Could Britain rejoin a much-improved EU?

It isn’t often that I agree with George Soros, but on the EU I mostly do. We both think it is dysfunctional; that it is facing an existential crisis of which Brexit is a symptom rather than a cause; and that there are two possible outcomes from here – either it will collapse or it will “transform itself into an organisation that other countries like Britain will want to join”.

To do the latter (which would be great!) it needs to abandon the idea of ever closer union and move to a loose system of union with lots of different membership models. It needs to remember, as Soros told the Brussels Economic Forum this week, that “the European Union was meant to be a voluntary association of like-minded states that were willing to surrender part of their sovereignty for the common good”.

However, after the financial crisis the EU became something else: “a creditor/debtor relationship where the debtor countries couldn’t meet their obligations and the creditor countries dictated the terms that the debtors had to meet.” The net result was “neither voluntary nor equal.”

This has to be addressed, as do the various problems of free movement, democratic distance and country-inappropriate regulation across the EU. We need, says Soros, not ever closer union or even a multi-speed EU (which suggests anyway that the final destination is ever closer union) but a multi-track Europe – one that gives its members genuine choices and allows them to retain genuine sovereignty.

And as Soros notes, the UK is an exceptionally well functioning parliamentary democracy. If the EU fully reforms (not likely but possible!) there is no reason why we shouldn’t vote to join the new version at some point in the future using (hopefully) one of many membership models.

An awful lot of the people who voted Brexit (me included) would like to be in some sort of union with the EU – just not the one currently on offer.

  • Hugh Jarsse

    Hear hear! Many Brexiteers – myself included – are exactly of this mind. The trouble is with power-drunk and tunnel-visioned crazies like Junker and Verhofstadt at the helm I don’t see reform happening any time soon.

    • Andrew Crow

      Ah! You suspect a plot to roll out the Fourth Reich?

      Not an entirely irrational suspicion. The economic blitzkrieg on Greece (a far away country of which we know little) could be interpreted as an opening salvo if one were of a cynical mindset.

  • Andrew Cruise

    I agree, provided we could enter into trade agreements more freely with the other 85% of the world economy either as the U.K. or as part of a reformed EU. That is likely to be a sticking point.

  • George

    The UK doesn’t wish to join the EU at any price. We might consider joining a Common Market, depending on its rules and objectives, if one came into existence and replaced the EU.

    • Andrew Crow

      George, a ‘common market’ is essentially just another name for a protectionist trading block. Implicitly such an arrangement is a cartel which has the primary objective of skewing trades in favour of insiders.

      There are potential and actual advantages in ensuring common acceptable production and manufacturing standards that ensure a level playing field and protect consumers from dangerous products. That’s well and good. Price fixing probably isn’t.

      • George

        Thanks Andrew, you agree with me; I said we “might consider” it “depending on the rules and objectives” because the UK would mostly prefer open and free trade and not any cartel. Trade Agreements are designed for internal market protection to the tariffed exclusion of others.

  • Andrew Crow

    I think being part of the wider ‘Community of Europe’ sounds like a really good idea. And for heaven’s sake why stop at Europe why not a world community as a long term objective.

    The difficulty stems from the top down manner of the political construction, its almost total lack of democratic accountability and obsessions with ‘National Interest’. If each member nation is determined that it should get more out than it puts in (and the calculation is purely financial) then it clearly cannot ever be a successful union.

    If the relationship is based on fair exchange (win-win trades) everyone is better off. But this is not how it works because the essential underpinning philosophy is to construct win-lose deals where the more powerful players exploit the weaker members. As such it is merely a continuation of warfare in a different guise.

    The idea is essentially one of cooperation whereas the reality is quite the opposite; it is intrinsically competitive.

    To succeed such a union needs a sort of ‘ten commandments’ of basic common standards and what we’ve got is an entire book of Leviticus on which the project chokes.

    I’m saddened that I am now of the opinion that Brexit is Britain’s best option. It will be interesting to see if other member nations come to a similar decision in the years to come or whether they can actually discover enough common ground to hold it all together. I certainly believe they stand a better chance in the short term without us, but I have little confidence that whatever they can stitch together is something we would wish to rejoin.

  • Jim8888

    I’m of a similar view. I voted Brexit as I just felt the EU was corrupt and dysfunctional, and was worried it was brewing up a storm that would give fuel to another rise of the far right. I hoped a vote for Brexit would give pause for thought, but I now feel the current political leadership in the UK across all parties is the weakest I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to cast a vote on. I used to have no idea where the EU was going, but I’m beginning to think the same about the UK.

  • Chris Thompson

    If the EU changed to a federal model then this might be feasible. Given how they’ve treated what was their second biggest economy and, let’s not forget, the country that held out in Europe’s dark hour of crisis (which effectively bankrupted us and left a debt burden we’re still living with today), I’d say the chances of this happening are “slim” to “none existent”. Slim just left town!

    https://www.wellersaccountants.co.uk/blog/uk-exit-in-eu-referendum-means-remain-in-eu-for-now

  • Stephen

    Sounds like you are starting to get buyers’ remorse about your massively pro-Brexit stance Merryn

  • Jacqueline Keery

    Agree. I cannot understand why the EU dogmatically refuses to see the writing on the wall and rather than acting, is (despite the protestations otherwise) seeking to punish the UK for leaving. Survival is about adapting to change, not sticking to a self destruct course.