Opinion: Will European Union wake up after Brexit vote? | Opinion | DW | 03.07.2016
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Opinion

Opinion: Will European Union wake up after Brexit vote?

EU officials have expressed offense at the pro-Brexit vote by a narrow majority in the United Kingdom. German commentators are proclaiming it an insult. DW's Danhong Zhang hopes for a new start in Europe.

The European Union has a tendency to try to confront issues that its individual member states would likely have never had on their own. For example, where should the EU capital be? The members of the European Coal and Steel Community, a predecessor to the EU, met in 1951 to answer this question - and they fought over it for three days and nights. Luxembourg was ultimately chosen. An exhausted Jean Monnet, an influential French architect of the pan-European project, reportedly told his assistant that the dignitaries would have a few hours of sleep and then spend the next month taking the next step in integration.

And that is how it has been for six decades in Europe. The political elite has knowingly shepherded its citizens along, something that Jean-Claude Juncker, now the president of the European Commission, told Der Spiegel magazine in 1999 in what was a rare moment of honesty: "We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait around to see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don't understand what has been decided, we continue, step by step, until there is no turning back."

Such was the case with the introduction of the euro. Which national legislator could have foreseen the consequences of what was agreed upon in 1991? The train has left the station, and there's no getting off now.

In European politics, this is known as path dependency. Gone the wrong way? No problem. Just close your eyes and keep going. The flaw was so deeply cemented that a return to the starting point was deemed too costly to even be considered. The longer the process goes on like this, the less the likelihood of abandoning it.

'No alternative'

The magic words of European integration are "no alternative." What can't happen can't be. That includes leaving, which would upset the concept of path dependency.

The British weren't convinced by this logic and opted for getting out by way of a purer and majority-based form of democracy. The Brexit referendum demonstrated that they have no desire to one day suddenly find themselves within a United States of Europe.

The integration began over six decades ago as a reconciliation project between Germany and France. And it is those countries that have profited from it the most. France uses the European Union to stay on a par with Germany despite its economic disadvantages. The Bundesrepublik has been able to grow within the EU community without scaring its neighbors. At the beginning, the British saw themselves as a mentor and supporter of European consensus. They didn't receive their accession with the same excitement that the Germans did, which is something that we here have to accept. To now act as a victim of the Brexit or call its supporters dumb is evidence of Germany's intolerance and peculiar understanding of democracy.

The British have not put the EU in crisis. The crisis has been years of status quo. The Brexit vote should be understood as a call to start anew. The relationship between the European Union and its member states must be reconsidered, and citizens should be better informed of important plans under discussion. Taking revenge on the British isn't necessary; friendship is still possible after a divorce.

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