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Gulf integration is undoubtedly here to stay

The shocking, mostly emotional, British vote to leave last Thursday sets in motion a new era of disintegration

Gulf News

Britain’s vote to leave European Union (EU) last week was shattering to everything that Europe and European integration stood for. For the past 70 years, the EU positioned itself as a successful regional, integrational role model for the rest of the world.

It was gradually but steadily going from economic to institutional and political integration, which was supposed to lead to constitutional integration and eventually to a United States of Europe. This was the ultimate aim and dream of the founding fathers of European integration and was the very essence of the theory of regional integration, which had governed the thinking of integration studies until now.

The shocking, mostly emotional, British vote to leave last Thursday sets in motion a new era of disintegration. It is not just one step backward for the EU, but has the power to reverse 70 years of European integration and declare an end to regional integration worldwide.

The 51.9 per cent who voted to leave the EU probably voted with their hearts more than their minds. They were defending British independence and its cherished identity and cared less about the profound economic cost and immense legal and regional repercussions. This is one of the reasons why the vote was mostly an emotional and not a rational one.

The classic spillover theory of integration never anticipated this decisive emotional reaction to regional integration. The theory rested on the assumption that people are rational actors. It assumed that people are rational enough to vote with their minds and consider the huge economic consequences, while being motivated by the tangible structural benefits of economic integration.

The surprise Brexit vote shattered the supposedly thick and solid EU glass, which, once shattered is shattered for good, and no saviour seems to be around these days to fix it.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s President Francois Hollande and sturdy Brussels bureaucrats are no European saviours. They have every right to be upset and even angry, but not thoughtful saints, and they will hardly act as sages of Europe.

Brexit may provide many valuable lessons for the 34-year-old Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). First: Never give up on integration. Regional integration is good, but full of uncertainties and surprises. Second: There are no guarantees that the GCC as a regional integrational block will not go in reverse one day either. Some form of GCC disintegration should not be ruled out in the future. Oman has already spoken about leaving and is waiting for the right moment and looking for the right trigger. Third: Don’t rush into the more cumbersome political stage of the GCC, namely the Gulf Union. Fourth: In light of Brexit, it is advisable to be more humble in the integration drive. Think carefully through all the consequences of the next steps. In a way, the slower the integrative move forward the better. Five: Proceed with extra care and never stop structural integration. Keep to the current conservative and incremental integration mood, with small steps, no matter how frustrating. That is much wiser and more lasting than one big step at a time.

An end of integration does not mean the end of the GCC. The GCC has gone beyond the point of to-be-or-not-to-be. Gulf integration is undoubtedly here to stay, flourish and eventually reach its ultimate goal of a Gulf Union. This is the project for the 21st century. It is one important feature of the Gulf moment in contemporary Arab history.

“An end of integration does not mean the end of the GCC. The GCC has gone beyond the point of to-be-or-not-to-be.””
-Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla
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The end of an integrational ideology does not mean the end of the EU either. The EU is visibly shaky and devastated right now. It has certainly lost the momentum, is less confident and uncertain of its destiny after the Brexit vote. Nonetheless, it is also here to stay. The holiday is over for the EU’s elaborate bureaucracy and the good old days are over for the time being. For years to come, European capitals, especially Brussels, will be inward-looking and for the first time in 70 years, they will be immensely busy thinking about disintegration rather than more integration.

The word from the Brexit vote is loud and clear — it is time to disintegrate not integrate. The art and science of disintegration is going to be the new EU contribution to social sciences literature. It has to be more creative in the yet-to-be-found theories of disintegration as it once was in the theories of regional integration — especially the spillover theory, which sounds hollow and turned upside down.

Europe, which proudly taught the world the gains of regional integration, has to humbly come up with a new handbook on the pains of regional disintegration. Other regional integrations, such as the now fully-confident GCC, may learn a few things too.

Disintegration is the new 21st-century buzzword. It is emerging as a new ideology for the many jubilant right-wing parties that are mushrooming all over Europe as the new champions of disintegration. There is a new kid in town and it needs lots of catering to and it is here to stay for the time being.

Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla is professor of Political Science, chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, theacss.org and a visiting senior fellow at London School of Economics. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Abdulkhaleq_UAE.

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