2017 - When Brexit from "Ever Closer Union" morphed into creating a Confederation.

January is the time for predictions. A forecast is “the pretence of knowing what would have happened if what does happen hadn’t”. A prediction is much more “scientific”. Those in this blog are based on privileged access to an exercise by the University of Trantor using the current state of the Prime Radiant. They therefore have an authority lacking in other studies, except perhaps the thousand page “Change or Go” report – although that was focused more on the consequences of remaining in an unreformed Union.

The European Project, “ever closer union”, died in Lisbon: when the Prime Ministers of the leading member states decided that immediate problems should take precedence over ensuring that the new Presidency of the European Union would be more democratically accountable than the previous structure. We then saw a widening gulf between the aspirations of the Benelux establishment and the economic and political imperatives driving the member states and their directly elected politicians. The subsequent claims that any derogation of powers to meet the aspirations of the UK were impossible, as opposed to inviting the UK to help lead the long overdue attempts to meet growing demands from all sides for reform, helped ensure that the UK referendum was lost to an unlikely alliance of Brexiteers.

70 years of peace had meant that the benefit of ensuring that Britain, France and Germany would never again send millions of young men to die on the plains of Flanders was no longer a more persuasive argument than the joy of confounding whole armies of metrosexual experts and corporate lobbyists telling “Middle England” what to do and think: especially since the latter were held to blame for a financial crash which had wrecked private savings and pensions and for then opening UK borders to uncontrolled immigration.

But it was not as thought the revolt of Middle England was unique. Similar movements across the world showed the the Internet had unleashed forces that the  digerati  did not comprehend. The masses had found a voice, after decades of being patronised. Perhaps the most worryingly effective at harnessing such semi-inarticulate discontent was DAESH – who had turned the Arab Spring into a crusade (Jihad) against Christmas (and Western values as a whole).  The inability of the European Union to respond helped call in question its very raison d’etre: peace in our time”.

The consequent need to halt a slide back into the bloody slough of nationalism and socialism made the “retreat” from an indefensible and increasingly brittle “Ever Closer Union” to a robust and resilient “Multi-track Confederation” inevitable.  The subsequent success of the European Confederation was, however, critically dependent on the way the UK had proceeded, in parallel with its Brexit negotiations, to lead successful, outward looking, pan-European co-operation in many of the areas where the previous “Union” had failed.

These included making a reality of the Digital Single Market (previously a hotchpotch of compromises which mainly benefited large organisations parented outside the EU) and of the cross border movement of students, scolars and staff (in line with the Treaty of Rome), as opposed to benefits tourists and potential terrorists (as encouraged and/or enabled by CJEU decisions  which were interpreted differently and/or had different consequences in different member states). In both areas the UK led the opening up of effective processes with India, China and South America (with lucrative interim transit arrangements via the UK): opening Festung Europa to global free trade and intellectual co-operation even as the Donald Trump was busy building Fortress America.

Then there was the twin-track attack on cross border tax avoidance and fraud. This was co-ordinated via the City of London and helped turn round the finances of most member states.  Contrary to expectations the result was a win-win for both the UK economy and the Treasury but the most spectacular winners were Italy and Greece. The only serious losers were Belgium and Luxembourg. The latter became an economic backwater, kept afloat by tourism and its earnings from running global broadcast services.

Such practical co-operation gathered pace in the course of 2017 as UK debates over the meaning of Brexit exposed the various agendas of the players who had previously blamed (or credited) Brussels for their own domestic decisions. One of the first attempts to bring those agendas together was a thoughtful Policy Exchange paper “Immigration and Integration after Brexit“. It contained a number of analyses which put the concerns of high tech employers, large and small, into context. It also prodded some sacred cows, albeit too gently in the eyes of Max Hastings in the Daily Mail – who nonetheless welcomed the opening of a more honest debate.

Meanwhile the growing tempo of events: from the Charlie Hebdo affair and the Bataclan massacre through the mass outbreak of rape in Cologne on New Years Eve 2015/16 to the Bastille day Massacre in Nice and the attack on Christmas in Berlin  changed the nature of many debates across the Europe: from freedom of movement to privacy and surveillance. More significantly, the way the UK police and security establishments responded rapidly and positively to calls for direct assistance also changed the nature of debate on post-Brexit co-operation at the official level. Instead of obfuscation and delay we saw ruthless triage into

  • areas of consensus (which could be agreed on the nod),
  • areas where agreement was never likely (which could be kicked into touch) and
  • areas where workable agreement was in the interest of all concerned

Then, after the UK had ceased to recognise the supremacy of EU law, came a series of UK class actions, under common law, to sue major global corporations for invasions of privacy and sale of personal data. These had been foreshadowed in the Cyber Security report of the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee but their impact, on top of the Consumer Association class action against the Banks (after the failure of their petition to lead to action) came as a shock.

Their success, and the dramatic changes to business models they brought about, helped put bureaucratic nonsenses like the General Data Protection Regulation , with its focus on data breach notification, the phisherman’s friend, into context. They also showed consumer groups across the EU what they would miss if the UK was driven out of the EU – rather than enticed back and embraced as part of a multi-track confederation.

The consequent acceleration of pace, as officials were encouraged to prioritise areas for constructive co-operation, instead of wasting time on areas where agreement was either easy (to be taken at the gallop) or impossible (to be left for manana), meant the important negotiations had been completed by the end of 2017. The consequent reforms had made sufficient progress in reducing student unemployment to avert serious bloodshed (at least outside Brussels) during the riots of 2018: when an improbable alliance of US supported libertarian activists and Soviet supported socialists trashed the buildings which symbolised the heart of the European Union. The mayhem across other member states was trivial by comparison.

 

 

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