The Brexit-issue is less important than most economists think
Most economists assume that the British referendum about Brexit is a historic moment; an issue that might change the course of European history. I think they exaggerate its importance. Of course, if most people think it is extremely important, then it is important. But I hope that in case of an exit, we all will be wise. In the first place, nobody knows when the UK steps out formally. Secondly, a whole series of negotiations will be organized to see in which cases the old EU-arrangements will still hold. Thirdly, There is a strong tendency within the EU to find out whether the integration has gone too far. The group of so-called federalists who see complete political integration as their final goal, has become ever smaller during the last few decades. The UK is definitely not the only one, which considers the growing power of ‘Brussels’ a problem.
Many economists assume that people only bother about their level of wealth. Reality is far more complex, however. They also want to feel at home in their own country. A necessary condition then is a minimum level of cultural homogeneity. They don’t want to be dependent on foreign products, foreign capital and foreign people. Foreign people means: people with different interpretation of life and consequent differences in values and norms.
The EU, however, does not strive for more cultural homogeneity; it aims at a system of free markets, and at some structural homogeneity in case of social and environmental issues. The EU-leadership does not appreciate structural diversity, and ‘local’ autonomy. It has its own goals, shortly formulated as ‘becoming a economic and political power, operating on the global level. EU-citizens are expected to work hard and pay taxes and obey the rules as set by the EU-bureaucracy. All their attempts to build power are justified by the idea that in the long run global power is good for the mass of the people of the EU. When looking at the current global powers – the USA, China and Russia – we cannot trust this justification.
Back to the question whether a Brexit is a drama or not. I think it’s not. Whether they stay or leave – the big issues are still there. The EU has to deal with a badly functioning Eurozone. The problem of the asylumseekers is still there. We can still invite the UK to cooperate with the EU in organizing effective border patrols. It is unrealistic to think that the EU can accept and integrate many people from countries with a very different culture. Moreover, there is the problem of the EU-insiders, who are not well-integrated in their own country. For instance, many Dutch are hardly aware of what their own culture actually is. For foreigners, who want to integrate in the Netherlands it is very difficult to adjust – can we see what is really the norm when strolling along the streets? – can we really discover typical Dutch culture when working in a Dutch organization?
In my opinion EU-nations should rediscover their own culture, and it would be nice that this awareness does not grow in a negative way: that is, fighting against the new citizens. If we rediscover our culture, it is easier to get into TTIP-like negotiations, to decide which foreign products are acceptable and which are not. When analyzing the Greek case, we see how problematic it is to be financially dependent from Anglo-Saxon orientated financial markets.
The most important task of Brussels is to stop with the ongoing extension of her influence vis-à-vis their member states. It were great if Brussels would start to evaluate the member-countries to see whether they stick to the rules already implemented.
Lastly, it would be great to see the EU-leadership reducing the administrative overload of its own bureaucracy. All these improvements can be done with or without the UK. If the EU would make itself more attractive, the UK will – after about 10-20 years – return. Then we must welcome them.