Take a moment to reflect on the underlying causes and think through the logical implications. Economic liberalisation and complete freedom of movement have social and economic consequences.
- Pause the relentless integration mode of European level thinking and reassess the relationship between the member states and the EU institutions. In the EU for some time now the tail has been wagging the dog. Precious national policies and institutions have been undermined by EU policy measures and rulings by the European Court of Justice. There needs to be a mode of balancing integration and national practices.
- Accept the diversity within Europe. Diversity is a strength and not a weakness. EU decisions must serve the member states and not the other way round. Eradicating the diverse approaches within Europe will foster alienation.
- Take concerns over freedom of movement seriously. Migration is a great asset for all European societies, if managed well. Anti-discrimination within the EU has turned too often towards the discrimination of inlanders. Welfare states depend on the political will of sharing risk with others which should not be overplayed.
If the EU is willing to take a moment to reflect on recent events, this can be the beginning of a new Europe. Maybe even with the UK.