Rather Than Offer Clarity, Brexit Has Sown Confusion in Europe
In the run-up to the referendum on 23 June, the European Union was divided between optimists and pessimists. The pessimists – the majority – saw Brexit as a huge threat. A British vote to leave would strengthen “centrifugal forces” and could even be the beginning of the end of the EU. The optimists – the minority – saw it as an opportunity. The shock of Brexit could galvanise the EU to move ahead with further integration, especially in areas that the UK had blocked. But both optimists and pessimists agreed that, if the UK did actually vote to leave, the EU would need to respond.
Two months on from the referendum, however, little has happened beyond declarations of commitment to the future of the European project. The reason for this odd period of apparent inactivity is not just the lull caused by the summer break or even the shock of the British vote to leave the EU. It is also that, although everybody in Europe seems to agree that something must be done to respond to the Brexit vote, no one can seem to agree on what.
While Europeans have watched the chaos that has been British politics over the last two months and waited for the new government to decide what it wanted, there have been plenty of exhortations to see Brexit as a wake-up call. But what Europeans are supposed to do if and when they wake up is less clear. Many among Europe’s great and good have urged a new focus on the “essentials”, what is being called the “Europe of necessity”. The EU must deliver for citizens,but how?