Brexit? A dead end for the British, a risk for Europe. An opportunity for France if…
Far from being defenceless at the prospect of an agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, the Brexit machine is gathering momentum at the approach of the referendum. It constitutes a major risk in 2016 as much for Europe as for the United Kingdom. David Cameron himself may well count among its casualties by being forced to resign if Brexit triumphs. In claiming to reunite British Conservatives around him, David Cameron has triggered a disintegration dynamic of which he has lost control.
The British referendum is a turning point for Europe, for it will determine its destiny, either by preserving the achievements of 60 years of integration or by precipitating its split-up. Furthermore, it will be taking place in the worst possible circumstances. Europe has never been so weak. It is undergoing a series of unprecedented setbacks: the aftermath of the crises of 2008 and the euro; the arrival in 2015 of a wave of 1.3 million immigrants, Islamic terrorisam, and the awakening of the Russian and Turkish empires. It has been undermined by populist movements, has suffered a north-south divide over austerity and an east-west divide over the acceptance of refugees.
For its part, the United Kingdom is undergoing a slow-down which has resulted in a reduction in growth rate, from 2.9% in 2014 to 2.2% in 2015. The return to full employment has not prevented the explosion of populism as seen in UKIP, or the swing of Labour to the far right under the stewardship of Jeremy Corbyn.
David Cameron believed that his strategy, based on seeking an agreement with the European Union and conceived both as a forerunner to the referendum and an antidote to Brexit, was a clever one. But it has turned out to be a dead end. His demands are both unacceptable for his European partners and paltry for Brexit supporters. The principle of a more competitive Union may obtain consensus, but compromise is impossible over discrimination between European citizens with regard to access to state benefits, as is recgonition of the right for the British parliament to veto any reinforcement of European integration. The euro zone in particular cannot accept such a sword of Damocles. The United Kingdom did not want to be part of the common currency or of the Schengen agreement; it is not entitled to demand a right of scrutiny over them. David Cameron’s demands will end up by dismembering Europe without restoring British sovereignty.
Brexit will bring about these disastrous, tragic events; they are unnecessary and unfounded on reason, but unstoppable once initiated. It is a terrible leap in the dark. For the City of London, which is the financial center of the euro zone. For the British economy, which does most of its trade with Europe. For the United Kingdom, which could rupture with the secession of Scotland. For the European Union, which would lose one of its centers of stability.
David Cameron must then bear alone the consequences of his grandstanding. The choice of a man going it alone is suicidal for a nation that has 1% of the world’s population and 3.5% of global production, and which will no longer figure among the 10 leading world powers in 2030. The secession dynamic will turn against the United Kingdom, which will be reduced to little England.
Instead of giving pledges to David Cameron, the European Union must speed up consolidation of the euro zone, relaunch the large services market, and invest massively in the security of its territory and its population.
For its own part, France must actively prepare for Brexit by making an attracitve offer for those talents, businesses and capital that will leave the United Kingdom in order to operate within the euro zone. Brexit must not only enrich Luxembourg, Belgium or Switzerland. It can be an enabler for France’s recovery and particularly for the Paris financial center which is currently dying, relegated to 37th place in the world, behind Johannesburg. Although catastrophic for the United Kingdom and for Europe, Brexit could at least benefit France if France now realised that finance is our best friend.