Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit: some differences in ideas about the future steps are comical

At the Politics Stack Exchange, I gave answers to three questions about the future steps in the wake of the Brexit decision. Some other countries led by Czechia and Denmark have a high enough but not overwhelming probability to follow in the footsteps of the U.K. The EU politicians may want to speed up things in order to quickly restore the illusion that nothing wrong has happened in the EU under their watch. But they have no official prescriptions to speed up the processes in the U.K. or tools to rapidly expel the U.K.

A well-known Czech public Sunday noon TV debate "Questions from Mr Václav Moravec" was rather interesting. The three main participants agreed about many things where you could be surprised by their agreement. They almost funnily disagreed about many others. And the two representatives of the center-left coalition government seemingly fought each other more violently than they fought the right-winger – whose party was partly vindicated by recent steps and, as Zahradil also more or less rightfully boasted, whose past views have been adopted by the other parties by now.

For us in Czechia, the events in the U.K. are pretty much marginal so you could see that at the end, the debate is somewhat academic. It's a little bit like three politicians talking about the importance of string theory. Who were they? Mr Jan Zahradil was the right-winger, a deputy of the European Parliament for ODS, the party founded by Klaus, that was moderately Euroskeptic in recent years but much less so than Klaus would like. Last time I voted Mr Petr Mach to the European Parliament.

And the two guys from the current coalition parties were the former Czech EU commissioner Mr Pavel Telička, now a deputy of the European Parliament for the centrist populist billionaire Babiš's "ANO" Führer-style party (which would win the elections if they were taking place now); and the minister of foreign affairs and top social democrat Mr Lubomír Zaorálek (the social democrats slightly won in the most recent elections and have the peaceful prime minister).

At some level of attention, all these guys said things that sounded reasonable. However, Zahradil was most reasonable.

First, it was rather funny to see that all these men basically agree that Jean-Claude Juncker is an example of a politician who should go because it's largely his failure. But the personal changes aren't enough because some things in the EU have been going in a wrong direction. Right-winger Zahradil didn't forget to mention that he and his party were the only ones in the debate who hasn't endorsed Juncker to earn his job. The other two had some excuses why their blocs in the European Parliament approved him.

But you may always find Czechs who will say the opposite. So the TV folks video-called Ms Věra Jourová, the current Czech commissioner in the EU commission (for justice, opportunities, and reverse sexism or what's the exact name). This lady (also in billionaire's ANO) who has previously undergone the EU lobotomy (as she told us) has said that to fire Juncker would be an example of the hysteria that is sometimes being mentioned because the main thing that the EU needs is some stability of the leaders blah blah blah.

While the men in the debate agreed that Juncker was a failure, they disagreed about other questions. One of them was whether the divorce should proceed quickly.

Zaorálek has repeated about 5 times that the Britons have slapped the EU – us – in the face. Well, they surely haven't slapped me and hundreds of millions of other Europeans! He wasn't satisfied with a slap in the face so he mentioned the amputation of a leg about 10 times. The Brits have amputated a European leg, we were repeatedly taught. So within days if not hours, the Brits have to act otherwise things will be getting worse quickly – both in the EU27 and also in the U.K.

I have some sympathy for these claims about the "natural duties" (not about the amputation – Brexit is like slicing of a pizza, something that doesn't have to hurt at all). Nigel, Boris, and others have won. It's great but it's not the end of the time. The victory has given them some responsibility for the future evolution of the U.K. There are lots of chaotic initiatives, attempts to hold a new referendum, urge the Parliament to ignore the referendum, new referendums concerning the independence of Scotland and perhaps London, and lots of other things.

But sensible people feel that it's rather likely that all these games are probably going to be irrelevant. Some Britons will become the most important leaders of the independent U.K. Whoever is a reasonable candidate to succeed David Cameron should already work hard on the steps that will be taken in the foreseeable future. I think that many of us look at these matters from the perspective of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia which was fully prepared and completed in half a year. Can't the Britons do the same? If the British and EU negotiators followed the Czechoslovak templates, the U.K. would become independence since January 1st, 2017.

Zaorálek also made a funny comment. He wanted to declare himself the new host of the TV debate – as a smiling Zahradil described it – and emphasize that they should have discussed why the "Brits have slapped us in the face". His answer was that David Cameron was the biggest villain who has chased the Brits to the crown of a tree and then he was surprised that they weren't jumping down from that tree. Nice. But I think that if I were in the debate, I would probably respond: They have slapped you in the face because you're a bunch of EU jerks, Mr Zaorálek. They surely haven't slapped me and millions of others whose opinions are either close to the British Brexit supporters or the average Britons.

OK, while I agree with some of the comments by Zaorálek about the desired increased speed of the British steps, it was immediately clear to me that I agreed with the right-winger Zahradil much more. He said that this panic is silly and there's no reason to hurry. Brexit will change the political map of the continent for quite some time and from this viewpoint of the approximate eternity, three months are nothing. One abandons his dignity if he argues about some 3 months – which are negligible relatively to the years that the negotiations will last; and decades or centuries in which the resulting independent U.K. will exist. It seems that Zahradil says that three months are nothing while Zaorálek wants to fight for every hour!

So if Cameron wants to relax up to October, it's just fine, Zahradil said. Most importantly, it's not really our business. Also, it's not our business to provoke Scotland and "invite" the would-be independent Scotland to the EU or do similar things. It's their business to decide. If they want to plan this even more complex future, the activity has to be mostly theirs.

I completely agree with that. We're not there – and even Czech EU officials aren't there – to solve some everyday problems of the British people or prepare some alternative histories of their lives. It doesn't really affect us and we don't even have the moral right (and interest) to make decisions on their behalf or even intervene into their affairs. And if the U.K. public and political sphere will have the tendency to divorce the EU slowly, it can be lived with, too.

What the markets and many normal people need are basically just assurances that the EU and the U.K. don't want to kickstart any trade war. Right-winger Zahradil pointed out that the U.K. has a surplus with the rest of the EU. So a trade war would clearly harm the production in the EU27 more than it would harm the U.K. It's simply not in the interest of any economically thinking people in the EU27 to consider any trade war.

I personally find it obvious that because the British market is more important for the EU than the EU market is for the U.K., in absolute numbers, the EU27 should allow the U.K. to keep the advantages of the free trade; and tolerate the U.K. to regulate the immigration and arrival of foreign workers, something that has almost certainly motivated many voters to pick "Leave". It's not clear whether the people in the EU institutions and EU27 countries have this generosity. But I feel it's not really generosity – it's a rational comparison and evaluation of the "weapons" that everyone has combined with the pragmatic goal to keep peace and all relationships that work. I actually do think that the two other men and most other Czech politicians would agree with Zahradil's recommendation to verbally rule out any trade war.

Once it's known that such a deterioration of the relationship isn't planned by either side, the rest are technicalities no one is really terrified by. The parameters of the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU may be chosen in many different ways. Most of them may work very well. We're not looking for any "unique solution". Like in the anthropic multiverse, there are many solutions that are compatible with a prosperous life.

I actually agreed with Mr Zahradil much more than I agreed with a Slovak economist who also video-chatted with the host. That Slovak chap also wanted to suggest that every day without a "final solution" is a big problem for the markets. I am sure it shouldn't be and I tend to think it won't be.

The rules of EU make it clear that before the decisive moment when the sides agree about the conditions of the divorce, the U.K. will remain a full member of the EU. It's "almost" clear that the U.K. will play the role of a "lame duck" in the EU. But that simply doesn't matter. The EU laws and treaties make it totally indisputable that the U.K. may still vote and decide about all these matters – even though it won't be affected by many of the rules sometimes from 2018 or so. The U.K. isn't invited to some negotiations on Wednesday etc. (BTW, Visegrád's and German foreign minister will meet in Prague tomorrow.) But this is just some silly unfriendly behavior behind the scenes. In the decisions that officially matter, the U.K. will participate in coming months or years just like it did in recent years. Whoever is trying to convince himself about something else is fooling himself. Just read the damn treaties. They make it completely clear that the expectation that the U.K. will leave the EU means absolutely nothing for their voting rights before the treaties are officially annulled.

It was clear from the debate that the foreign minister Zaorálek doesn't like it. He would like to have some tools to prevent the British from affecting things. But it's simply a legal fact that he and similar EU people who feel like "if their leg were amputated" do not have any legally backed weapons to strip the Britons from the advantages of their (now provisional) EU membership. So just live with that! The current commissioner Ms Jourová has confirmed this interpretation (and she also pointed out that the witty Gentleman Mr Hill, the ex British EU commissioner who resigned, didn't quite need to resign). They simply will remain the full members up to the "official final moment". If the Brits wanted to maximally delay it, the "official last moment" would only come 2 years after they initiated the "Article 50" Brexit process, perhaps in October 2018.

If the Brits realize that this provisional status is pretty good for them, they may exploit it, indeed. They could behave as a (hopefully) softcore version of the Greeks who have tried to blackmail the rest of Europe in various ways – using the meme that they are capable of causing problems to the rest of Europe. That's simply another reason why the EU27 should better be generous and encourage the Brits to leave quickly and be generous, too. I personally have no problem whatsoever with the fact that the Britons will keep on influencing the EU decisions for a year. I think that in average, their contributions to the EU decisions are wiser than the German, French, Italian, or most other ones. It just doesn't matter that they won't be affected by it after 2018 or so.

The overall point is that we should be relaxed. There are many sensible approaches that the British politicians may take. These approaches may be very different. But most of them may just work and sensible people on the other side may say "why not". The map of the world and Europe are rather random pictures. There are zillions of other hypothetical maps of Europe that would allow an equally happy life.

Mr Zahradil has mentioned that the negotiations about the departure may be extended and in total, they could take years and perhaps even 10 years. His analogy was the case of Greenland in the 1980s which wasn't even a country and it was only a member of the European Communities, a less complex international organization. But the negotiations about the departure of the Greenland still took 3 years. So the much more complex U.K. that is a member of the much more structured EU today could very well negotiate for much more than 3 years.

That's a good argument but because the U.K. and EU are more important, more efforts may be put into these negotiations which could speed them up, too. Some status of the Greenland and its 55,000 people within the EU clearly wasn't a big priority – because of the near hegemony of the ice, the Greenland's being the largest island in the world could hardly change this fact. ;-)

People on all sides should simply calm down and appreciate that the political balance has changed. They should understand what the new political balance is and act in some agreement with this new reality. That's enough. The value of \(\vec v(t)\) could have jumped discontinuously but the value of \(\vec x(t)\) hasn't.

When I compare the departure of the U.K. from the EU with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, there's one clear difference that could make the British case messier: the leaders of the British/EU process seem much less clear and well-defined than the Czech and Slovak leaders, Václav Klaus and Vladimír Mečiar. The mid 1992 Czechoslovak elections have elevated these two men into the top posts which made them the natural leaders of the negotiations (and soon-to-be prime ministers of the new smaller countries).

Right now, we're not quite sure who should lead the negotiations on behalf of the U.K. Clearly, Boris Johnson is the most natural guy to do so, given the fact that Nigel Farage's UKIP doesn't have a strong presence in the Parliament. But he only led the winning side of the referendum. He wasn't running in person. So even though I do think that he should boldly embrace some responsibility for the future direction that the U.K. takes, he hasn't clearly earned an explicit political capital from the voters as a leader.

This problem is a reason why referendums may cause a lot of trouble. People give some answer to some question but it's not clear how the answer should be realized and who, when, how should do that. Maybe some speedy new elections or at least some inner reorganization of the Conservative Party could be a good idea.

I have mentioned the dissolution of Czechoslovakia many times. It may be more than just an academic analogy. On Friday, Slovakia will take over the rotating EU presidency for half a year and the leaders have already announced that they will try to drive the EU-U.K. negotiations along the Czecho-Slovak template. If you want to know, Slovak officials generally do want the process to start as soon as possible. I am a bit worried that the Czech pragmatism will be mostly lacking, however. It seems likely that the Slovaks will team up with the Poles and play their own small games, especially concerning the "right" of their workers to work in the U.K.

Slovakia wants to promote Brexit to the main theme of their looming EU presidency. Czech FM Zaorálek said that this is exactly what shouldn't happen because politicians should work on migration, employment, security etc. so Brexit just can't be the main thing occupying the politicians for months or years. Quite generally, EU politicians have entirely different opinions about all these questions – on priorities, speed, emotions and so on. But it's not a problem because the "right answers" will probably be imposed on us by the history, anyway.

By the way, I've mentioned the exotic movements that want a new referendum to remain in the EU, or demand that 60% is needed along with a 75% turnout. Other movements want Scotlond (Scotland+London) to secede and join the EU, and so on. The latter project may sound like a satire and driven by crackpots. But I can actually imagine that it could be a good idea for the U.K. to keep a part of their territory in the EU.

The British queen must be used to similar things. The British Commonwealth she formally reigns was "divided" and only a part of it, the U.K., became a member of the EU. (This is similar to the fact that only some "Austrian" lands owned by the Habsburgs, and not e.g. Hungary, were a part of the Holy Roman Empire.) So it wouldn't be "quite a new situation" if an even smaller territory, e.g. Scotlond, remained in the EU, while the rest of her territory, the Little Britain, would leave the EU. Some people and businesses who can't live without the EU could move to Scotlond while the fans of the independence could be relocated to the Little Britain.

There would clearly be some practical complications e.g. with the border checks along the city borders of London. But the Vatican/Rome, Andorra, Monaco, and a few others could have been solving similar problems and they weren't such a big problem, after all. Maybe it could be done and it could be better for the U.K., both sides of the referendum, and for the rest of Europe, too. If someone likes such ideas, he or she should work hard on thinking about the details and convince others that it's a good idea. Or give up if they seem impossible.

Brexit has surely shown us that the history hasn't ended, as some utopians were trying to claim. But there are lots of reasons why this new chapter of the history could be and should be entertaining rather than worrisome.

No comments:

Post a Comment