Sam Kwon – Political Correspondent
The European Union has arrived at not so much a crossroad, but at an incomprehensible and obscure pathway. For decades, countries have undergone extensive structural and economic changes for the chance to be included in the EU, but never before has a country actually succeeded in leaving.
The result of the referendum for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union, is indeed a never before seen event which goes against the trend of increased membership since the inception of the European Union. In this unprecedented situation, the European Union has to act to ensure the integrity and well-being of not only its constituent states but also of itself as an institution. This requires focusing on both the short-term and long-term responses to the ‘Brexit’.
In the short-term, the European Union must remain united in its front. Although successive British style exits popularly named such as the Frexit or Nexit, remain unlikely, a united Europe gives more legitimacy to the Union at a time of instability. The European Union must also amend and make clear the legal and procedural steps of a possible exit of the Union. Avoiding the confusion and instability of the British exit which may not formally begin until later this year in October after the appointment of a new Prime Minister.
The EU must establish a standardised procedure which:
1) Has a specified timeline
2) Outlines ongoing agreements and obligations
3) Particularly safeguards the rights of migrants, would negate much of the uncertainty currently underway in the unlikely event of another withdrawal from the Union.
In the long-term, the European Union must focus on two core issues.
Firstly, it must continue to, and further promote the European project amongst the younger generation. This demographic, as shown by the Brexit polls voted overwhelmingly to stay within the European Union. This points to a demographic which has grown up within the European Union taking the advantages it offers such as accessible travel and attainable higher education as a given. Due to these factors, this demographic has had the most exposure in cross-cultural engagement and interaction and are more willing to subscribe to a shared ‘Europeanness’. The European Union must continue to engage with them if it hopes to remain relevant and mitigate other acts of withdrawal.
A look at the Brexit reveals that frustration with the EU stem mostly from regional areas. Major metropolitan centres such as London and Cardiff voted to remain contrasted with smaller regional centres which ironically receive more funding and assistance from the European Union. This stems from a lack of consultation with regional areas resulting in a perceived ‘democracy deficit’, and a ‘Brussels dictatorship.’ Instead of liaising merely with the cosmopolitan elite of each nation-state, the European Union must endeavour for increased participation and input from regional areas, to determine their own course of action. This would undoubtedly improve the negative imagine held of the European Union, and also increase sentiments of belonging and being a part of the European project- something which remains difficult if not in the connected cosmopolitan centre.
The next steps for the European Union must be analysed further than the short-term responses which mainly pertain to the legal and procedural. The exit of the United Kingdom has ripped a hole into the shared notion of a European identity, and the long-term response of the EU must be to fix this hole and further promote the European project. The European Union only remains feasible as long as the people of Europe believe in this project. The EU must continue to engage with the younger demographic to strengthen that European identity which comes with having been born into the European Union and experiencing the cross-cultural engagement that comes with it. Furthermore, the European Union must endeavour to also reach out to disenfranchised peoples in regional areas which perceive the European Union as having a ‘democracy deficit.’ By engaging with them and allowing them a say within the process, the European Union will improve the negative image it currently has and further spread the notion of a shared European identity.