News | June 24, 2016

The Brexit Decision

EWI CEO and President Cameron Munter shares his thoughts on the impact of the Brexit decision.

Yes, the Brexit vote has taken place. And yes, the British will leave the European Union.

Before the vote I speculated why I thought this would happen. I based my prediction on domestic trends in the UK and perceptions a wide variety of social groups there. And now, I believe more than ever, we should heed the impulses that led to this historic vote. Here is one quote sent to me by a prominent establishment figure in London—not a "small Englander" by any means: "I do believe that the current situation on the continent is dangerous and unsustainable and presents threat to global stability. We will never know what the alternative would have looked like, but I know that prospects for the younger generation on the continent are very poor precisely because of the current political orthodoxy. While the youth vote here (i.e. in the UK) does not see that, if they had been at dinner with the 25-35 year olds on the continent that I hosted around three months ago and heard their European contemporaries' despairing cri de coeur about their lack of prospects and how much more attractive the UK model was, they may have voted differently (i.e. to leave)."   

I interpret this to mean that many prominent leaders in the UK believe that Britain will find its way in the future, and that remaining tethered to the EU (in this case, economically) would have been a disaster. So there will certainly be disruption. Scotland may yet leave the UK. Economic arrangements may buckle. But it seems that a lot of British leaders believe in a global future rather than a European one. The question they might pose would be whether the EU leadership (and the citizens of other EU countries) will interpret the Brexit vote as a wake-up call that spurs reform in Brussels, or whether the emotional impact of the vote prevents a reasonable discussion about the very real problems of accountability and practicality of systems and habits that have accreted over the years in EU.  We know there will be an impact in Britain. Just what will be the impact in the EU?

From across the Atlantic, Brexit causes both consternation and sadness for those, like me, who have spent their lives committed to the success of a Europe whole and free that serves as a beacon to the rest of the world. Most notably, while the debate in Britain centered above all on identity issues such as migration and sovereignty, the impact of the British decision will be felt in other areas, among them security. What happens now to the balance of decisionmaking in Europe? How does Britain work with Germany and France? Will initiatives like the Normandy Group continue, or will foreign policy coordination (now unmoored from internal EU structures) diminish?  What kind of solidarity will we see on Russia, on Turkey, on counter-terrorism?

There will be hard feelings. Martin Schulz, European Parliamentary leader, has already called for the UK's departure sooner rather than later. And this may have an effect in other organizations as well. At the NATO's summit in Warsaw we saw that Britain, North Americans and EU partners have maintained the solidarity and cordial cooperation needed among Allies. Will this mean effective NATO?

Only over time will we truly understand what this will mean for our efforts to build trust and deliver results in our efforts to prevent global conflict.