The pundits are absorbed with the populist note, because it’s just won. Every angle related to the possible success of other populist movements is explored. For example, Russia’s KGB might have had a hand. Excepting representations of Russian propaganda outlets, evidence of hidden subversion, though plausible, is not open source. But in the open, communicative society of the UK, not many percentage point were buyable. The passion was Brit-to-Brit. And so it will be in most of the other EU countries where “leave” is being mooted as a populist sentiment.
In New Cold War, Not!, I wrote about the current nonexistence of blocs. Perhaps I should have allowed myself a loophole. But while the term “bloc” is overloaded with connotations of fear and compulsion, “community” is not. Because the idea of a European community is not coterminous with “European Union”, rumors of the demise of Britain’s integration with the European Community are greatly exaggerated. The formalities will change, but Britain’s younger generations will be heard.
We may take heart in the example of NATO and France. In 1966, Charles de Gaulle took France out of NATO. In 2009, preceded by many years of de facto reintegration, France rejoined the NATO command structure. Economic integration is much more complex than military integration. But the pundits who venture the complexity as a barrier to reversible change are premature.
Politicians are not great mathematicians. They prefer to count on their fingers. The reality of a European community is the sum of these four kinds of issue: populist, macroeconomic, geopolitical, and national. These rubrics suit the organization of the article. You might try choosing your own, but simplification or over elaboration would just muddy things. Of these, national interest is virtually ignored by pundits. But by depriving the EU of rationale, it has the potential of a slow acting poison.
The particular poison is the lure of trade with Russia and natural gas pipelines. Italy and Hungary, as major consumers of Russian gas, are major fracture points. Unless the Ukraine crisis is resolved, the end of sanctions would vitiate the reality of a credible, unified, EU foreign policy. But what of the grand center of the EU, Germany?
In White House Years, Henry Kissinger recounts that in 1969, a fault line emerged in NATO, over the Ostpolitik (new eastern policy) of Willy Brandt, consisting of “small treaties”, some bilateral with the Soviet Union and some multilateral, involving the Four Powers. In a time of overwhelming Soviet superiority of conventional forces, Brandt’s overtures were viewed apprehensively in the West, as opening the door to the neutralization of West Germany. Kissinger revisits the issue of German-Russian relations in Does America Need a Foreign Policy? (2001). Quoting from page 40,
As Germany’s relative role and power grow, and as Russia recovers, there will emerge temptations for a special Russo-German rapprochement based on the Bismarckian tradition that the two countries prospered when they were close and suffered when they were in conflict
These trends will tempt other European nations to court Russia, in part as a reaction to American dominance, in part as a counterweight to Germany…
The urging of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to relax sanctions demands comparison with Kissinger’s recounting of Ostpolitik in White House Years. In Does America…, Kissinger draws on his vast experience to attempt a futurist view. Perhaps fifty percent has carried into the present, a remarkable achievement. Most futurists end up entirely wrong.
The four categories can be factored into attractive and repulsive forces:
- Populist and national are repulsive.
- Macroeconomic and geopolitical are attractive.
The fate of the European community, distinguished from the formal machinery of the EU, lies in the balance of these forces. The relative strengths are determined by the recognition and exploitation of them by world leaders. Some what ifs are interesting subjects for academic papers. What would be the effect on EU stability if:
- Russia had not intervened in Ukraine?
- Ukraine succeeds/fails in political reform?
- Greece receives/denied loan relief?
- The U.S. were to replace Russian gas?
Vox populi is frequently, but not invariably wrong. National interest can feed into populism, which gives it a vibrant and usually irrational expression. But in a hypothetical future disintegration of the EU, rational national interest may precede it as the “first cause.”