The Malta Independent 23 February 2019, Saturday

The beginning of the end?

Thursday, 23 June 2016, 09:58 Last update: about 4 years ago

Two simple manifestations which enjoy wide popular support show the essence of the quality of life of the peoples in Europe.

Every year, the Eurovision songfest attracts a wide following. It may be corny, even quaint, but you will not find any other continent where the different peoples come together to engage in a song competition.

In these same days that the British people have been agonizing whether to remain or to leave the EU, the football Euro competition has attracted big thousands to the stadia in France, despite the threat of mass terrorist attacks, and has and is attracting widespread interest all over the continent and beyond.

This is Europe, inimitable and unrepeatable elsewhere.

Is that all that Europe is?

There can be no doubt that the peoples of Europe feel they are European. Together with them, so do the peoples who are not yet part of the EU but who wish to one day be so.

Over the years, countries in Europe came together first as a coal and steel agreement, then as they increased in number, as a common market, and then as a European Union now with a common currency, a common border and a European Court, among other things.

Today, the peoples of Great Britain are being asked whether they want to remain in this EU or whether they want to remain Europeans without being in the Union.

There are heavy ironies involved. In 1992, Margaret Thatcher was kicked out because though being in favour of the single market, she did not want to go any further in European integration, while her Conservative government wanted to go further.

It is the same Conservative Party which today serves as the backbone of those who want to leave.

In between, the same Conservative Party suffered the ignominy of leaving the ERM and devaluing the Pound. When the time came, Britain stayed out of the euro. Britain didn't do badly. It is now being urged to leave the EU as a whole. Those who are against this say that the UK stands to lose especially the many trade agreements negotiated by the EU.

On the other hand, those who are in favour of leaving have based their argument mainly on the inflow of immigrants. As such, this argument has nothing to do with staying or leaving the EU but it was found to be profoundly emotive and effective. The argument that is being made is that Britain must retake control over its borders and its matters.

As we stand today on the day of the Brexit vote, no one, or very few, have a clear idea about the effects of a Brexit vote. For all the warnings, or scaremongering, that has been going on, the entire impact of Brexit is still unfathomed.

Starting tomorrow, the losing side will be full of recriminations. If it's going to be Brexit, the Cameron government and the EU in general will be kicking themselves for not paying enough attention to the migrant tide and its impact on Europe. Britain may be the first to express its worry in this regard, but by next year we may see xenophobic parties upsetting the political scene. Later, when Eurosceptic votes will have wrought more damage, we may come to regret not tackling this issue in a more consistent manner.

If Britain votes to Remain, nobody must delude himself that Europe must continue the way it is. If it's not Britain, it may well be France, or Spain, or Italy to go the Eurosceptic way sooner or later.

But if Brexit wins, that is an opportunity to once again redraw the kaleidoscope that is Europe and to come up once again with a formula that can unite disparate countries in that loose union that is the EU.

That is how the EU has managed so far - by coming up with a creative solution to an impasse that would have driven any other union into the ground. 
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