The so-called “Brexit,” which is the nickname for Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, became a reality on June 23, 2016 when a narrow majority of voters cast their ballot in favor of a referendum to leave the customs union. Although the election of US President Donald Trump and his controversial leadership have overshadowed Brexit events, it is one of the most significant geopolitical developments directly impacting the developed world and global economy. Absent a highly unlikely extension or other unforeseen developments, Great Britain will be leaving the European Union on March 23, 2019. If elected officials in Britain, as well as EU officials, can agree to Prime Minister Theresa May’s draft Brexit deal, Britain can begin to recalibrate how its trade relations work with minimal disruptions. If not, Britain may find itself unable to trade with its closest economic partners, which could leave it practically frozen out of the global economy. While the economic implications of the Brexit are both important and interesting, the macro-political and geopolitical implications are, perhaps, even more significant.
In many respects, the economic costs of a Brexit are technical issues predetermined by the economic mechanisms in play and the decisions made by people. They are a product of the politics and public policies that set them in place, but they are only the end results of decisions already made and being made. What decisions are being made and why they are making those decisions matter more. Just as Donald Trump was able to capitalize on growing displeasure with international governing institutions and nationalist sentiments, proponents of a Brexit were able to rally a critical mass of voters to reject the European Union’s ever-expanding influence over the domestic public policies of member states. This is significant because, it reversed a decades-long trend favoring stronger international governance and weaker national governance. The Brexit, therefore, reflects a broader global “resovereignization” process that involves countries reclaiming their sovereign identity and authority. A shift away from international governing organizations is a part of this process.
The EU began as a trade organization then quickly started to dominate the domestic economic agendas of member states. Over time, it has steadily expanded its influence over non-economic policies of member states. Instead of simply improving economic ties between members states, the European Union became an extra layer of government for the bulk of Europe. The landmass of the United States is roughly the size of Europe and Europe hosts half as many people as India, so the EU Commission and Parliament can be considered somewhat equivalent to that of the US Federal government and the national Indian government in terms of democratic representation. The fact the EU is an international governing body and not a national government, however, means it adds an extra layer of government that creates distance between the governed and those in government. More than simply diluting the representation of constituents by lumping their views and interests with those in other nations, it creates an layer of extra bureaucracy that inhibits the ability of People to have their views codified into law by elected legislators and enacted by elected executors.
The British People, or least a slim majority, no longer wanted to a part of the European Union. They still wanted the benefits of the trade terms associated with the European Union, but they no longer wanted to be subjected to the governance of an international body that allegedly represents the conflicting interests of all Europeans. While Article 50 of the Treaty On European Union (TEU) affords every member state the right to withdraw from the EU and a straightforward legal means to do so, the process is not so straightforward in practice. The way in which the EU was developed and the economies of member states integrated made it very costly for member states to leave. Because the ability, and desire to withdraw from the TEU appeared to be more of an afterthought, detailed contingencies were not put in place to ease the withdraw of a member state. The debt burden of the EU, for example, was designated a responsibility of the international body instead of a predetermined share of each member state while the post-exit rights of former EU residents living in current EU states were never considered. Because of this, the British People and the many Peoples of the EU must now negotiate a political settlement to minimize the harm of the Brexit.
Diplomatic relationships, which include trade ties, are temporary and must be recalibrated with the ever-shifting bilateral interests of partner nations, so the EU should have been designed to serve as a transient authority capable of dealing with those shifting interests. Instead, it was engineered to serve as permanent governing body designed to usurp national governments. If a second Brexit referendum was held, British voters may well likely choose to stay in the EU, because the process is too complicated, too costly, and too frightening. Extreme political division and dysfunction make it impossible for the populations of member states to easily arrive at a mutually beneficial exit agreement. If it was as easy to leave the EU in practical terms as it was to join the EU, it would be a clear choice between stay or go. The interests of the many Peoples of Europe could be better represented and enacted while nations would be far freer to join and leave the EU. The European Union would be a very different organization. Making the EU far more beholden to the will and whims of the European Peoples would compel the organization to adopt policies more conductive to the needs of member states and find ways to make its services to member states more beneficial.
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