NEW YORK – Digesting the full implications of the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum will take Britain, Europe, and the world a long time. The most profound consequences will, of course, depend on the European Union’s response to the UK’s withdrawal. Most people initially assumed that the EU would not “cut off its nose to spite its face”: after all, an amicable divorce seems to be in everyone’s interest. But the divorce – as many do – could become messy.
The benefits of trade and economic integration between the UK and EU are mutual, and if the EU took seriously its belief that closer economic integration is better, its leaders would seek to ensure the closest ties possible under the circumstances. But Jean-Claude Juncker, the architect of Luxembourg’s massive corporate tax avoidance schemes and now President of the European Commission, is taking a hard line: “Out means out,” he says.
That kneejerk reaction is perhaps understandable, given that Juncker may be remembered as the person who presided over the EU’s initial stage of dissolution. He argues that, to deter other countries from leaving, the EU must be uncompromising, offering the UK little more than what it is guaranteed under World Trade Organization agreements.
In other words, Europe is not to be held together by its benefits, which far exceed the costs. Economic prosperity, the sense of solidarity, and the pride of being a European are not enough, according to Juncker. No, Europe is to be held together by threats, intimidation, and fear.