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Europe’s confederal future

Europe’s confederal future

Keeping EU together and Britain on board

by Pierre Haas in Paris

Fri 27 May 2016

The impact of a British departure from the European Union would spread well beyond the British Isles. The 23 June referendum recognises the dangerous separation of the populations of Europe from their political leaders. To overcome this gulf, and ensure the EU’s survival, member states should formally abandon the impossible goal of a federal Europe and propose instead a confederation of resilient nation states.

Hubert Védrine, a former French foreign minister under President François Mitterrand, brought the issue into the open by declaring last month, ‘Stop saying more Europe every day!’ Instead, Europe must promulgate a new concept of European co-operation built around nationhood.

As a former officer in the Free French Forces of General Charles de Gaulle, owing an unrequited debt to Britain for standing alone in 1940, I fervently wish the UK to stay part of Europe.

That goal would be buttressed by other European leaders’ formal admission that the federalists’ objective of a single European state is a non-starter. That would acknowledge the arguments of the populist supporters of a British exit. And it would meet the needs of 70% of eurosceptics who favour the EU's survival in a modified, reformed version.

Rallying President François Hollande to this concept would be in his own political interest, representing a beacon of hope for his prospects ahead of presidential elections next spring.

At the heart of Britain’s problems with Europe is that its citizens demonstrate genetic insularity from the EU’s objectives and management methods, despite the adjustments secured in Brussels. Current European policies, maintaining the validity of the old vision of federalism even though it has become unrealisable, validate the reasoning of Brexit supporters and strengthen the likelihood they will prevail. The autonomy of the British Isles served the greatness of the British Empire very well for centuries – so why change it?

Both Brexit advocates and those who stick short-sightedly to past visions refuse to see the realities of a world that is perpetually changing as a result of technological progress and geopolitical turbulence. The need to adapt is an imperative no nation can escape.

In its own interests, Europe can do much to meet British requirements. The other countries need to implement the principle of subsidiarity to devolve political actions as far as possible to national governments and parliaments. The French government must reconsider the necessity of the European parliament’s wasteful monthly transfers to and from Strasbourg.

France’s refusal to undertake structural reforms to stimulate growth and reduce unemployment weakens French credibility in the minds of Germans, who themselves see their economy crippled by the money-creation policy of the European Central Bank.

Brexit would leave Germany isolated. The German tandem with France, which led to the EU’s birth and has sustained it ever since, would lose all consistency. A change in the EU’s configuration would lead to fragmentation and inevitable disintegration. Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria are already setting themselves apart through migration curbs. Denmark no longer seems attached to Europe’s methods of working. More Franco-German divergence would only encourage other countries to reconsider their own membership.

EU members’ longer-term priority must be to make Europe, after the US, the second global political and economic hub of a tripolar world, with China as the third. That would fit in with political realities, as the Transpacific project for American-Asian partnership is still in limbo, held back by Chinese opposition.

The UK, after losing its imperial dimension, provides diplomatic expertise that makes its European presence an imperative necessity as a mediator between conflicting forces. To preserve Europe’s internal cohesion and strategic future, Britain must remain on board.

Pierre Haas, born in 1920, was Chief Executive of Continental Grain France in 1950-65, then Executive Director of Banque Paribas, International Department and Chairman of Paribas International from 1965-1982. He has served on numerous boards including Schneider, Newmont Gold in Denver, Power Corporation of Canada and Power Financial Corporation, Canada.

This is an abridged, edited version of an article, 'Brexit: un ébranlement mondial’, first published on 1 May on the Atlantico French news website. Read the full article in French and English. This is No.71 in the series – the 100th article will appear on 23 June.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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