In past decades, the UK has mostly been a hindrance of ever closer union and the federal development of the EU. Usually it has made life difficult for those working for stronger political powers for Brussels vis-à-vis nation states. It supported eastern enlargement – including that of Turkey – so that it could weaken the Franco-German center of gravity of Europe. Now we have a historical moment in which most major powers within the Union are again becoming interested in strengthened central coordination. Without such enhanced coordination powers, it is difficult to see how Europe can overcome the present crisis. With virtually no economic growth, enormous levels of unemployment across the Mediterranean, and sustained institutional uncertainties across the EU, enhanced coordination is more vital than ever. No national governments can do this job, as this is neither possible politically, nor institutionally, nor morally. The alternative of ever closer union is disintegration: either the center ejects the periphery by stopping financing it, or center countries eject themselves from a failing Union as the UK has just done. Europe cannot continue to form a non-optimal currency zone, kept together with institutionally unauthorized interventions by the ECB, with no hope of fixing up structural weaknesses. Without legally permitted, substantial fiscal transfers within the union and EU-wide rules actually enforced by the Commission, Europe will never work. This will create ever increasing political tensions both in the center and across the periphery, utilized by far more blatant enemies of liberal democracy than Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.
This may be the moment of pushing for the formation of a European public; a public that has not existed before, leaving national governments the only major political players in Europe. Their handling of the crisis has proved insufficient to say the least, and it is difficult to foresee any major improvement under current conditions. We at the eastern fringes of the EU are deeply interested in finding workable solutions to this crisis and forming a European public that hold leaders accountable in case they failed to implement those solutions.
In past years in the East, we have mostly elected leaders who have been happy to form alliances with the UK so that Brussels cannot curb their provincial prerogatives. Now they have lost a major ally in their anti-EU “freedom fight”, which is of course only waged against EU political interference not against EU money. This is a welcome development and we pro- EU eastern citizens should now be able to push for an ever closer union more than before. This should mean less power for nation states and more power for the EU, and we need to persuade our fellow citizens that they would be better off if development funds were overseen by democratically accountable European political bodies instead of our clientalistic governments.
Strengthening central coordination and letting a transparent and democratically accountable EU solve the crisis is the only possible solution. Europe must live up to its moral, political and institutional standards, and failing to do so must be sanctioned both in the center and the periphery. This cannot happen without curtailing the prerogatives of nation states that are themselves unable to maintain competitiveness and liberal democracy at the same time in a globalized world, even if the majority of the UK electorate believed the other way.