British exit or not, EU damaged

By Nawab Khan

BRUSSELS, June 20 (KUNA) — The mere fact that a major power like the UK is asking its citizens in a referendum on June 23rd whether to stay in the EU or not is itself a big blow to the image of the EU as an example of economic and political integration.
If, as the proponents of the European integration claim, that the EU is a unique success story, why its attraction is evaporating so fast in the continent? This is a question that European analysts are trying to deal with. The UK is the first country to hold a referendum to leave the EU.
“Whether or not the UK votes to stay in the EU, the Brexit referendum is damaging the EU project. And this, to a large extent, is not so much the fault of the British but of the EU and its Brussels-based institutions themselves,” opines Gilles Merrit, the head of the Brussels-based think tank Friends of Europe.
“The EU’s failure is one of presentation and communication, and it’s a weakness that the Eurocrats have been shrugging off for years. But a majority Brexit vote in the UK on June 23 would shake the Union to its foundations,” he wrote in an opinion article.
In 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that if re-elected, he would renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the European bloc and hold a referendum on Britain’s future EU membership.
While Cameron is campaigning strongly for the UK to stay in the EU, a “Brexit” continues to be a plausible scenario, say analysts.
European leaders and thinkers are warning that a Brexit would damage both the EU and the UK and weaken their position globally.
President of the European Council Donald Tusk warned, last week, that Europe without the UK will be distinctly weaker.
“This is obvious. Equally obvious is that the UK outside the EU will be distinctly weaker too,” he said.
Thomas Renard, a Senior Researcher at Belgium’s Royal Institute for International Relations, Egmont, says that the EU’s global power would be significantly weakened without London’s capabilities.
In economic terms, the UK is the fifth world economy. The UK is also a major military power, the fifth in the world according to military expenditures, and the only EU country besides France that can deploy and sustain significant military power anywhere in the world.
He noted in an article that “the UK largely contributes to the EU’s soft power through its attractive lifestyle, its excellent universities and its quality media.” “The Brexit would inflict a double blow to the EU’s soft power. Above all, however, the EU would suffer a huge reputational defeat in every corner of the world, offering the image of a failing model on a declining continent,” he stated.
Some analysts point out that the UK has not really been a full member of the European club as it is not part of two of the EU’s biggest achievements, the single currency euro zone and the passport-free travelling Schengen zone. So a Brexit will not be such a big disaster, they claim.
Fabian Zuleeg, Chief Executive at the European Policy Centre think-tank in Brussels, says referenda are difficult to predict, with the popularity of the Prime Minister and external factors, such as migrant flows or the overall state of the EU, likely to have a significant effect.
“It will probably be a close-run affair, with no decisive majority emerging for either side,” he thinks.
However, for the Brexit supporters, an exit from the EU would allow the UK greater freedom of choice to fully develop its diplomatic, economic and military capabilities around the globe without the restraints or controls imposed by Brussels.
For those wanting to leave the EU, the Swiss “model” has often been projected as an alternative to the UK’s membership within the EU. Switzerland a non-EU member enjoys special relations with Brussels through bilateral agreements.
Nigel Farrage, the leader of the UK Independence Party UKIP which is a strong campaigner for Brexit, rejects the argument that the UK will lose economically.
He points out that non-EU states Switzerland and Norway both trade with Europe, and they are much smaller countries than Britain. (end) nk.rk