Why the UK’s hung parliament is an opportunity for constructive Europeans

Demotix/Reynaldo C. Paganelli. All rights reserved.It was short-sighted and
self-defeating of Angela Merkel, following the surprise result of the UK
elections, when she opted for stressing that the European Union was “ready” to
start with the Brexit negotiation, so please “stick to the time plan”.

Although she went on to say
that "Britain is part of Europe”, at the core, her message
reiterated the old refrain that the EU countries would be "asserting the
interests of the 27 member states that will make up the European Union in
future" during the Brexit negotiations. This position is surely driven by
the upcoming German elections. However, Ms. Merkel is failing to grasp the
great opportunity provided by the UK result: to reverse or minimize Brexit.
This would circumvent the trap of European reliance on Berlin that places the
entire weight of leadership solely on the German’s shoulders, with the concrete
risk of making her the scapegoat for the Union’s problems.

Macron, on
the contrary, has understood this danger very well. Thus, he has wisely
congratulated May while adding that “the friendship between France and the UK
is strong and it will overcome any difficulty”. Macron is quite right in
adopting a cautions approach, as the United Kingdom is still, despite its
controversial stance, a strategic partner for those who aim to “refound” the
European Union. By the same logic financial analysts who keep saying that a
hung parliament is the worst possible electoral outcome, are making a mistake. But
at the end of the day they are paid to elaborate short-term provisions and not
to understand the far more dynamic and longterm phenomena that make up politics.

The reality
is that after this election any UK government will be a weak one: no matter
whether the cabinet is led by Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, in both scenarios the
cabinet will lack the strength and legitimacy of a strong and clear popular
mandate. And yet, paradoxically, this weakness could represent the greatest opportunity
for the Union to assist the UK towards a merely nominal Brexit (no concessions
on freedom of movement in exchange for the right to remain within the single
market). Or it could even confer on the EU the historic victory of forcing Her
Majesty’s Government to choose between a new referendum or a ‘no deal’, which
would eject the UK directly outside the globalised world.

In fact, the
EU needs the United Kingdom just as much as the United Kingdom needs the EU. Given
the rocky nature of the marriage between these two entities over some time, a deeper
and more structural “rearrangement” is surely required than those clumsily attempted
by Cameron. The United Kingdom needs the EU because the strength of a city like
London is to represent and to be the financial core of the Union, by linking it
to the global financial markets. However, the English need us as well to help
them reformulate the model of welfare and the social state that has been trampled
on through the years, exposing them to those irrational inequalities ably
denounced by Corbyn.

The opposite
is also true, the EU needs the UK as a big part of its exports, on which the
still unsteady European economy relies, goes there. Germany exports into the UK
more than 90 million euros worth, a figure that has increased by 50% in the
last five years. It would be a real disaster for the German economy if the
English cut this number down as a result of the introduction of new duties. But
perhaps an even more important reason makes the UK absolutely critical for future
developments of the EU, since the United Kingdom, together with the USA, constitute
the centre of modernity. The four top-league non-American universities are
indeed English, and English contains the music and many more of the symbols which
define our times.

If Europe loses
the UK, it will become more provincial, dangerously self-centred and reliant on
Berlin. This is a threat that Ms. Merkel cannot fail to recognise. The real
news about Macron is that, despite being French, he understood that France and
the EU can only have a future if they renounce and free themselves from that
syndrome of “grandeur” so inappropriate for the times.

At the end
of the day we need the British in order to imagine a different Europe and to go
beyond the unsustainable illusion of a “United States of Europe”.

Some sorts
of ‘supra-national state’, in an era where new technologies are constantly
eroding national boundaries and borders, are simply inconceivable. Britain has
been crucial to the realisation of the single market and for the elaboration of
those “variable geometries’ which today are allowing the process of integration
to go further and to evolve. Furthermore, a nation that has learned to go
beyond bureaucracy as its ‘driving force from within’ is critical to bringing Europe into a
century which demands flexible institutions.

It is
understandable for the Commission, and for Brussels, to be almost obsessed by
the necessity to “stick to the time plan” and to complete the negotiations
within the agreed timescale: like every bureaucracy, their priority is to close
the file. However, the Brexit file is far too important to be left in the hands
of an administration that noone has ever elected.

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