British Prime Minister David Cameron recently pledged that if he remains Prime Minister after the next election, a referendum will be held regarding Britain’s (precisely the UK’s) membership of the European Union (EU). Such a promise gives rise to concerns about the future of Britain, the EU and Europe.
What would be Britain’s next regional stance if it decides to leave the EU? Would Britain follow the examples of the member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) like Switzerland and Norway, which, despite having no EU membership, enjoy prosperity and success? Would Britain, alongwith other European countries having “NOT so pro-EU” sentimental establishments/regimes, move towards forming and institutionalizing a new European bloc (i.e. northern league)?
PURPOSE BEHIND FORMATION OF EU
The EU reached into its current status through evolution throughout the 20th century. In 1952, the European Coal & Steel Community (ECSC) was established in order to eliminate the possibility of further wars among its six member states by means of pooling the important national industries. In 1957, these member states established the European Economic Community (EEC) for economic co-operation and also established the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) for co-operation with regard to nuclear energy. Later, European Community (EC) was formed in 1967 under the Merger Treaty, which later turned into European Union in 1993 under the Maastricht Treaty. Throughout this evolution of the EU, the number of its members reached to 28 European states.
The ‘pre-EU’ Europe was occupied with wars, one after the other, until the formation of the EU (primarily started through the aforesaid ECSC and EEC) and, more particularly, until the end of the cold war period. Each of the two world wars begin in Europe as an European conflict among the European neighbours only to escalate into other parts of the world. After the Second World War, Europe became very vulnerable in every aspect. Therefore, the region, which holds massive energy resources, required collaboration to save their existence from inside weaknesses and from outside entities. Indeed, integration and cooperation was necessary to ensure peace in Europe — not just to avoid further wars among the European neighbours, but also to stay relevant in world affairs against the strong global presence of the former Soviet Union. Also, unhindered economic progress was one of the major reasons, no doubt, for the formation of the EU.
BRITAIN’S EXIT FROM EU & PREDICTIONS OF A CHAOTIC EUROPE
After the Second World War, Britain considered itself to be the leading European power. As a result, a unified platform among the Europeans was seen by Britain as an option to serve its purposes and not as a requirement for survival. However, for the other war-torn mainland European countries, the union among the European countries was a requirement for survival. So, the union was more important to the likes of Germany and France than Britain.
In the current-day scenario, the pro-EU governments within the EU, such as France, fear that Britain’s exit from the EU may pave the way for other EU member states to follow suit. They believe that Britain’s exit out of the EU would make the right wing political forces more popular among the general mass. However, the extent to which Britain’s exit may fuel a series of exits by other member states out of the EU largely depends on Britain’s success as a non-EU state after, and if, Britain exits from the EU.
Britain’s exit to the EU might bring about a serious power-imbalance in greater Europe. There is the likelihood that Europe will become bipolar, and thus, the Europeans will no longer remain important players with regard to global affairs. Europe would become a fragmented territory that would become subjugated by other powerful state-players, all of which would use the fragmented pieces of Europe as objects of power rivalries among themselves.
In recent times, Britain has been attempting to create a new bloc, often addressed as the “northern league,” consisting of European countries with “NOT so pro-EU” sentimental establishments/regimes. All the probable northern-leaguers – namely Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Britain itself – share a common desire to restrict the power of the EU. With the attempt of forming such a bloc or alliance, Britain is perhaps trying to restrict the expansion of the EU and to divide the existing EU in order to serve Britain’s own hegemonic interests.
If Britain makes its move towards institutionalizing the “northern league” and also joins the aforesaid EFTA after leaving the EU, a two centric Europe would emerge — one led by the Franco-German duo under the banner of the EU and the other led by Britain — creating scopes for further division, cold relations, conflicts and perhaps wars.
One of the two European blocs that might emerge out of Britain’s exit from the EU may lean towards, or align with, the Sino-Russian side of global geopolitics in confronting the other side that would avail the backing from the U.S.
With such two opposite blocs in Europe, wars or proxy wars are the only possibilities. The conflict of interests between the Western bloc (led by the U.S.) and the Eastern bloc (led by the former Soviet Union) during the cold war period led to a number of proxy wars around the world. Similarly, Saudi-Iran regional rivalry has been resulting in a number of proxy wars in the Middle Eastern region. Therefore, it would not be unprecedented if the two spreadheads of the two future European regional blocs, one led by the Franco-German duo and the other led by Britain, fight between themselves through proxies. However, a ‘direct’ war between these European spearheads is most likely to spread all over Europe, turning the region into a chaotic place.
A chaotic Europe would neither be advantageous for Franco-German duo nor for Britain. Such Europe-wide chaos would destroy the social, economic and political institutions of each European state from the core. Chaos not only would halt the progresses that both sides have made so far after the second world war, but also would cause their development to be reversed back to centuries.
Russia would be mistaken if it thinks it may enjoy the chaos in Europe. A spill-over effect of European-chaos might hit Russia as was the case in second world war, where Russia, despite not having an active involvement in the war, was attacked by the German Army.
A direct war between the European spearheads is most likely to spread all over the world, similar to what we have seen in the previous two world wars that started as European conflicts only to turn into world wars.