The Beginning of the End of the European Union?


Eisuke Suzuki

   German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “the idea of European unification was the idea of peace after centuries of horrendous bloodshed.” Historically, the movement of European unification was intended to secure peace by eliminating state boundaries. It was hoped that no war would be waged without national boundaries because war was fought by more than two states across their respective national borders. It was no coincidence that Earl Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, who spearheaded the movement of Pan-Europeanism was of Austria, which had gone through the vicissitudes of empires from the Holy Roman Empire through the Austro-Hungary Empire to the Third Reich.       

   The European Union (EU) has expanded its outer boundaries by incorporating new member countries; it has sought to secure peace and prosperity within the extended boundaries of a much larger territorial entity. But it is not an ordinary state; it has a central bank, but doesn’t have a central government like any empire of the past; nor does it have its own police force, let alone its military. Each member state still governs its own state affairs albeit subject to directly applicable EU law. The time to secure peace and prosperity by establishing a large territorial body is long gone. Globalization has allowed tiny city-states to thrive in free trade and enjoy peace.

   The European Community was originally intended for a single economic market with the free movement of goods, services and capital. The EU’s real problem was created when intra-EU border checks were removed and the free movement of people was allowed. The “Brexit” victory in the referendum may trigger the beginning of the end of the EU. It is the failure of the EU that opened the borders of EU member countries without providing them with any means to regulate the movement within the EU. It is the failure of the EU to have a single currency Euro for the entire EU (except a few countries, e.g., notably Denmark and the UK) while allowing each member country to conduct its own discrete national economic policies without the power to protect its national economy. The EU is anachronism. It has nothing but pretensions like a ghost of the Holy Roman Empire. As an entity, it has no real power without the support of member states. It cannot deal with any real crisis on its own, be it a political crisis of Ukraine or a financial crisis of Greece or on-going refugees/migrants crisis. And the EU cannot deal with the Brexit problem.

   Take Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that is supposed to govern the process of an EU member’s withdrawal from the EU, for example. It denies reciprocal respect for freedom of choice of a member country. The EU denies the fundamental freedom of association, that is, the essential condition for joining, or withdrawing from, the EU. Member states, like insects entrapped in a conical pit of the antlion, cannot escape from it. Article 50 is an epitome of EU arrogance and self-importance just the way it does not see anything wrong in sending two extra representatives of the EU, the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council, to the G7 meeting in which four European powers, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Italy, are already represented. These two EU representatives are superfluous as they have no real power. Any organization that denies members’ fundamental freedom of choice is not worth being a member. Groucho Marx must have turned in his grave.

   “Remain” supporters’ arguments became the victim of the EU’s closed circuit of Eurocentrism as if free trade does not exist outside the EU. All EU member countries of any relevance are members of the WTO which aims at eliminating tariffs and trade barriers in the first place. Major trading partners of the EU are non-EU members. EU member countries are bound by the WTO regime and they cannot impose tariffs as they please. Trade relations are interdependent. As the UK wants to export its goods and services to EU member countries, so EU member countries want to import goods and services from the UK and to export their goods and services to the UK. There are many Free Trade Agreements between the EU and non-EU member countries. The UK would be in a position to negotiate to join the NAFTA as a non-EU member country. Better still, the UK would be better off by capitalizing upon its relationship with British Commonwealth countries. But here is a catch. For the UK to enjoy the status of Most Favoured Nation” (MFN) within the EU as a non-EU state in the future, it cannot afford to terminate its treaty relations with the EU unilaterally. It has to comply with the requirements of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

   Mr. David Cameron misjudged the depth and gravity of the discontent of the British people. He proffered the referendum just to thwart conservative groups’ challenges from within and without the Tory party. He never thought that the British people would vote for withdrawal from the EU. The conservative challengers likewise responded merely to the Yes/No referendum question without providing any tangible policy platform for the UK outside the EU. As a result, the entire nation is caught in the midst of sheer unpreparedness with total uncertainty for the future. What’s next?

   Mr. Cameron announced “the British people have voted to leave the European Union.” He insisted “the decision must be respected and the process of implementing the decision in the best possible way must now begin” and flatly ruled out the second referendum dismissing the increasingly popular petition. But he could have ignored it.  After all the EU Referendum is merely advisory and not binding on either the Government or Parliament. Why does he want to implement the Brexit decision which he does not support in the first place?  

   It is only the UK government that may initiate the EU exit process under Article 50.1 of the Lisbon Treaty, which states: “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.” The current status of the UK in the EU was created by the European Communities Act1972. An Act of parliament cannot be taken away by any entity other than the UK Parliament that approved the Act. It needs to be repealed by parliament as one of the UK’s fundamental constitutional requirements is the approval of its parliament. It is ludicrous to consider a decision so crucial and far reaching as that of Brexit can be made by simple majority! That is the reason why the European Union Act 2011 was enacted in the first place. That means the government alone cannot trigger the withdrawal process of Article 50 without first obtaining parliament approval. A new bill must be introduced to parliament for approval. It must be two-fold: the first part to authorize the government to give notice to the EU of its intention to withdraw; and the second part to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which must include the entry into force of the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU or, failing that, the date of expiration of the negotiation period allowed under Article 50, paragraph 3 of the Lisbon Treaty as a condition to precedent to the effectiveness of the repeal. The first part will allow parliament an opportunity to deny or approve the motion to withdraw from the EU, and the second part is to ensure the applicability of EU law to the UK during the prolonged and arduous negotiation period if the first part is approved by parliament.

   Mr. Cameron said the withdrawal process under Article 50 would be initiated by a new Prime Minister. The EU cannot tell the government when to give notice. It is entirely up to the UK government. And parliament has power to approve or deny the new bill of allowing the government to trigger the Article 50 process and to repeal the European Communities Act 1972.  Under the present circumstances such modus operandi is the best available option for the government to keep Scotland, Wales, and Northern Island from breaking away from the United Kingdom and preserve its unique position of strength in the EU as the only non-Euro member state. ###