What does Brexit mean to us? Is it a one-off stumble by former prime minister David Cameron trying to keep his party from splitting apart – sort of a PC-Wild Rose scenario – that failed because he chose awful timing? Is it part of a global unhappiness with politicians who are seen by many as taking care of themselves rather than the voters who elected them? Or is it a European experiment gone too far, too fast in taking over governing authority from national governments?
Certainly, Europe is in crisis. The British withdrawal from the 28-country European Union is a sad setback from what should have been a monumental advancement in international citizenship and global cooperative governance. The key document in this arrangement is the Single European Act of 1987 (Britain joined in 1973), which created an internal market without frontiers in which free movement of goods, persons, services and capital was ensured.
It all started in 1950, when the brilliant French foreign minister Robert Schuman looked at the chronic grievance between France and Germany over who should have ownership of the industrial heartland of the Ruhr Valley. He convinced France to give up sovereign control of the coal and steel industry in his country and share it so that another war between France and Germany would become “unthinkable and materially impossible.” This led to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) signed by France, West Germany, Italy, and the Benelux countries. It created a common market for coal and steel, thereby neutralizing competition between the involved states. Britain was involved at one point but withdrew for reasons of sovereignty.
The four institutions that ran the ECSC were a high council of independent appointees, (one from each country), a common assembly of parliamentarians (based on representation by population), a special council of member nations’ ministers and a court of justice. The same institutions remain today in the form of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice.
While this makes intellectual sense, the facts are that the British look upon the Members of Parliament elected to Westminster in London as their national governing body, not the 73 representatives that they send to sit in a 751 member parliament in Brussels – particularly when they are not accountable to the national parliament. In Canada, think of this as the equivalent of having regionally elected Canadian senators involved in an international government that makes decisions independent of the House of Commons on international trade, immigration and justice where they have a permanent minority position and no veto power. (Read RenĂ© LĂ©vesque’s grievances).
When the British originally joined the EU in 1973, it was at a time when they were in financial difficulties. DeGaulle had earlier vetoed their application. Now Britain wants out because they are the second richest and don’t want to end up bailing out financially failing Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. And they want control over immigration to their shores, particularly by non-Europeans. They are willing to risk international trade and prosperity in return for independent control of who lives in Britain.
Watch for Trudeau and the Quebec separatists if oil prices don’t recover.
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.