Little Britain, Petite Europe — Lost In This Big Bad World

The once Great Britain has just gotten smaller. But Brexit has also rendered the meekness of the European project evident to all. And the big players like the U.S. and China will eat them for lunch if something doesn't change quickly.

In London on June 25
In London on June 25
Nicolas Barré


PARIS — We could dream that the European project moving forward without the United Kingdom will be better after all. That this country was a constant obstacle, and that its withdrawal will finally clear the path for the future. But which path is that? Where does it lead? At what pace? How? With whom? Let's be honest, the British exit is an official acknowledgment of the absence of vision and collective project that has been plaguing the European Union for years.

What lies in store for us if we don't remedy this situation is clear: European deconstruction. The infernal machinery set in motion by the British vote is that of shrinkage. If nothing stops the process, Great Britain will inevitably become Little Britain, if not Little England, given that Scotland and Northern Ireland would rather stay in the EU than in the UK.

Germany, the continent's only country with the critical mass necessary to compete in the globalized world, will also be tempted to go it alone. Europe will thus become a small and splintered continent, a "little Europe" exposed to the world's two great powers like never before. The United States will see it as another opportunity to establish a lex americana, which is extraterritorial by nature. As for China, it already considers Europe a hunting ground of choice in an asymmetrical capitalist game playing out in its favor.

You need only see the reactions around us. "Britain's exit mirrors the general decline of Europe," said the editorial in the Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece Global Times, adding that "Europe stagnates, becoming the world's center of museums and tourist destinations."

In the United States, Donald Trump is overjoyed. And Vladimir Putin, who never accepted the collapse of the Soviet empire and the shift of its "brother countries' to the West, sees it as just revenge of History.

It's up to us to prove them wrong! True, this bleak fate of a "little Europe" is looming, but it's not set in stone yet. There's enough time to avoid it, on two conditions: We must be realistic about what's happening to us, and we must set out a strategic vision for the European collective.

Lucidity commands us to acknowledge that the project was dying long before the British referendum. The last evidence of the great European political vision dates back to 2004 and the inclusion of the USSR's former satellites: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, the Baltic states, et al. The Union grew from 15 member states to 25, and its center of gravity moved eastwards. Countries that had been deprived of freedom and democracy enthusiastically united with their Western neighbors. Europe, we hoped, would little by little assert itself as a great power, through the strength of a continent finally reunited around common values.

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Since then, only the Europe of the elites has moved forward. It's the Europe of the Erasmus student exchange program that's crying over the British vote. But it lost part of the people along the way. A rift has opened within each of the continent's countries: the rift between the rather young, urban elites and the rest of the population. The wave of refugees and the border issue has widened a gap that's never been reduced since the "Polish Plumber" controversy and the Bolkestein Directive of a single market for services, which the British wanted and which, ironically, is now precipitating the European project's decline.

Once this analysis has been made, Europe must reconstruct the strategic vision without which this collective endeavor is pointless. After World War II, the vision was peace. Now, it's the defense of our values and interests in the globalized world, a form of solidarity among nations, controlling our borders, security, leading the fight against terrorism.

On all of these topics, Europe must be capable of imposing its vision, its choices, its norms, its laws, as the United States or China impose their own. Otherwise, each country will be tempted to play the national card in a world that we know is too big for individual European nations. And that would truly be the end of the dream of a great Europe.

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