Britain and Europe

Keep calm and carry on: Europe must remember its strengths

30 June 2016

Young generations grasp the big-picture strengths of the EU. These must be made more apparent to all

Jens Zimmermann

Last week something happened which is increasingly rare in this age of ubiquitous polling of public opinion. On Friday morning, the Berliner Republik woke up and was shocked. In the last days before the referendum we got the feeling there would be just enough votes for the remain side to win. The same was true of many financial analysts and even the famous British bookmakers. Consequently the shock of Brexit was even greater.

It would be wrong to assert now that Anglo-German relations will not suffer under the new state of affairs. One reason lies in the current focus on domestic policies on both sides. During a special session in the German Bundestag, leading politicians discussed what the future will bring and what will be the next steps for the remaining EU27. Even so, in the UK many domestic issues are at the forefront and both major parties are in upheaval. The concentration on domestic issues leaves little or no time for bilateral dialogue. To that extent a weakening of the common discourse nearly erases the prospect of collaboration on European topics.

Nevertheless, Germany and the UK will continue to be close partners and of course stay friends. In the UK, people appreciate German precision highly and take a great interest in the country’s history and culture. Proof of this is demonstrated by the impressive success of the recent exhibition at the British Museum in London: “The German”. The Germans not only hired Neil MacGregor, the former director of this British institution, to chair an advisory board of the Berlin Palace–Humboldtforum Foundation, but also gave a big applause when her majesty the Queen visited last year. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were travelling as a British pensioner couple like they spent their holiday in Germany. Firm relationships between friends cannot be easily destroy by one decision. Hard times show the true value of good relationships.

The jubilation of many rightwing populist Eurosceptics on the continent could soon get stuck in their throats. The essential message in their campaigns has been the fiction of solving many problems through bolstering national sovereignty. One key success factor of this strategy, however, was the awareness of never having to make good on these promises. But now it is different! Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson had to be asked why the stock market turbulences wwiped off more money in a few days than the UK paid in contributions to the EU over the period of 15 years. If the forecasts of the IMF and British Treasury become true, the UK is not only facing a veritable political crisis of the state, but also an economic recession. This would leave Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and co with few arguments left in favour of taking such a stance. In their countries they will have troubles to arouse enthusiasm leaving the EU.
Nevertheless, the period after Brexit demands social democratic answers to the challenges and problems we are now facing! We now need completely new approaches and radical changes– we need a return to the former strength and successes of the EU.

Europe must stand up again! It is no coincidence that the young British generation has voted overwhelmingly for Bremain (albeit with the turnout). Many young Europeans have made concrete experience with the benefits of the EU – whether it is student exchange, the Erasmus programme, or student jobs in Berlin. We all can see the success of these exchanges. Young generations see the bigger picture and identify with the EU. This arguments for EU-wide programmes must be recognised. Exchange programmes like Erasmus need more attention and resources. Because, in the end, it is important to make understanding the value of the union a personal experience.

The strength of this strategy must play a part in overcoming the lack of public investment Europe. The focus should not necessarily be on the provision of capital required but in the identification and planning of promising national but are especially genuine European projects. Too much capital cannot be invested, because of lack of implementation-ready projects! On the other hand, it is inexplicable why important European technology projects, such as Galileo, have not been delivered. Despite the resignation of Britain there may once again be the chance of large industrial projects under the initiation of French-German leadership. Airbus and Ariane would have probably never taken off in a truly Anglo-Saxon market orthodoxy.

In the coming weeks a strategy of “keep calm and carry on” is required. After the initial shock UK and EU27 have to find a modus vivendi to manage the exit professionally. A long-lasting cacophony would serve as grist to the mill for populist rightwing Eurosceptics on the continent.


Photo credit: Jordan Ryan / Shutterstock.com