United Kingdom (UK) is the first state to withdraw its membership in the European Union (EU). This historic moment is also commonly known as Brexit, an abbreviation of the words Britain and exit, referred to the scenario of potential Greece withdrawal from the eurozone following Greece debt crisis.[i] Brexit caused the pound sterling to plummet against other major currencies and David Cameron’s swift resignation from his position as prime minister.[ii] It also triggers a possibility of second Scottish referendum[iii] and possibility for Northern Ireland’s reunification with the Republic of Ireland.[iv] However, it is still unclear whether UK’s withdrawal will result in peaceful and close ties with EU with reform in many areas or a violent severance of relations between UK and EU.
The call for referendum to decide the future of UK in the EU was pushed as far as David Cameron’s remark at the EU Summit in Brussels On December 2015.[v] Even though Cameron suggested that in/out referendum will be held in the following year, he made his position clear in his remarks that continued membership is vital to economic security and to the fight against international terrorism. Brexit campaigners and former London mayor, Boris Johnson, on February 2016 pushed the idea to hold the referendum. On April 2016, Vote Leave was announced as an official campaign to promote UK leaving EU followed by official referendum campaign period across UK. For 4 weeks following the Purdah period starting at the end of May, civil servants of the Central Government and local authorities in UK is forbidden to publish any material related to referendum or release any information that could influence the way the public vote. A day after polling day, on 24 June 2016, there will be a national declaration of the referendum result after on June 23rd those who are in favor of UK leaving EU won by 52% to 48%.[vi]
Aside from Brexit, EU is currently struggling with many issues ranging from increasing influx of immigrants and refugees, recent terrorist attacks, and several members slow recovery from debt crisis. Brexit has dealt a major blow to EU’s stability and cohesion as a regional organization. Thus, UK decision to quit poses a question on whether the EU model of regional integration is still relevant as one of the prominent model of regional integration.
United Kingdom and the European Union
The decision to quit arguably is not an easy one for both UK and EU. Being one of the prominent members, UK contributed on average of £13 billion annually.[vii] Losing financial contribution from one of its top five donors means an additional burden for each of EU member states. On the other hand, losing membership will cost UK additional funds to re-enter European market in addition of further negotiations to decide the fate of EU workers in UK, and to establish border control agreement between UK and EU. In addition to economic downturn, Brexit could also lead to other problems concerning UK’s relation with EU and EU member states.
Notwithstanding the importance of economic relations between UK and EU, to bring a holistic approach to assess Brexit’s impact to regional integration it is important to look beyond economic relations and at first see how UK politically positions itself from other European members of EU. David Abulafia, an English historian, described the relationship that the United Kingdom has always been a partner of Europe without being a participant of it. He said that Britain has a distinctive way of development compared to its continental neighbors. With vast colonial territory, until the second half of 20th century, Britain was reluctant to be a part of being a European nation in fear that it would signify the loosening of ties with Commonwealth and a cessation of imperial status.[viii]
Britain has its own legal system, which is different from Roman law or Napoleon codes. Britain has also a rather different approach to fascism, anti-Semitism, and communism. When several European countries embraced fascism and communism, such idealist movements had no deep roots in Britain.[ix] Even though historically Britain had a rather distant approach to other European nations, in 1946 Winston Churchill, at that time a former prime minister of UK, delivered a speech in Zurich proposing an idea to recreate partnerships between Germany and France, idea of the United States of Europe, and a call to form a Council of Europe.[x] British government is late to embrace Churchill’s idea of a unified Europe. At first, UK rejected the initial invitation by 6 European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and Netherlands) to join European Economic Community in 1957 and later joined the Common Market in 1973. In 1975 there was a similar in/out referendum to decide whether UK still being a part of EEC. The referendum in 197 resulted in Britain decided to keep its membership in the Common Market.[xi]
European Union as a Unique Regional Organization
Regional Organization can be defined as bureaucracies with restricted conditions of membership, with members consist of governments or government representatives. It is a result of urgencies to work together to tackle their problems.[xii] However, EU works beyond that definition. EU does not work solely to provide an arena for its members, but also working as actor, that into some extent, providing guidance for its member states to act accordingly to maintain European Community’s stability.
Among all regional organizations, EU stands out as the most distinctive regional organization because of its level of integration and its regional institutions. There are six institutions under EU which signify this distinction by executing functions beyond its member states’ border within EU’s jurisdiction: European Council, European Commission, European Parliament, European Court of Justice (ECJ), and European Central Bank.[xiii] Among those six, implementation of policies in EU is carried out by powerful ECJ. It is a political watchdog that controls European Commission and European Parliament. Working in accordance of the treaties constituting the framework of political cooperation within EU, ECJ also functions as a policy-making body that creates law through its case law; it supervises other EU’s institutions and member states to ensure that they adhere to rules set up by EU.[xiv] Even though laws and treaties within European Union are results of a democratic process, there are still critics implying that EU and its regional institutions sometimes work above its own member’s jurisdiction and therefore limiting EU member states’ sovereignty.[xv]
Fraser Cameron wrote an essay in 2010, placing EU model of regional integration as the best leading example for other efforts to achieve closer regional integration.[xvi] His basis of argument lies on the EU’s ability to recover from economic crisis in 2008 and previous crises before that. He stated that different tiers of integration reflected in exclusion for member countries to opt out of eurozone of Schengen area helped speed up integration in EU. Given the difference of economic growth among its members and its euro-skeptic nature, EU decided it is best to exclude UK and several other members from the eurozone to maintain currency stability. In other hand, it would not help the euro-skeptic UK to diminish its already skeptic view and share the same urge to manifest Churchill’s ideal to unify Europe. Seek for shared identities among member states still become a quest with unknown destination given its expansion in 2004 to include members with diverse background.
It is summarized that there are four tenets of EU, namely the supranational community method, political will to share sovereignty, close relationship between France and Germany as founding members, and consensus of the members to address problems affecting its member states. Since its inception, EU has been lauded for its supranational model and community method over traditional balance of power approach. There are political will among its founding members to share sovereignty to achieve closer and deeper integration. It is unclear, however, whether latter members of EU share the same sense of belonging toward the idea of a unified European Community. Despite past strife and differences, France and Germany had also been successful to recreate a peaceful relationship among the members of EU. A more accommodative approach to address the problems of its member states also beneficial, even though hesitance to move forward before the majority of EU members agreed to adopt the policy could also led to sustained damage affecting its member state’s people and further creating domino effect.
In the future, he stated that EU will still face several problems, such as fluctuation of energy price, rising commodity price, aging populations, growing labor markets of Asia, and unwillingness of Asian partners to impose the same welfare schemes as EU. Solidarity of eurozone members will still be tested as several members still recovering from debt crisis. Discussions in climate change and energy security will also impose their own challenge as many EU members still have different perspective to address both issues. There is also reluctance coming from European public backed by national politicians for deepening integration and stronger EU. Given its durability to withstand many crises before, EU will recover sooner or later. It is still undecided, however, the future of UK without EU membership’s privilege and benefits. Given two years to finalize its withdrawal, the fate of UK will be determined by the quality of its government and public to recuperate from some damages caused by Brexit.
Lesson Learn for Other Regional Organizations
If many things can be learned from EU model of integration, the first two will always be the willingness to create the political will and historic reconciliation among members of regional organization. Sustained efforts are needed to end conflict or disputes among countries in the region. That rhetoric should be manifested through actions. Otherwise, the idea of integration will just remain a false hope and failed plans.
Taking a lesson from Brexit, other regional organizations should revisit their way to pursue regional integration, especially if they adapted the EU model as their benchmark. EU faces a little challenge if any country wants to be a part of the Union, since aspiring members should comply to EU’s already standardized requirements and carry out democracy as political system. Those requirements are stated explicitly within Article 49 of Lisbon Treaty. However, different approach should be implemented for regional organization with member states coming from different spectrum of diversity. A push for closer and deeper ties among their member states should be achieved through their own formula.
Every regional organization also should take note to separate important issues that should be addressed on regional level from specific issues that better be delegated to national parliament. By division of authorities, redundancy could be minimized and chances for regional agreements to undermine national political process could be prevented. There are several cases in EU where public officials are stating their disappointment for non-accommodative regional agreements, fearing that their country’s sovereignty is being violated or reduced.[xvii]
Interests conveyed by top government officials of UK to remain being member of EU did not automatically reflect the majority of their national members of parliament and British public at general. Those who are in favor of leaving EU do not share the same concern and cultural identity as other European. These led to many problems, including fear of foreigners taking their privilege and incite racist behavior among UK public.[xviii] By creating a community, shared norms and values should be continually introduced and being fostered. If member states are failed to promote a shared cultural identity as a citizen of the region, then gaps would be created and widened among citizens of its member states.
At last, it is important for a regional organization wanted pursuing integration by democratic means to ensure that its people have proper access to governmental process and balanced information, especially if their vote will affect their lives for years to come. During period of February 2016 to the day of the referendum, the campaign from side in favor of leaving EU is more rigorous than those who want to stay. Several Brexit campaigners even resort to fear mongering campaign, using immigrants as object to instill racism and xenophobia.[xix]
Ironically, after the official result has been announced, there are five common questions being searched on Google in UK, the second highest one being “What is EU?”[xx] The four other questions were asking on what it means to leave EU, member countries of EU, how many member states of EU and what will happen after leaving EU. All five are questions which supposed to be covered by a proper socialization before referendum takes place. This shows that a large portion of the public have no idea on what they are voting for. By learning from Brexit, every regional organization should take a serious warning that giving opportunity to misinformed voters to make an irreversible, divisive decision is a reckless political move at its best.
[i]New York Times. 2016. Explaining Greece’s Debt Crisis. 17 June 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/business/international/greece-debt-crisis-euro.html
[ii]The Telegraph. 2016. David Cameron resigns after UK votes to leave European Union. 24 June 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/24/david-cameron-resigns-after-uk-votes-to-leave-european-union
[iii]BBC. 2016. Brexit: Nicola Sturgeon says second Scottish independence vote ‘highly likely’. 24 June 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-36621030
[iv]BBC. 2016. EU referendum: Northern Ireland votes to remain. 24 June 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-36614443
[v]The Guardian. 2015. EU referendum: David Cameron hints vote could be held summer 2016. 19 December 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/18/david-cameron-hints-eu-referendum-could-be-held-next-summer
[vi]Sunday Express. 2016. When is the EU referendum 2016? Timeline of all key date and events. 23 June 2016. http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/644178/EU-referendum-dates-European-Union-Brexit-David-Cameron-Brussels
[vii]BBC. EU Budget. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8036097.stm, See also: Germany’s contribution to EU annual budget ‘could rise by £2bn after Brexit’
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/24/germanys-contribution-to-eu-annual-budget-could-rise-by-2bn-afte/, Brexit would cost German economy up to $50 billion by end – 2017- study http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-germany-economy-idUKKCN0Y31PN, and Financial Times. 2016. How will Brexit result affect France, Germany, and the rest of Europe? https://next.ft.com/content/2b75023a-371d-11e6-9a05-82a9b15a8ee7
[viii]David Abulafia. 2015. Britain: apart from or a part of Europe?. History Today. 11 May 2015. http://www.historytoday.com/david-abulafia/britain-apart-or-part-europe
[x]The Churchill Society. Mr. Winston Churchill speaking in Zurich, 19th September 1946. http://www.churchill-society-london.org.uk/astonish.html
[xi]Sam Wilson. 2014. Britain and the EU: a long and rocky relationship. BBC. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-26515129
[xii]Michael G. Schechter. 2010. Historical Dictionary of International Organizations. Plymouth:Scarecrow Press Inc. p lvii and p39
[xiii]EU. EU institutions and other bodies. http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/index_en.htm
[xiv]Aksel Hatland and Evel Nilsen. 2009. “Policy making and application of law: free movement of persons and the European Court of Justice” in the Role of International Organizations in Social Policy. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Inc. pp94-96
[xv]Nina Berglund. 2016. EU Rules ‘undermine sovereignty’. http://www.newsinenglish.no/2016/06/02/eu-finance-rules-sacrifice-sovereignty/ See also: Miles G. Kellerman. 2011. UK Membership in the European Union: Undermining Parliamentary Sovereignty http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/578/uk-membership-in-the-european-union-undermining-parliamentary-sovereignty
[xvi]Cameron, Fraser. 2010. The European Union as a Model for Regional Integration. Council on Foreign Relations Press. http://www.cfr.org/world/european-union-model-regional-integration/p22935
[xvii]Bloomberg. Polish sovereignty is imperiled after EU criticism: preier says. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-20/polish-sovereignty-is-imperiled-after-eu-criticism-premier-says, See also: Miles G. Kellerman. 2011. UK Membership in the European Union: Undermining Parliamentary Sovereignty http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/578/uk-membership-in-the-european-union-undermining-parliamentary-sovereignty
[xviii]Kate Ferguson. 2016. EU Referendum: Immigrants told to ‘leave UK now’ after ‘divisive and xenophobic’ Brexit movement, Warsi says. The Independent. 27June 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/eu-referendum-brexit-immigration-immigrants-campaign-latest-baroness-warsi-a7104426.html
[xix]Ellie Mae O’Hagan. 2016. The UK’s ‘Brexit’ Vote is Actually a Referendum of Xenophobia. Global Research. http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-uks-brexit-vote-is-actually-a-referendum-on-xenophobia/5532435, See also: Anyusha Rose. 2016. The Brexit debate has made Britain more racist. Washington Post. 22 June 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/06/22/the-brexit-debate-has-made-britain-more-racist/, Leah Donella. 2016. Brexit: What’s Race Got to Do with It? http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/06/25/483362200/brexit-whats-race-got-to-do-with-it
[xx] Russia Today. 2016. 'What's EU?' Post-Brexit Google stats imply UK voters were clueless at polls. 24 June 2016. https://www.rt.com/viral/348268-brexit-google-search-stats/
Adrianus A. Yudianto