In Stockholm a few weeks ago, I met a Swedish friend. She told me the story about casting her vote in the Swedish EU referendum in 1995, and how she turned to her father for advice. This man, a Swedish economist, said vote yes. The Brits will ensure the EU stays sane.
So, she asked, will the Brits leave? And what will happen to us then?
There are many like her. Both Sweden and UK are strong democracies, free-trading, moving happily between being old monarchies and yet comfortable in the modern world.
Since the two European referenda in Sweden, there has been little talk about Europe. So Swedes do have a hard time coming to grips with the intensity of the British EU debate.
This is slowly changing.
I am currently doing some interviews and analysis for Dagens Industri, www.di.se, as today’s exclusive interview with Peter Sutherland, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Sutherland, former chair of BP and Goldman Sachs International, former EU Commissioner of Trade, and now the UN Secretary General Special Representative on Migration issues.
Also in Stockholm this week, I am chairing a debate around the consequences of Brexit with former Polish Foreign Minister, Mr Radek Sikorski, British professor of EU law, Sir Alan Dashwood, former Swedish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt and EU law specialists Hugh Mercer and Erik Lagerlöf, Senior Associate of Vinge.
In London later in the week, think tank Open Europe www.openeurope.org.uk, has a board meeting, which I will attend, as the debate is heating up. Do follow our analysis-sitting on the fence, the excellent Open Europe team are trying to dissect the arguments with rationality. Do also follow the latest opinion polls at YouGov’s website, www.yougov.co.uk/news/2016/05/09/eu-referendum-remain-lead-two/
Boris Johnson has compared the federalist impulses of the EU with those of Hitler’s, which in theory has some bearing. But is just not a tasteful analogy, as the impulses of the member states of the EU are anything but Hitler like.
The Chancellor George Osborne on the other hand has claimed Britain will loose out 200 bnGBP on trade yearly by a Brexit, which will be a hard act as the total EU trade is 200 bn Euros.
The British debate certainly is more noisy and garish then the Swedish, which is not garish at all, as it does exist.
So the EU without Britain, what will it be like, my friend had asked.
This is a wise question, as things will change.
First trade and jobs.
Without Britain, the free-trading block in the European Council will become a minority and have a hard time resisting the protectionist block. The UK economy is not only the world’s fifth largest, but growing faster than the EU average. With one million new jobs being created in the UK 2010-2015 versus half a million jobs in all the other 27 countries, the Anglo-Saxon labor-market is the whiz-kid on the block, proving to be more agile and faster responding to the needs of a globalized economy than the rigidly regulated labor-markets of the south. The UK success reminds the EU to stay like a light weight boxer, quick on the feet, constantly moving, to keep members compete globally. Sweden, with its many global companies, profits from noise from the market liberal UK. This noise will disappear.
Secondly. The UK has been like a hawk controlling EU budgets, ogling spiraling spending, ballooning agricultural subsidies and ever growing salaries of the EUcracy. This stern Anglo-Saxon housekeeper will disappear, and the work has to be done by other nations with equal muscularity.
Thirdly. The security and stability provided by a country that has the world’s third largest army, is a cornerstone member of NATO and permanent member of the UN Security Council cannot be underestimated. Example: where did the French turn after the November 2015 terror attacks? To the EU? No. Neither the Europol nor the Club de Bern have operational capacities to deal with terror threat effectively. To Berlin? Not on the agenda.
So they turned to London, where some of the world’s foremost security exports flew over in a matter of hours.
Fourth. The euro. Our neighbors, the Danes, negotiated a permanent opt-out of the Maastricht Treaty, but Sweden and UK were meant to become euro-zone members once certain criteria were met. David Cameron now got a specific, for the UK only, exemption from the principle that the euro is the EU’s only currency. This means, some say, that the pressure on Sweden to eventually join will become firmer, as formally we have signed up to join. In this waiting line Sweden now stands with Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Who replace Britain’s role as protector of the Swedish status? This is not your favorite line up, if the house starts burning.
Finally. A certain EU discontent is steaming, all over Europe.
The euro. What was it they said last year in Athens during that hot midsummer bailout crisis? With effigies of Angela Merkel burning, they chanted Nazis go home. Some predict a new eruption of the crisis this summer, as Greece needs to repay 3,5 bn euros.
There are the problems of the Schengen area, in the light of millions of refugees. A deal was made with Turkey, but tensions are massive and human suffering real and present. And now Hungary announcing a referendum on the EU distribution migrant scheme, suggesting that there is no joint EU solution to the problem, but rather a myriad of national agendas and approaches to this delicate and pressing challenge.
This will, together with the Brexit referendum in June, be the fifth referendum on relationships with EU within a year, as Greece, Denmark and Holland came before.
What this means?
Not only Brits are moaning.
The EU is in deep flux.
And the rest of Europe better start having an opinion.