Brexit has been called the end to the grand European project. It should instead be viewed as our last warning and great opportunity.
The European Union has been lurching from crisis to crisis for almost ten years. I first realised how deep the infection was when the European sovereign debt crisis reached catastrophic proportions. There was a real risk of a complete breakdown of the financial system. I went to the website of the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs to see what action they were taking. I found a football analogy and a silly platitude about ‘a new era of better competitiveness.’
I was appalled that this was their response. Yet to the surprise of practically everyone their inaction worked. Europe didn’t do any fireproofing; they simply put out fires as they flared up. Here we are nine years later and Greece and all the other bailed out nations are still in the union. Somehow we survived the first great crisis, which was economic, although many of us are still suffering.
Yet the EU didn’t survive the second great crisis, which is immigration. We tried to follow the same procedure as before, not making any reforms but only weakly dealing with specific problems as they arose. That failed dramatically, as Brexit proved. The greatest worry for almost every single demographic in Great Britain was immigration.
The two crises are related. If our economies were stronger and people felt more secure they would not be so threatened by immigration. The reason neither of these challenges could be met is because of the structure of the European Union. It’s not that they are unwilling to act; they are unable to.
There is a remarkable similarity between how the EU is governed and how Nokia was governed. Consider an extremely top-heavy organisation with multiple, convoluted spheres of competing interests and weak leadership. It has a culture of consensus and a focus on internal processes instead of external results. This was Nokia circa 2007, as I described in The Decline and Fall of Nokia, and this is the EU today. We know the fate of Nokia; is this also the fate of Europe?
I hope not. I hope that Britain’s exit is the final warning that we so desperately need. Time and again European politicians have demonstrated that they will not act until they are forced to. Now we are being forced, confronted with the dissolution of the entire project.
Europe needs intense and comprehensive structural reform. We need a new method of governance and we need new governors who are directly elected and have real power. I want to see a real federal system where the voices of the people are reflected in the power structure.
People feel they are disenfranchised and ruled by regulations and bureaucratic elites. They are right. But with real reform this can change.
It is almost inevitable that such reform will cost us more member states, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hitherto the number one goal was to keep everyone in the union. Solutions and results, not consensus, should be our aim. This is what the UK has taught us. For that I thank them, and I wish them all the best on their own path.