Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A new European political order

The Brexit vote presages the collapse of an international order that has held since the end of World War II. While a new order will emerge, its outlines are hard to predict, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

The month of June is a very special month in modern European history. On 6 June 1944, the Allies stormed Normandy in France on their way to final victory over Nazi Germany. The Allies launched that invasion from England.

Less than 10 years after the liberation of Europe, the French and the Germans established the European Coal and Steel Community, setting in motion what became known as the European project of a unified Europe. Three years later, six European countries — France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries (The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) — signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 establishing the European Community.

This historic moment was the beginning of the unprecedented task of turning Europe into a unified bloc within the post-war international system. Great Britain was not present at the creation. Years later, and after France dropped its objection to the United Kingdom joining the European Community, the UK finally joined, in January 1973. The act of joining was revolutionary in the context of British-European history.

Many people believed, too soon, that the idea of insular Britain and continental Europe had ended when Great Britain became a member in the European Community, which became a single market some years later, and thereafter changed its name to the European Union.

But during the last 43 years the British have kept a distance from European integration. They declined to join the Eurozone and refused to be part of the Schengen visa system. But whatever reservations the British may have had concerning European integration, strategically and politically speaking, a European Union with Great Britain as a member created a Euro-Atlantic partnership with the United States that became a pillar of international peace and stability.

On 23 June, the British people voted for Brexit — Britain’s exit from the European Union —deciding, democratically, to find their own path to stability and security. The exit of Britain from the European Union is one of those historic events that will set Europe, and the world, on a different course. It is tempting to try to predict the future.

The referendum of 23 June, however, will have consequences both within the country itself in the years to come, as well as in Europe and across the Atlantic, that are impossible to fully foresee. We are on the threshold of a new beginning within the European Union, and in British-European relations, in addition to American-European relations. Since the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, this is the first time that a member country in the European Union has withdrawn.

We are entering uncertain times. The best we can do is to watch and monitor how both the European Union and Britain deal with the withdrawal process. According to Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon of 2009, which superseded both the Treaty of Rome and the Maastricht Treaty, both sides have two years to negotiate the terms and conditions of the withdrawal.

To give an example of how difficult and intricate these negotiations will be, there are 80,000 pages of regulations and laws that Britain will have to revise with the European Commission. Already, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that he is stepping down by October so that a new prime minster can lead Britain while withdrawing from the EU.

The British exit from the EU came amid rising disenchantment across Europe with European integration, coupled with widespread fears that the European project could ultimately threaten national identities. The failure of the union in dealing with the refugee crisis compounded fears in many parts of Europe, including Britain itself, of hundreds of thousands of refugees settling down in European cities and the countryside with the attendant risk of rising unemployment and strains on public services.

The refugees themselves have been represented as alien to European civilisation, and that their growing numbers could pose an existential threat to the social and cultural fabric of European societies. The fact that these refugees are pouring into Europe from countries and regions exporting terrorism has not helped. France was the victim of terrorism twice in 2015. Belgium also suffered at the hands of terrorists. The perpetrators hailed from non-European origins.

The morning after the referendum saw shockwaves spread across Europe and the world. What is called the liberal international order, set in motion by then US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, is threatened today from a financial and an economic point of view. As a matter of fact, the exit vote was nothing less than a non-confidence vote on globalisation. It was also an anti-establishment movement.

How this will play out in the medium and long terms remains to be seen. But the vote to withdraw from the EU should be seen as a wake-up call for the European Commission and for all those who have become active believers in and defenders of globalisation. The growing inequality that has accompanied globalisation was one of the main reasons why the Leave camp won on this fateful day of 23 June, an outcome that many in Europe dreaded.

The Financial Times’ weekend edition of Sunday, 26 June, rightly captured this idea by saying, “An outcry against high finance formed part of the anti-elite revolt that powered the Brexit move.”

The newspaper lamented, indirectly, the result of the Brexit referendum, writing, “For more than 40 years, the British have been active participants in the building of a liberal world order, built around a globalised economy. Now the UK has taken a different path — and the consequences of its choice will be felt across the world.”

The 6th of June 1944 saw the birth of a world order that guaranteed more than half a century of peace and stability. The 23rd of June 2016 will pave the way to a new European political order. Admittedly, we are living in interesting times: times of turmoil, but also renewal.

“Although the UK will be leaving the European Union, the British are in no way departing from the principles and values that undergird the Transatlantic Partnership, or from the important role the UK plays in promoting peace and stability in the world,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry, in a press statement on 24 June.

“One thing that will absolutely not change in the years ahead is America’s strong support for all our European friends and for an Euro-Atlantic relationship based on mutual support for democracy, a commitment to peace, and the rule of law.”

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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