Foreign Affairs Scope: Is Brexit the end of the EU?

The Brexit Special Edition of Foreign Affairs Scope with Nathan Smith. With special feature audio.

The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a close referendum at the end of last week. Many observers were surprised at the decision as markets, particularly in Europe, fell significantly at the news. Markets are recovering as the week progresses but the mood remains dim in many regions.

The decision has not, however, yet been ratified by Westminster. Neither has London submitted the formal departure process to Brussels, both of which indicate lingering reticence. The EU is also questioning whether the margin (51% to 48%) is wide enough to be a legally binding decision based on EU regulations, and is considering whether it will force a second referendum.

Whether or not the UK vote does decouple from the EU structure, the scenario will spur Brussels into making significant reforms to protect what remains of the bloc. Since the 2008 financial crisis, Brussels has made only incremental reforms that have failed to fix its deep political and fiscal problems and in many ways have exacerbated it.

The UK may not be the most negatively affected as London becomes more nimble than the EU. The decision could actually make the union more cumbersome as it loses a helpful partner. Greece and Italy both hope the scenario now supplies unexpected bargaining room to ask for more money from Berlin and unemployment rates in Spain, Italy and France will continue to rise as the larger powers concentrate elsewhere.

But what the EU structure became in 2016 is different from its original purpose. It was only partially meant to offer member states economic well-being. In its true function, the bloc is a project binding the powers of France and Germany together. The UK is now formally (but not geographically) leaving a continent with a history of vicious internecine warfare, and greater fragmentation of the EU could well usher a re-introduction of this dark fact.

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