PARIS – “The United States, China, and maybe the European Union, if Great Britain stays within it” will lead tomorrow’s world; in fact, continued EU membership is the only way for the United Kingdom to secure “a future worthy of her past.” This sentiment could have come straight out of an old French discourse on the pursuit of grandeur through European integration. In fact, it came from former British Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The result of the UK’s upcoming referendum on EU membership – which will take place on June 23 – is currently impossible to predict. With opinion polls indicating a deeply divided electorate, it is vital that reasonable members of the Labour Party, not just the financiers of the City of London, campaign actively for continued EU membership.
The experience with Scotland’s 2014 referendum on independence carries important lessons for the campaign. In the Scottish referendum, the key to securing a victory – and a comfortable one, at that – for the pro-UK camp was a combination of negative warnings and positive arguments. In other words, while fear, based on credible risks, has a role to play, so does hope, with a campaign that addresses both the evolution of the international order and the sense of patriotic pride of a majority of British citizens. Fortunately, Brown, a Scot who played a leading role in securing the vote against independence, recognizes this.
It is ironic to note that such a discourse would probably be difficult to sustain in France nowadays, even though it is the only other EU member to think in “great power” terms. But France, unlike the UK, is in the midst of a serious crisis of confidence – one that bedevils much of the rest of the EU as well. In fact, it is this European crisis of confidence that has turned the current refugee crisis into an existential one: If the EU fails to regain control of its external borders, it will erect internal ones, jeopardizing the entire European project.