Opinion: Brexit poses challenge to peace in Europe | Opinion | DW | 22.06.2016
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Opinion: Brexit poses challenge to peace in Europe

Just a day to go before Britain votes on whether to exit the EU - and Germany is in a bind. DW's Dagmar Engel tells us what politicians in Berlin aren't saying.

War and peace in Europe - that's what this is about.

The German government - most of its members convinced, experienced Europeans - knows this, but can't say it out loud. A bitter foretaste of what's to come for the Germans and all the other Europeans is that an issue of existential importance for all is being voted on by no one but Britain: everyone else has no say in the matter.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is especially aware of the dilemma. It knows that at least in this question, it's backed by the majority of Germans. But no matter what German ministers or the chancellor herself have to say, it's almost certain to be used against them, and against the EU, in Germanophobe Britain.

The German finance minister - who is considered a hardliner, just ask the Greeks - summarized this dilemma in one sad sentence. Asked in London in March what Germany would do if Britain left the EU, Wolfgang Schäuble said: "We would cry."

Saying nothing

Angela Merkel has taken a public vow of silence where the Brexit is concerned. Little more is said than the repeated affirmation that of course Berlin believes Britain should be in the EU - always accompanied by the assertion that it's up to the British people to decide. When there are no microphones nearby, the chancellor takes a more concrete stance, stating that a Brexit would be "terrible."

Dagmar Engel

Dagmar Engel heads DW's parliamentary studios

Tears and terror aside, the economic cost of a Brexit would be high for everyone, from London and Manchester to Paris, Berlin and Warsaw - but highest of all for Britain. Even Brexit supporters seem to suspect that leaving the EU would be economic idiocy.

So their arguments have come to target emotions instead, and the retreat to a nation of one's own - with its suggested greater self-determination and simplicity. And that's where they cross paths with their right-wing populist European brethren. Nationalists of all countries, unite - in order to separate.

But it is the political consequences of a Brexit that could truly be awful.

For all the historically illiterate talk of an EasyJet generation, the Europe that forged monetary union, and that was built upon the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the European Community always was, and is, a project of peace.

It was never ultimately about coal, but about cannons. This difficult trade-off is only possible if all of Europe's large states are engaged in the major everyday issues and the many small details.

Without London, the EU would find itself imbalanced. Berlin would be pushed into assuming a dominance it doesn't want and can't cope with. The German finance minister knows what that could mean - again, ask the Greeks: People no longer believe Germany is acting in Europe's interests.

Peace is hard work

In the first half of the last century, European crises resulted in war; the second half - not least thanks to the treaties of Paris, Rome and Maastricht - brought peace to an extent that in this century, it seems a given.

But it isn't. Military solutions seem acceptable once more - just look to Europe's eastern fringes. Hostile warships might one day patrol the English Channel again, not in three or five years, but perhaps 30 years from now - just because back in 2016, quite needlessly, the wrong answers were given to the wrong questions.

Yet right now, no one in the German government can say that out loud.

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