Brexit must not set a precedent

Europe's World

Citizens' Europe

Picture of Androulla Vassiliou
Androulla Vassiliou

EU Commissioner for Education, Culture and Youth (2010-2014) and former Trustee of Friends of Europe

Despite our hopes, and even our expectations toward the end, the British people voted in favour of ‘Brexit’ by a margin of just over one million votes.  This was shocking news for all europhiles, because we know very well that Brexit will have very negative repercussions for the UK, for other EU member states, and for Europe in general. Undoubtedly, we shall all experience great uncertainties and volatility over the coming months, until things start to settle down.

Let me start with the UK. Despite the jubilations, Brexit will have constitutional, economic and other negative consequences. And from the analysis of the voting, it seems the older generation in the UK has sacrificed the future of the young. Prime Minister David Cameron has declared his intention to step down by October, and the country has entered an era of political uncertainty. Two of the UK’s constituent states, Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of which voted for to remain in the EU, are thinking about independence. For how long the kingdom will remain united is unclear.

A large proportion of leading universities in the UK will see their funding disappear

The pound sterling has fallen to a 30-year low against the US dollar. An estimated 100,000 jobs are to be lost in the UK, due to many international companies moving their headquarters away from London to best serve their European customers. Tuition fees for European students will most probably increase considerably, causing most to likely consider an education elsewhere. Moreover, a large proportion of leading universities in the UK such as Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester, which rely heavily on research grants from the EU as do the research community in general, will see their funding disappear.

Britain’s very successful film industry will also be one of Brexit’s victims. ‘It has blown us out of the water; we are very dependent on our relations with Europe’ Rebecca O’Brian, producer of this year’s Palm d’Or winning feature I, Daniel Blake, has said. ‘The loss of Creative Europe, the EU Programme, will be a massive body blow to our industry’ added Mike Downey, CEO of Film & Music Entertainment.

This is by no means all the negative repercussions for Britain, but let me now turn to the EU and Europe in general, which faces a number of serious challenges: terrorism, immigration, eurosceptic nationalistic populism and persistent youth unemployment, to mention a few. The last thing the EU needs is its attention diverted from these challenges, which need unity and cooperation between all members.

A process of erosion within the EU would be catastrophic

I am afraid that Brexit may encourage other eurosceptic countries and movements to take seceding actions. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands has already said that the Dutch people deserve a referendum, and the leader of the extreme-right party in Slovakia has made similar demands. Francois Hollande has already rejected calls from Marine Le Pen for the same in France. Such a process of erosion within the EU would be catastrophic. Acting quickly and in a consensual spirit is what the EU needs. As the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, we should act ‘neither in hysteria nor paralysis. We have to hold Europe together’.

A very wise ancient Greek proverb, ‘Ουδέν κακόν αμιγές καλού’ translates as ‘never evil without some good’. Brexit may be a good opportunity for all member states and EU institutions to reflect, and take the right decisions over the future of our union’s working methods and vision. We must reconnect with our citizens, and try to meet their needs and aspirations. No one doubts that the EU needs reform and more integration if we want to hold it together. This, in my opinion, is the moment to act.

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