‘Brexit’ Vote Will Change Europe, No Matter the Outcome
If the U.K. decides in Thursday’s referendum to leave the European Union, it would shake the continent to its political foundations. Even if it stays, the bloc may never be the same.
A decision to leave, which would be a first by a member nation, would deepen the crisis facing a continent already struggling with economic weakness, debt problems, large-scale migration and growing geopolitical instability to its south and east.
At a minimum, politicians and officials say, a British exit would transform the bloc’s balance of power. Negotiations over a new relationship would consume the EU’s energy at a time when European institutions are struggling to respond to the other problems. A U.K. exit also could disrupt financial markets and fire up anti-EU forces in other countries.
Whether or not the U.K. leaves, change is coming. In February, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron struck a deal with the rest of the EU to restrict migrant benefits and detach Britain from the bloc’s push for an “ever closer union.” Mr. Cameron’s effort to claw back power from Brussels, coupled with the referendum at home, is an approach that other European politicians are promising to follow, potentially fragmenting the bloc further.
The referendum, at a minimum, has delivered a shock to Europe’s political classes, calling into question what some had once regarded as an inevitable march toward a federal EU.
“Obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration, we failed to notice that ordinary people, the citizens of Europe, do not share our Euro-enthusiasm,” European Council President Donald Tusk observed in a speech in late May. “The specter of a breakup is haunting Europe, and a vision of a federation doesn’t seem to me like the best answer to it.” (Continued: Wall Street Journal)