Luuk van Middelaar is a Dutch historian and political philosopher. This former member of the cabinet of the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, between the end of 2009 and 2014, is the author of When Europe improvises (Gallimard, 2018), devoted to the two major European crises of the past decade, that of the euro and that of refugees. In an interview with World, he discusses Brexit and its consequences for the European Union.
When the British chose to leave the European Union (EU), Europeans feared Brexit would set a precedent. What about four and a half years later?
With the referendum of June 23, 2016, and a few months later the election of Donald Trump in the United States, we saw a challenge to the existing order. And, in Europe, the big fear was that Brexit would be emulated. But it was not. In the Netherlands, which I know well and which in some respects is quite close to the United Kingdom – with liberal and nationalist affinities – withdrawal from Europe is no longer a credible proposal, as it is. was for a moment. In the spring, we saw a strong anti-European movement speak out in Italy, to denounce Europe’s lack of solidarity in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it was fleeting.
How do you explain it?
The spectacle offered us by British politics does not inspire confidence. Above all, and this was not a given, the Europeans, whether institutions or governments, firmly defended their interests in the negotiations with London. They were keen to show that it cost something to leave the EU.
We will never know who, the “leavers” or the “remainers”, was right. Both camps played on the fears of citizens, the first to denounce the immigration tsunami that staying in Europe would mean, the second to predict the economic catastrophe that would accompany Brexit. But, in the past four and a half years, too much has changed in the world, starting with the pandemic.
“The UK is a proud country, it won’t turn around easily”
Can we imagine that one day the UK will return to the EU?
Why not ? I do not exclude it. The UK is divided, and young people in the referendum were overwhelmingly in favor of staying in the EU. As for Europe, without the United Kingdom, it lacks something: Brexit is a loss, the loss of economic, diplomatic and military power, of cultural influence.
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