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.