“Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got 'til it’s gone”
I work in a large, internationally oriented company in the financial industry. As in many internationally oriented companies, the employees of this company are an international group of people from various countries inside and outside the European Union.
A substantial amount of employees within my company came from the United Kingdom; especially within the ICT-oriented staff departments in which I happen to work. These people are appreciated for their flawless knowledge of English (of course...) – paramount for the communication with the branches and departments all over the world – as well as for their vast experience in the financial industry and/or the ICT industry. And as genuine Europeans (i.e. members of the EU), these UK citizens can work in The Netherlands without any difficulties.
The fact that British people can work in The Netherlands – or all other EU countries as a matter of fact – without a working permit and virtually without any other obstacles standing between them and their labour position, sounds very obvious..., but it isn’t.
Just as it isn’t very obvious as well that British companies can trade with the other countries in the European Union without experiencing all kinds of political, legal and financial boundaries for their imports and exports of (financial / commercial) services and goods. No, these are actually privileges, supplied by the very existence of the European Union as a political, financial and economic institution.
The fact that these aforementioned privileges already existed for a very long time and that actually a generation of European citizens has grown up, which has never experienced a (working) life without these privileges being in place, does not say that such privileges are a ‘law of nature’ for all European citizens, including the British.
Everybody, who has looked at the very bloody history of Europe, should realize that the current situation of long-lasting peace and prosperity within the European continent has been built upon the blood, sweat and many, many tears of their forefathers in centuries past. Arguably the most important ingredient for this longlasting peace in Europe has been the European Union.
It is nothing less than a miracle that a large part of Europe has survived for more than 70 years without having a large, bloody international war within its boundaries. As the situation on the Balkan in the Nineties of last century and the more recent situation in Ukraine proved beyond a reasonable doubt, there are still numerous (inter)national tensions living within the European continent and even the smallest spark could lead to a bloody and extremely disruptive international war on European soil.
How realistic this prospect of international tensions and war still is, is proven by the recent refugee crisis: this is still an enormous lump to swallow for many member states within the European Union and most countries currently try to lay (or keep) this problem outside their own boundaries and borders: ” Is your country lying in the epicentre of the current refugee crisis?! Well, that is too bad for you, but I do not see why that is MY problem! Really!”.
What the European Union did achieve – in spite of its numerous serious flaws, its extremely sluggish and often indecisive decision-making process and its not per sé very democratic governance structure – is finding an outlet valve for the living tensions within the European continent and creating a structure of political and economic cooperation, friendship and solidarity for all its member-states. Looking at the EU like this, shows what a tremendous success this Union has been for all member-states.
Unfortunately, the British – who traditionally felt somewhat isolated from the rest of the EU and always had their own glorious past to ponder upon – do not look at the European Union as the political miracle that it is. Although their country suffered dearly from the Second World War and played an indispensable role in the liberation of the European continent, it has almost never been occupied by foreign nations during hundreds and hundreds of years. While their country has been involved in many wars, it has virtually never been victimized as a consequence of such wars, in contrary to many other nations within Europe.
Perhaps this absence of international wars on their own turf and the consequences thereof, is the main reason that the EU is rather seen by the British as an economic stronghold with some nasty political consequences, than as the political stronghold that the EU was originally meant to be. This explains the relative lack of love and compassion for the European Union on the British Islands.
In my humble opinion, this might even be the underlying reason that especially the British take the economic connections within the EU for granted, while largely ignoring the political ‘raison d’être’ for it.
“Why would the United Kingdom be a member of the European Union after all?! When we leave this Union, we are relieved from its idiotic rules, as well as its meddlesomeness and political treadiness. Probably nothing would change at all for us from an economic point of view; only the European political decision-making would not bother us anymore and we would be finally free to do as we please!”.
I had to think about this presumed British stance, after having some very interesting discussions with one of my dear English colleagues a few days ago and especially after reading the following article in Het Algemeen Dagblad:
The United Kingdom will abandon the European Union, when other EU countries do not agree with PM David Cameron’s demands for reforms within the Union. The British PM will let the EU know that the UK plays for keeps regarding the desired changes, in a very powerful warning, according to various media this Saturday.
In a letter to EU-president Donald Tusk, Cameron writes that he wants to negotiate about the British membership of the EU and its demands. “When we cannot reach an agreement and when our concerns will not be addressed – which is quite plausible unfortunately – we have to rethink the answer to the question whether the EU is good for the United Kingdom or not”, according to David Cameron in this letter to Tusk, that will published next Tuesday.
Due to the circumstances and background that I sketched earlier in this article, I understand this vision and the underlying threats of PM David Cameron. When a British PM is simply an unresisting victim of the people’s will and desires, a Brexit seems indeed imminent for the United Kingdom.
However, I consider Cameron’s vision to be a blatant exposure of Cameron’s political misconception of the true meaning of the EU and his total and utter failure as the leading politician in one of the largest countries within this Union.
As a matter of fact, PM David Cameron acts like a gratuitous sollicitor for an unwilling defendant, who is under trial for murder one. The fact that this defendant does not understand what the impact of his past and future actions will be, does not release the sollicitor from the duty to warn his client for the consequences of these actions.
Instead, however, PM David Cameron chooses to warn the justice (i.e. the EU) that he makes a mess of the trial and that his punishment after the trial will be too harsh on the defendant, who will go on strike afterwards. Sympathetic, but missing the point by at least 1000 lightyears.
When the UK will have left the EU as a consequence of Cameron’s referendum, after a long and difficult period of untwining that might last for at least 5 to 10 years, the United Kingdom will be on its own outside this very union. And so will the British people be.
Perhaps the largest difference between the UK and other non-EU countries in the European Economic Space or Switzerland is, that the other countries have never been a member of the EU in the first place. They have always followed a path of cohabitation with the EU, without ever being a member of it. However, the UK has been a – reluctant – member of the EU for the last 45 years; a member which has profited from its membership to the fullest, against a substantial reduction in expenses in comparison with other leading members.
I personally think that the UK will be seen by the other EU countries – and perhaps even the USA - as a mutineer, who left ship and betrayed his allies. The UK’s political loneliness might be very palpable in the not so distant future, just like the shockedness and flabbergastedness of the other ‘sailors on the European ship’.
Yet, I am afraid that nothing in the world can change the stance of the British (in fact, mostly the English and Welsh) citizens, regarding the European Union. Even if the current chair of the EU, Poland, represented by its president Donald Tusk, proves to be vulnerable for David Cameron’s obvious blackmailing, it will not change a thing in the British attitude towards the EU.
Will everything than remain the same ol’, same ol’ for the United Kingdom after their abandonment of the European Union?! In other words: their dreaded Brexit?!
I truly doubt that, to be honest... When you want leave a hotel room, because the costs of it are too high, you cannot stay in that same room for free afterwards. I think that the whole structure of visa, working permits and free trade with the EU might take a turn for the worse for the UK after their Brexit.
European borders might become more closed for British exports of knowledge workers, goods and services, of which especially (financial) services are traditionally the economic cork on which the UK floats and new excise duties and levies might be imposed on British goods and services.
Especially Frankfurt and Paris will be very determined to overtake the British role as Financial Services Capital of Europe and arguably the world, when the UK leaves the EU. Lobby groups for these financial capitals will strongly emphasize this to their politicians, after a Brexit has occured. And in numerous other ways, the leading, industrial countries within the EU will try to diminish the British influence after such a Brexit.
Consequently, a Brexit will lead to more losers than winners on the British Islands, in my opinion. British citizens should realize “that they don’t know what they got, ‘til its gone”, as Joni Mitchell taught the world so beautifully in her song “Yellow Taxi”.
Before they realize it, the EU could be a thing of the past for them. A thing that they might miss more dearly than they realize at this very moment...!