At the end of the day, not so many French people have shown significant interest in the Brexit affair.
Firstly, because it is the type of issue in which everyone knows both sides of the argument, and whose conclusion doesn’t raise any doubt: Brexit would globally harm the UK, whatever the field reviewed, not mentioning the limited upside potential and uncertainty effect. It is, therefore, by far in the best interests of Britain to stay in.
As far as knowing which camp will win, it is more of a domestic political combination that has seen giants such as Prime Minister David Cameron (dangerously gambling on a political coup) or London Mayor Boris Johnson (placing himself as the Tory party succession) confront each other in a growing cacophony, the outcome of which no French person would dare foretell.
That being said, Brexit mainly appeared as a question of whether it was good or not for Britain to be in the European Union. It could also have been whether it was good or not for Europe to have Britain remain; and consequently, make one reflect on the tremendous gap that has developed between what the people want Europe to be, and what it has become.
How Europe has developed doesn’t really need to be scrutinised, so blatant are its main characteristics. The divide between a never-ending integration process towards a federal union, and a tax-free loose trade market place, has given birth to a political dwarf manipulated by non-elected European bureaucrats.
Europe has become a monetary union without a fiscal or political union. How come, as Italian Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan rightfully reminded two weeks ago, there is no unique Finance Minister in the Eurozone? It is a gathering of distorted economies moving towards different directions, but supposed to respect similar rules. A kind of citadel assaulted by migrants with some gatekeepers widely opening the doors; a former symbol of Franco-German reconciliation dumped by short-sighted leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel signing a shameful and scandalous agreement with Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, putting at stake Europe’s security in front of other European leaders keeping quiet.
That is when Brexit could have proven useful: Making Europeans finally understand that the EU process had to be totally reset.
United States President Barack Obama’s exhortations to tell the British to stay in is probably the best ‘argumentum a contrario’ indication of how much the US need Britain to stay within Europe as the Trojan Horse it has always been. “The price of intimacy [with Britain] in Washington is influence in Europe”, the Financial Times wrote. And columnist Anne Applebaum put it even more bluntly, “The US can’t afford a Brexit”. For the US’ best interest? Of course! But is it in the best interests of Europe? We believe not.
Europe needs anything but a loose trade free environment in which the UK leads the tune for US interest, until the US finally swallows the whole, as part of a never-ending global financial, economic and military domination.
Europe needs a political project to be assumed by leaders willing to reconstruct a political power, which, as happened unfortunately in France, was given up by President Francois Hollande. It doesn’t need Le Pen extremists or reappearing Eastern European anti-Semitism. Europe doesn’t need to continue snubbing Russia. It needs power, vision and determination and that can only be achieved with a limited number of convinced partners who have decided once and for all to team up. And Britain obviously never belonged to that Club.
Britain joined the union the day it realised it would cost more to stay out. It then meticulously changed the rules to make them more favourable to it — fair enough as the other States were fool enough not to oppose it. It is now wondering whether it would get more advantages in or out and may thus ultimately decide to stay in. But Britain’s Vote Leave victory would also allow for that necessary reset to take place, the inception of a new circle of willing players, the restore of power and leadership, the taking over of politics by bureaucrats, the reshuffling of institutions ... As Bloomberg commentator Clive Crook recently put it, “If Brexit help the EU to mend itself and grow, the gains to Britain [to say nothing of the gains to Europe] might easily outweigh the costs”.
It is a pity other European nations cannot vote on Brexit ... even though the European practice over the last few years has been to systematically ignore the people’s opinion, as happened with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. But at least, other Europeans should be thankful to the UK to have highlighted an important question — behind a bizarre, not to say fake, debate on ‘in’ or ‘out’ piling up with Johnson’s racist slipping’s is the present Europe the one people want? And the answer is, obviously, no.
Luc Debieuvre is a French essayist and a lecturer at Iris (Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques) and the Faco Law University of Paris.