Dr. David Cowan
There is nothing like a first trip on the German Autobahn for a child hailing from the British Isles. Providing much amusement on long journeys are the legendary signs “Ausfahrt” and “Einfahrt.” These are the German words for exit and entry, but from British children on the school trips to juvenile British adults, they are an excuse for a host of fart jokes.
As a child growing up in England, the first political campaign I was aware of was the 1970 Election. The Conservative Party candidate Edward Heath, on his way to victory and Number 10, said that further European integration would not happen “except with the full-hearted consent of the Parliaments and peoples of the new member countries.” I was too young to vote in that election or the subsequent referendum on Europe, but the adult population of Britain voted for Europe and have has been half-hearted and uncomfortable with the relationship ever since.
I don’t intend here to rehearse all the familiar arguments about exit or remaining, the ausfarht or einfarht of it all. Instead, I want to highlight two aspects. First, why Britain got into this mess; second, the brake Britain wisely kept on Europe.
The European Union was set up as an economic arrangement initially to form the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951 and then the European Economic Community (EEC) in1958. The gang of six countries involved were Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The objective was to create a single market for free movement of goods, capital, services and people between member states.
In terms of free trade and mutual interests, this is a good idea. The problem has been mission creep, where a federal political union has been evolving and there has been increasing ceding of sovereignty to “Europe.” The economic argument has been overshadowed by the political ambition.
You have to remember that Britain always talks about Europe as a different entity, so we have “Britain and Europe.” I recall chatting to MEP Dan Hannan one time in Washington DC, and he told me off for referring to Europe inclusive of Britain, suggesting I had obviously been in America too long. Actually, I had been working in Europe too long. Europeans talk of Europe, including Britain, though often with a coy smile.
My experience of dealing with Britain while working in Europe was one of seeing a difference between the Anglo-Saxon mindset and the Continental mindset, and rarely the twain met. There seemed almost a cute innocence about the British, and in particular London, attitude and incomprehension toward Europe as a mindset and a unity. These have all been factors in keeping a distance between Britain and Europe, calling to mind on occasion the famous 1930s headline “Fog in Channel, Continent cut off.”
This is why we have the problem today, the mindsets of the two are different and they have seemingly come to the inevitable end of Britain’s tolerance of European integration for reasons of mission creep and geographical expansion. Britain wants its sovereignty and sanity back.
Quite apart from the mindset issue, Britain has always maintained a brake on European integration and dominance. It is called “The Pound.” By keeping its control on the currency levers, Britain achieved two things. First, it prevented the Euro becoming the strong currency it aimed to be, potentially a global replacement for the US Dollar. Second, it maintained a degree of economic control and gave it an exit, or ausfarht, route in practical terms should it want to BREXIT.
If we stand a distance from the current battle, these are the two dynamics I would look at for signals as to how this is going to turn out, leaving us with two questions matching these two dynamics. First, is there some way that those who want to stay can assure those who don’t and the neutrals that Britain can maintain sovereignty and greater political control in the future? Second, can the Pound remain the practical brake on the Euro and continental European aspirations? To stay something must change to reverse the direction of Europe from a British perspective.
As a Brit in North America, I am often asked my prediction as to what will happen. It is hard to say, the steam built up by BREXIT is more powerful than in past ructions. However, this may just be a letting off of steam by Brits frustrated by the continent. In other words, I suspect it may just be an ausfahrt in the childish sense rather than the German sense, and the Brits will stay and grumble about the stench left behind.