Home/Daniel Larison/Will the EU Learn Anything from a ‘Brexit’ Vote?

Will the EU Learn Anything from a ‘Brexit’ Vote?

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Noah Millman makes a good case that “Brexit” could be good for the EU by forcing its leaders to make their institutions more accountable, but he may be a bit too optimistic in his conclusion:

Similarly, if the EU’s leaders take Great Britain’s departure to heart [bold mine-DL], they will work to redress Europe’s democratic deficit, and make its institutions more responsive to Europe’s electorate. If that happens, Britain may discover that joining again makes sense further down the road.

I agree that British withdrawal could shock EU leaders enough that they do this, but that depends on their learning the right lesson from it. They would need to admit that the democratic deficit in the EU is a flaw that needs to be repaired instead of an essential feature to be preserved at all costs. Everything we have seen from the EU’s responses to crises over the last decade suggests that when they are put under pressure they redouble their commitment to the project of building centralized European institutions and concentrating more power in them. If some member states have to be impoverished in exchange for keeping the project going, that is what they will do. Like adherents of any ideological project that has gone awry, the EU’s supporters seem to believe that there is nothing wrong with the project that can’t be fixed by more of the same. Insofar as they believe that the EU cannot fail, but can only be failed, they will probably conclude that “more Europe” is the answer.

As I said yesterday, the drive for “ever closer union” doesn’t much popular support anywhere in Europe, but I should have added that a lack of popular support has never stopped EU leaders from doing whatever they liked regardless of the political or economic costs. EU leaders will almost certainly greet a “Brexit” vote with dismay, anger, and increased contempt for voters, and my guess is that they will conclude that the problem lies with the voters and not with their institutions. That will be the wrong response, and it would presumably make more people in more member states start considering the merits of leaving, but it would be entirely consistent with the poor decision-making that has brought the EU to this point.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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