The EU Should Learn from Its Defeat, But Probably Won’t
Brian Carney puts the Leave vote in the context of past popular rejections of EU constitutions and treaties:
This referendum, then, was a very European act, consistent with the preferences of voters across the Continent.
In that sense, the U.K.’s Brexit vote is merely the continuation of a long trend of voter dissatisfaction with the European Union. Put another way, the vote was the EU’s longstanding democratic deficit coming home to roost. The real difference between Perfidious Albion and the Continent is that Britain finally gave voters an unambiguous choice [bold mine-DL]. Similar votes in many continental countries might be even more lopsided if they were ever allowed.
The EU has pursued its project of “ever closer union” by simply ignoring electorates when they give the “wrong” answer or opting not to consult them at all, but when it comes to the U.K. referendum it seems that it won’t be able to do that. The other votes that went against what EU leaders wanted may have been easier to dismiss because they were votes against a proposed change to the existing institutions of the union, but in this case it was a complete rejection of the union itself. If EU leaders show little sign of learning anything from this rejection, they do seem to understand that this isn’t the kind of vote that can be held again. It is also the sort of vote that they will not want to see held anywhere else, but the demand for such a vote may be overwhelming in some places.
Carney recommends that the vote is “an opportunity for introspection in Brussels,” but it is rare for a political class to respond to popular repudiation this way. It can happen, but it is more likely that the result will cause leaders committed to the project to become even more intransigent and determined to have their way. It is much more tempting and far easier to deride the voters as ignorant and foolish, congratulate themselves on their own far-sighted understanding, and change absolutely nothing. That doesn’t bode well for the future success of the EU, and it will be that refusal to learn anything from this referendum that could contribute greatly to the later crack-up of the union.