Many people are now writing about their love for Britain and their despair after the “Brexit” result of the referendum. I was too numb to do that. Otherwise I would have written about London Calling by The Clash, my first trip hitchhiking to London with a DDR passport, my education at London School of Economics, my British wife and family, and my many close British friends. However, I will do this another time and in another place, because it’s not the time for obituaries yet.
Britain is not dead and the EU is not dead either. Maybe this is a near death experience. After all, those can turn out to be quite enlightening and productive.
So, I decided to be optimistic, and here are some first thoughts.
The 48 percent who voted to remain part of the EU are young, educated, affluent, urban. This is a peer group for the EU to associate with, and it should build bridges with them rather than close the door in their face.
In addition, it’s not over until its over. More than three million people (and counting) signed a petition to call for a second referendum on EU membership. Could this be the start of a popular movement for a new, united Britain in a new, united Europe? Everything is possible. I know this because I saw the Berlin wall come down so suddenly, and this vote has echoes of that time.
Instead of pushing the UK to get out as soon as possible and threatening tough terms, the EU should call for calm, recognise the difficult position the UK finds itself in, with the likely second Scotrish independence referendum, the Irish question, economic recession, house bubble burst, and the exodus of bankers from London. It should give the UK time to sort itself out and leave the door open for a second chance. What a victory it would be for Europe if a popular young movement in the UK could overturn the old farts because they want to be part of Europe. If Juncker, Schulz and company don't understand this, they will be with the old farts and may be the next ones out.
The anti-liberals in Europe have had a good run because many of us refused to take them seriously. Now we need to get up from our positions of comfort and stand up for what we believe in if we want to prevent being run by the Le Pens, Wilders, Johnsons and Gauweilers of the world. The boring time of complacency is gone, and now it is serious. Who wants to be part of a boring movement anyway? Being a committed European is becoming edgy.
Europe has been an elite project since the beginning. As long as the elites acted responsibly out of historic sense and in the interest of future generations, Europe worked. When the elites started to act out of self-interest, Europe suffered. But not only Europe. It is because of the selfish elites that the anti-elites are having such a run.
If indeed it has to come to a Brexit, let's at least make it an example of a civilised divorce. Europe and the United Kingdom (whatever form they might respectively take) should remain friends. It will be costly enough anyway and the world is too complicated for Britain to radicalise, or Europe, or both.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.