Quite apart from the financial aspects, there would be a real danger of throwing away the benefits that the EU has brought, particularly in terms of Europe’s standing in the world. In isolation, European countries would have limited global significance. As a union, Europe still matters a great deal.
The alternative to dismantling the EU is to strengthen it — to pool the debt and create a European treasury. However, if European citizens are to accept this, the EU needs more democracy. That would depend upon a vital sense of European -solidarity, which would not come from anthems, flags or other gimmicks devised by bureaucrats in Brussels.
For starters, affluent northern Europeans have to be convinced that it is in their interest to strengthen the EU, as it certainly is. After all, they have benefited most from the euro, which has enabled them to export cheaply to southern Europeans. While it is up to national politicians to make this case, the EU’s governing institutions in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg also have to be brought closer to European citizens.
Perhaps Europeans could vote for members of the European Commission, with candidates campaigning in other countries, rather than just in their own. Perhaps Europeans could elect a president.
Democracy may seem like a mad dream in a community of 27 nation-states, and perhaps it is, but unless one is prepared to give up on building a more united Europe, it is surely worth considering.
Who can say what is possible? Consider soccer clubs, the modern world’s most insular, even tribal institutions. Thirty years ago, who would have imagined that two of London’s most popular clubs — Arsenal and Chelsea — would have a French and a Portuguese coach respectively, and players from Spain, France, Portugal, Brazil, Russia, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Mexico, Ghana, South Korea, Holland, Belgium, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast? Oh, yes, and they have one or two from Britain, too.
Ian Buruma is a professor of democracy and human rights at Bard College.
Copyright: Project Syndicate